Tuesday, December 21, 2010


Let me say from the outset - I've missed David Waters. The Commercial Appeal and the city are the better for having him come home to live and work among us. To come back to Memphis from The Washington Post is a pretty big deal  His prophetic voice rings true for so many issues our community faces.

Let me also say that I'm proud to have travelled to Israel with brothers and sisters in the clergy with whom I've enjoyed a profound covenantal relationship for the past several years. I've written about this group previously in our responses to Lester Street and The Med, and Tear Down the Walls.

While there's much I will reflect upon in due course about being in Israel, the spiritual impact of being in a "holy land," for this post I find the need to clarify things for those left with certain impressions about this group, what we did, and why we did it.

Here's David's article:

Now I confess to sadness for feeling the need to do this at all. First, it would have suited me fine if there had never been any media about this. Granted, media exposure is common with many of the folks in this group, although I'm clear that I'm at the bottom of that food chain, and that's just fine by me.  While I don't think any of us were really looking for it, it was too good to pass up as a story. I get that.

Being in fellowship together out of the spotlight, where we could be ourselves with one another, while understanding the pressures of what it means to be spiritual leaders was what gave life to this group. It is what draws us to it still.

When you turn that which had one purpose into the hands of the media, regardless of intentions, you open yourself up to perceptions that belie what is true.

On it's face, a public airing opens us to opinions. Perceptions from those who don't know me matter very little to me.  My sadness, bordering on feeling betrayed is that some of these perceptions are from those I thought knew me, trusted me, and counted me as friend. And I'm not sure what to do with that. It confronts my continual internal conversation about not being loved unconditionally for who I am, and seen as having value only because of what I do.

Let's see...I've had "friends" concerned that I was going to be indoctrinated to a specific point of view, one they didn't hold.  The belief I'd be indoctrinated by anything or anyone lets me know I'm not really known or trusted by those I thought did.  That stings.

I've been labelled as being like those clergy to whom MLK Jr wrote in his "Letter from a Birmingham Jail."  (them's fighting words, by the way).  I was confronted by that masterwork during my Vandy days.  It was thrust before me in critically constructive ways that made my focus be such that I will do everything I can in ministry not to be associated with those whose silence equals concurrence to what is going on around them.

So what's the real issue here for me?  I thought about this a lot.  And I'm surprised by how much this has gotten under my skin.  I've sought the counsel of a trusted voice who does love and trust me for who I am and what was said resonated.

"Your integrity was called into question by those who know you, or at least you thought they did."

And there it is.  "For everything there is a season."  It is now the season to peaceably move on from what I thought was to what is.  Ever been there?  It happens.

How many of you have the motivations of your trips questioned?
I mean really?
It's a trip - a group of friends who happen to hold ministry in common took a trip together with our partners.

We went to Israel, a beautiful, complex place.  I knew that before I got there, and found it confirmed upon arriving.  The issues of security, justice and peace for all who call that place home have no easy answers.  We went to see, to experience, to talk, to touch, to process, to pray, to consider the land of where Jesus lived, to ponder the implications of a land claimed by multiple faith communities and consider what that means in the places we live and do ministry.

We did not go to engage in Middle East peace talks.

Now David would have you believe that our common cause for friendship means we don't have different opinions on issues.  How anyone who knows any one of us could believe that's true just isn't paying attention.  The variable is that we gather as friends who hold work in common, not as ministers first, friends second.  Some people either can't get that, or don't want to.

Most people were glad I went, glad we went, proud even that this fellowship of leaders, imperfect as we are, seeks to model the community in our common life that we proclaim in our work lives.

Where we went was not nearly as significant as that we went somewhere together.  That we went to a place that holds significance to our faiths added a dimension that cannot be underestimated.

Shortly after returning we received word that David was going to write an article about the trip.  David issued a request that each of us answer:  "How did what you experienced in Israel inform your life and work in Memphis."

Eisegesis is defined as reading into something what you want it to say, rather than what it really means.  It's a no-no for preachers when dealing with biblical texts.  It's a no-no period.  Ever encounter someone abusing scripture to say what they need to so that their point is validated, rather than let the scripture shape them?  There you go.

While David was free to edit my words, the complexity of what I intended was co-opted into something altogether different.  He eisegeted my quote.  Here it is in total:
As we traveled through Israel together, we often heard the words "it's complicated," when describing ever present geopolitical and religious tensions. It's always there. There is a growing awareness that a two state solution may well be the last best enduring legacy for the land claimed as sacred by those who claim the God of Abraham, Mohammed, and Jesus as the center of their faith. But is the "two state" solution that we have long known on the parcel of land we call home our most faithful expression of the love of God and neighbor? As it is there it is here...a question always present. My sense is that to live fully into the justice and mercy of God compels Israel and Memphis to different conclusions on that question. It is complicated. But since when should what is complicated excuse doing what is faithful?
Inasmuch as we who traveled together know what it meant and why we went, there is eisegesis aplenty by too many others.  It's not about intentions, I don't believe.  I think we read into way too many things what we want them to say rather than what they actually do.  Driven by our own predispositions, biases and prejudices, and in the absence of trust and conversation, we make anything say what we want it to.

I've encountered this.  It does not diminish the import of this experience for me.  I am bothered that there's always someone who can't celebrate the blessings of others and will interpret what they want how they want.

But truth be told, I'm sad.  The number of people with whom I entrust myself is comparatively few.  And apparently, it's even fewer than I thought.

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