Welcome to my first series of blogs. I’ve resolutely avoided both blogging and twittering. My general mindset is to put my most thoughtful ideas before the church via my weekly editorial and leave the rest up to our readers’ imagination. Well, that changes this week as I travel to Jordan, “other holy land.” Along with journalists from other Christian publications – Roman Catholic, mainline Protestant, and Evangelical – I have embarked on an adventure to this place of rich history, and in the present, a place of peace. Bordered by Israel, Syria, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia, and a stone’s throw from Egypt and Lebanon, Jordan is, nevertheless, the Switzerland of the Middle East. I hope on this trip to explore not only the ancient history of the place but also the remarkable present story of its role in transforming that region of the world. I’ll be posting daily – or close to daily – through October 3.
I’ve never thought of Delta Airlines as God’s angels of transport. In fact, my track record with Delta is abysmal: cancelled flights allegedly due to bad weather, when other airlines are flying the same routes without delays; no help in finding alternative flights; no apologies for the inconvenience. But the first leg of my overseas journey was going to require a flight from Richmond, VA to JFK in NYC (and Delta’s price was so much better than Jet Blue’s). So, to be safe, I booked my first flight with a 10 hour layover, just in case it got messed up. That way I could even drive there (7 hours). I checked flight status the evening before …then in the morning and everything looked great. Barbie took me to the airport, dropped me off, I checked in, status: “on time”, went through security, got to the gate, and for some inexplicable reason, the flight time was now nearly 3 hours later. Phooey. Oh, well. As panicked travelers lined up at the gate desk to try to save their travel itineraries, I settled down to my computer to do some emails.
I wrote Fahed Abu-Akel, former moderator of the General Assembly, a native Galilean, and leader of the Palestinian Christian movement. I had met Fahed in Galilee while I was on sabbatical researching my book GodViews, in 2000. He had toured me around the northern Galilee, and with missionary friends, Daniel and Becky Frank (Daniel having been a former associate pastor of mine), took me to the Ibilin Institute. This elementary-high school-college and center for spiritual renewal in the upper Galilee was led by Father Abuna Elias Chacour. I had heard of him and read one of his books – a heart-wrenching personal account of his home town being captured and destroyed in 1948 when Great Britain handed the land of Palestine to the Jews. A powerful story and awesome witness by this Melkite priest who, having been crushed by the Zionist movement, nevertheless proclaims the message, “Yes, Christians ought to love Jews; Jesus was a Jew; the apostles and prophets were Jews; they brought the gift of salvation to the world. BUT,” he adds, “Christians ought to love Palestinians, too. They are your brothers and sisters.” In the years since I first met him, he has been elevated to the role of bishop in Haifa, has spoken at our General Assembly in 2008 and at many conferences, especially here in the US (most recently a couple of weeks ago a the Montreat Conference Center). I covered him speaking at the Presbyterian Global Fellowship in Houston in 2007, and interviewed him for the Outlook.
Well, here I was sitting in the airport, emailing Fahed because he was been trying to arrange for me an audience with the king or queen of Jordan. Coming right after Ramadan, it has been difficult to work it all out, so my email from the wee airport in Richmond – at gate A-12 at the far end of the concourse – was pressing once again to nail down some plans.
All of a sudden there walked by me a short, round fellow in black clothing, sporting a long white beard. I jumped up from my computer. “Elias Chacour! Are you Abuna Elias Chacour?”
“Yes, I am.” I couldn’t believe my eyes. What was he doing here in Richmond? In our little airport?
“I’m looking for my gate. It’s A-2. I think I missed it.”
I then reintroduced myself to him. Told of my plans to head to Jordan. He was heading back to Haifa. Told of my being in the middle of a note to Fahed, and that I was trying to arrange an interview with the King or Queen. “O, you need to talk to Prince Hassan,” he said. “He is brother of King Abdullah, but he is the ideal person to interview on matters of international relationships, peacemaking, and Palestinians.”
“Thank you, Bishop.”
We shared an embrace, and he was on his way back to his gate.
I finished the note to Fahed … “Get me an appointment with Prince Hassan.”
I then called home to Barbie … told her about the chance encounter. She rejoined, “So, Honey, do you think that was a God-thing?”
“What do you mean?”
“Was it a God-thing that you met Elias Chacour at the airport?”
“Way cool,” she added. Then came the clincher, “So do you think that God used Delta to do a good thing?”
“Absolutely not!” I retorted in full voice, with a chuckle — other waiting passengers standing nearby. “Delta is evil. Despicable. They’re not capable of being used by God.”
God did work.