Dear On Being,
I am a new listener to the On Being podcast and would like to share some thoughts after my recent introduction to the program.
This past weekend I was traveling from Houston to San Antonio to attend a wedding, and discovered that the interstate now has 3G coverage. That means I could stream media while driving. So I went onto iTunes with my iPhone to listen to a speaking of faith podcast. That is when I discovered On Being. I listened to two programs that I would like to share about.
FIRST, I listened first to the podcast with the Anthropologist in Bethlehem. I absolutely loved that you examined the humanity in the Palestinian situation. This was particularly meaningful because I traveled to Israel and Palestine three weeks ago with my wife and grandparents. We did the classic Holy Land tour, but also spent two days in Palestine (Jericho and Bethlehem) with people that my grandparents had become friends with. To give context—my wife is Hispanic, but family is white, evangelical Texan. I am a 31 year old attorney in Houston. My grandfather is a former Baptist minister who is now doing non-religious relational training with Arabs in the middle east. It is fascinating work that ties closely to some of the work your guests on the podcast are doing.
During the trip, we spent a day with Palestinian high schoolers in Jericho (both Christian and Muslim), an afternoon with a Palestinian Christian family in Bethlehem, and an evening with a Palestinian Christian family in Jerusalem. It was an amazing experience. Personally, I left my evangelical-zionist roots several years ago due to previous friendships with Arabs and a study abroad in Tunisia. But the experience behind the Palestinian wall was still life changing. I knew about the conflict, but there is nothing quite like going through the checkpoint between Jerusalem and Bethlehem and seeing armed soldiers in front of the Berlin-esque wall and watch towers. I did not know that the Palestinians were literally imprisoned behind the wall. After our trip, I was struck with the humanity of the people on both sides of the wall.
One example: We ate lunch in Bethlehem with a Palestinian Christian family who had moved back to Palestine from Philadelphia in 1994. They moved back to start a hotel and live in their homeland. Now they can’t leave. They are generous and compassionate people who fed us more food than we could eat in a week. They treated us as family. Also, although they identify as Christians, they are passionately Palestinian. From the rooftop of their hotel, they showed me all of the new Israeli settlements creeping closer and closer into their homeland. You could sense in their voice that they long for resolution of the conflict, but are almost out of hope. The father said: “This conflict will take 500 years to resolve.” What a thought! As an American—whose country wants resolution within election cycles—it was difficult to comprehend that someone could have such a sense of his place in history to think in terms of 500 years. With humility, he understood that he and his family are just one generation of many. Americans think the world is about 200 years old. This man lived in a region that is thousands of years old and embraced his role in that history. There is something deeply human about embracing who we are in the midst of history and conflict.
That same evening, we ate dinner with another Palestinian family on the Jerusalem side of the wall. Their house is less than 100 meters from the wall. In fact, they used to live on the other side. But the wall was built just meters from their home. When it was built, they left their home, knowing that being on the wrong side of the wall would forever change their lives. They gave us a tour of their house with a tone of shame because it was not as grand as their other house only 100 meters away. During the evening, I spent much of the time talking with their oldest son, who is a 30-year old studying in Europe. When I asked him how he identified himself, he answered: “I am not sure. I am a Jordanian citizen with Israeli papers labeled Palestinian. Although we are on this side of the wall, I am still labeled Palestinian and am restricted in my citizenship and travel. I study in Europe and many times want to leave this region forever.” This family looked the same as ou r friends in Bethlehem and were equally as gracious. And they were not so different than families here. The teenage daughter texted on her phone during dinner, and the youngest son explained how he was training to be an MMA fighter. This was a family just living their life. And although they happened to be on the right side of the wall, you could tell the conflict affected them to the core of their being. While they seemed to have much joy, you could tell life was heavy.
Since our return, I have been sharing these stories with family and friends. I even shared a slideshow presentation to my law firm. As part of the presentation, I showed three sets of pictures. The first was of the Bethlehem family labeled “Palestinian/Arab/Christians on one side of the wall.” The second set contained pictures of the wall. The third was a picture of the second family labeled “Palestinian/Arab/Christians on the other side of the wall.” I explained that, although the conflict is complicated and both sides are sympathetic, the reality is that the Palestinians are people, just like us, who are deeply impacted by this conflict. When we listen to political rhetoric about the middle east, these are the people affected. When I shared this with my law firm, you could see in many faces that light bulbs were going off. They had never seen these pictures or heard these stories.
This is all to say that, when I listed to the podcast, I was extremely grateful that someone with your platform is sharing that same story (and more articulately than me). And, I did not have the opportunity to visit the refugee camps. So I also learned things I did not know. But the humanity of the people behind the conflict is an important story that should be told many times over in our country. Especially to conservative Christians (with whom I sometimes identify). When you blindly support the current political state of Israel based on an obscure verse in Isaiah, you should know that you support the wall that is affecting these families deeply. Don’t get me wrong—I am not an anti-Semitic. I think the Jewish story should be told as well, and it is in Holocaust museums throughout the world. But both sides are human and both stories need to be told.
SECOND, I then listened to the podcast on Autism and humanity (it was a long car drive). It was really well done and also hit close to home. My uncle and cousin were both recently diagnosed with Asbergers. My cousin, who is now 22, is an isolated, college dropout who currently works as a computer programmer. We have been trying to get him to go to a counselor for years to be diagnosed. When my uncle finally took him in, he was surprised that the counselor told him that he also had Asbergers. It makes sense. He is also a computer programmer who watches Naruto (a Japanese anime cartoon) and loves Spock. Both my uncle and cousin are high functioning, but this can be a key to unlock them (and mainly my cousin) from years of frustration and self-hatred. Many of the things said on the program described my cousin Matthew. He doesn’t like being around people. But I never thought that the reason is because he is so logical that he has trouble understanding people. The thing I appreciated most about the program was that it did not treat Autism as a disability, but as part of humanity. It was inspiring. My cousin does not have to merely cope with being different; he can dream to use his special gifting to excel in a particular field. I quickly passed the podcast on to my uncle and plan to use it as a springboard to help give both of them hope.
In sum, I was blown away that the first two On Being podcasts I listened to related so profoundly to my personal experiences and family. I love the way the podcasts are done. They are a conversation about humanity; not an opinion or judgment on politics or morality. Please continue this work exploring all the ways politics, religion, and science make us human and better explain aspects of our humanity.
Thanks for your work. I am now a loyal listener.
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