Monday, September 24, 2012

When the Movie's Over

Today I went to a party with lots of Lutheran ministers. Khader had invited me to go with him and Danielle, he said some of the ministers might know my great-grandfather, who taught at a seminary in St. Louis way back in the day. In any case, I like Lutherans and parties and Khader and Danielle, so I was looking forward to it.

Khader picked me up in Menlo Park and drove me to meet Danielle in San Mateo. We talked about his sermons and Palestine and the Lutheran Church. He told me some people introduced him as a minister from Bethlehem, Israel. And he reminded them, "no, I come from Palestine." And they'd say, "yes, yes, well, we have to be sensitive about this." Oooh, that makes me cringe. It also made me appreciate the position that Khader is in, as one of the sole representatives of the Palestinian Christian community in the American Lutheran church. That he is constantly making those corrections, and connecting our talk of the Holy Land to the present-day reality, and fighting off evangelists who think he's Muslim. It must be exhausting, but dang, do I respect it.

The shindig was in a nice apartment in Belmont, eight stories up with a good view of the Bay....through the trees, anyway!The host, Kemp, welcomed us into into his "tree house" and invited us to eat, drink and be merry. Then he made us go around and do introductions, which I was grateful for, because it made it easier for me to meet people afterward.

"Hi, I'm Morgan, and my last congregation was the Redeemer Church in Jerusalem, and I know Khader and Danielle through the place I'm working in San Mateo, and in general, my family is from Leavenworth, Washington, and the Grunewald Guild." Khader chimed in, "and her great-grandfather taught at Seminex."

Sounds of recognition went all around. Kemp said that he was glad Khader had brought me, and gave me another warm welcome. After we dispersed, an older gentleman sitting on the sofa caught my arm and asked me my great grandfather's name. I said, "Richard Caemmerer Sr."

Bob smiled and said, "he was my homiletics professor."

He told me some stories about Doc Caemmerer, how he kept an office in a corner tower in the center of campus, and published a weekly column in the paper called "Eye on the Quad." While he talked I just looked at this dear man whose eyes were shining and my heart just liquified. He wasn't the only one who talked about Doc today. Two others, a woman and a man had also studied with him, and only had wonderful things to say. "Everyone loved Doc."

Several people had also heard of Holden Village and the Grunewald Guild. I talked about my grandparents and how they started the Guild, and that they're still making art up in Washington.

I spent a bit of time catching up with Danielle while we hovered over the veggies and dip. A lot of people wanted to know how she had met Khader, and how they knew me, and there was quite a bit of talk about the Holy Land stemming from that.

"I've been to Israel about five times now," one woman repeated, "and the last time we went to Bethlehem, oh my goodness, we saw the wall, and it was reminded me of East Berlin."

A German-American pastor named Christian was in the circle, and he had grown up in West Germany, and agreed about the wall. He was also very candid with Danielle and I about his experiences in Palestine. "The last time I went, I got to stay with Khader's family in Beit Jala, and they were so wonderful, and hospitable, and hearing their personal stories was just heart-breaking. I really...felt more welcomed in the West Bank than I did in Israel." I nodded, having heard it and felt it constantly. I think it's important to say, to give some credit to the Palestinians, but a very unproductive statement on its own. There are a lot of reasons, Israel is a more Westernized culture, so it's more individualistic, but foreigners in the West Bank are received so well in part because any visitor there is seen as a supporter of the people under occupation.

"Coming from Germany, I can definitely say that there's still a lot of guilt there. I work with a German Christian-Jewish partnership group, so we dialogue about our relationship, but on the topic of Israel, the conversation stops." Danielle said she'd heard that sentiment a lot among her German friends studying in Israel, so he's not alone. I asked him if he knew that Germany has the fastest growing Jewish population in the world? He jumped up and said, "Yes, yes! In Berlin! We're very proud of this, can I say that? After everything that happened, we are working very hard to repair this relationship."

I thought of the German Lutherans like Dietrich Bonhoeffer who opposed the Nazi regime, and what role this legacy could have in Palestine. Can it be reclaimed to help the victims, as well as the victims of the victims?

Christian been to Israel and Palestine many times. Danielle asked him if he'd consider writing about his experience, because she could help him edit and publish it. He said yes, absolutely! He really was great to converse with. I told him I was collecting stories from foreigners in Palestine, and he gave me his card. I want to drop into his church, I can tell there's good atmosphere there if he leads it :) He also brought his partner to the party, which I thought was rad.

Another young pastor told a story where he was called up in 2005, and the Bishop told him, "we're going to Israel in two months, and you're coming!" So he and a group of pastors and a bishop or two went to Israel, and met with Shimon Peres.

I was like, "huh?" Something about that seemed so normal yet so wrong, and he continued, "yeah, it was this highly political, highly publicized trip." Apparently the Presbyterians had mentioned something about divestment from Israel that year, and the Rabbinical something or other went into PR mode and organized a trip of "sensible Christian leaders to hear the Israeli side of the story."

He said he'd never been handled so well in his life. They were put up in a brand new hotel in Jerusalem, overlooking the Old City, and it was the nicest hotel he'd ever been in, there was free champagne with a note saying "Welcome Reverend!" I asked him if he'd ever considered writing this story down. He was like, "not really." Obviously didn't share my enthusiasm. I found it fascinating.

Somewhere in the middle of the party I checked my phone, and my Lutheran volunteer friend from Palestine had sent me a message saying I probably shouldn't include in my video the part where she names her volunteer program, or the church, or the fact that she lived in Ramallah. It's sensitive. I looked around at all these Lutherans and wondered how long it will take for stated values to trump sensitivity. Do you know how much amazing work is being done by Lutherans in Jerusalem and the West Bank? You have to seek that information out, heaven knows it's too sensitive to be advertised! I went back to the party, feeling a little disheartened.

Before we ate, we gathered around the couches to sing grace. I kind of wanted to suggest "Praise God from whom all blessing flow," which was a favorite at the Guild, but I was curious to see if Kemp would pick one that I knew. It was "Be present at our table, Lord," which has exactly the same melody, and the same 4, or 5, or 6 part harmony that was inevitably sung. Can't really compete with the Guild, but it was still like buttah. 

Over barbecued chicken and Khader's tabouleh, I told the table about last Christmas day, when I walked up the Mount of Olives alone in a rainstorm and opened the door to my new pastor's place to find fifty Lutherans from all over the world singing carols in perfect harmony around the dinner tables. It was probably the warmest moment of my life. We had a good conversation. 

Later on, I sat down with a group of women and one of them asked, "now, how did you get so tanned?"

"Oh, " and I looked this nice lady straight in the eye, "Burning Man!"

She cracked up, and asked me what my favorite part was. So I told them I loved the art cars, and some other stories from Burning Man, and one of the women mentioned that the Decompression party for San Francisco is two weekends from now, at the same time as the sailing festival, the Blue Angels flying, two cruise ships being docked, a 49ers game, a Giants game, and, as I knew already, the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival. And something else.

That is going to be the best weekend ever. 

All in all, it was a good day, a wonderful day. One worthy of a long post. Hope you enjoyed it!

This is a band that is getting big now. My friend played them for me on the way to Vashon Island this summer, and I liked the 80's-ness.