First of all, I want to thank each and every one of you who took the time to get in touch last week to let me know that you’re praying for us. It makes things so much more bearable knowing that we are not alone, that there is a wide network of friends and family and colleagues who have not forgotten about us, despite the distance.
After my last blog post, I pulled myself back up, and decided it was time to Get Things Done. I spent all day last Tuesday in the church, pulling out files that looked like they had been there since the British Mandate period. Some of which had.
It was fascinating. I found nothing that pertains to the building today. No evidence of any quinquennial inspection. No policies for groups using the church. No rental contracts. No insurance documents. Nothing that helped ease my mind about the state of the fabric, though one or two past plans for refurbishment or redevelopment.
What I did find were letters from past ministers seeking reparation from the times when the buildings were occupied by Turkish troops and then British soldiers. There were letters from 1948 when the Arabs were being evacuated from Tiberias, and Safad was being bombed. There was a letter from Dr Herbert Torrance, also from 1948, stating that medical care could no longer continue at the Tiberias hospital. There was a letter from one of my predecessors in the 1980s which I could have written today: ‘What is the purpose of the Church’s work in Israel? What is the purpose of the Church’s work in Tiberias? What are its goals here?’
And there were letters and meeting minutes filled with complaints: complaints about the lack of language training, the lack of clarity and transparency, the lack of hierarchical understanding, the lack of appreciation back in Scotland of just how complex it is on the ground here. Councils were formed to strengthen collegial relationships and spread responsibility, and then the councils themselves became a drain on time, money, and energy. And so were disbanded. Rinse and repeat. Over and over since 1885.
After a day of drama queen wailing of the most unattractive sort, of going around feeling properly sorry for myself because O. M. G. I-am-all-on-my-own-and-no-one-could-possibly-understand-just-how-IMPOSSIBLE-this-job-is-and why-am-I-the ONLY-person-who-is-asking-these-questions-and-trying-to-get-things-done-properly?!?!, I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry that I had discovered a treasure trove of frustration. And hope. And vision. And discontent.
And the odd pearl of wisdom:
We have the opportunity to ‘activate’ the hospitality which is so graciously offered to the stranger.
We are in a position to listen, learn and to feel — to feel scared, frustrated, unimportant, excited, hopeful. A presence that not only observes but that begins to touch the humanity which is at the heart of any real presence, which takes human issues seriously.
… So often it all goes to waste because we rush around being busy building a monument to our own presence and activity to prove that we were here. Our successor, falling into the same trap, spends some time knocking down our monument so that he can begin building his own.
These institutions are resources for the whole church to use to glorify God.
Those words brought me up short. Because for me they reframe my whole purpose here. I, like those who have come before, face the temptation to dismantle the monuments that have been built before and replace them with my own. I have IDEAS. So. Many. Ideas. And only five years. I love change. I love a challenge. And it’s all too easy on the days when I feel powerless and vulnerable and purposeless to focus all my attention on making something beautiful and flaunting my creativity and proving to the world that My Glorious Reign will be DIFFERENT.
In any case, My Glorious Reign had to be put on hold. Spending six hours in a closed up church digging through dusty papers is evidently a bad idea, especially when one is already run down and exhausted and emotional. Because I woke the next day with a chest infection which totally wiped me out for a week.
As frustrating as it has been to be confined to the house, barely able to move without coughing, it has given me a lot of time to think.
My love of beauty, my creativity, my resilience, my ability to embrace change are all reasons why I am here. But they are not the only reasons. And if beauty isn’t balanced with meaning, creativity with compassion, resilience with vulnerability, and love of change with a gentle hospitality, then I am lost, and the stones I build on are simply monuments to myself and not to the glory of God.
One of the biggest surprises I’ve faced in recent weeks — to my dismay — is the realisation that the greatest source of stress in the work here is not The Situation. The greatest source of stress is simply the dailiness of ministry itself and life within a big creaking institution (with a few additional challenges of ministering in a foreign country). As I ran my fingers over the words of those who have come before, I smiled. I am not the first. I will not be the last. And I am most definitely not alone.