Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Change I Wish To Be

"The Change I Wish To Be" - Dave's piece in this week's 'Santa Cruz News'

Nearly nine years ago I was sitting in a terminal at Boston’s Logan Airport waiting for a flight to California. It was the first day of flights since they’d closed the place down on 9/11. I’ve never been an enthusiastic flier, but that day I was more than anxious. The broadcast images of destruction, the mug shots of terrorists: I was sure it would happen again. I was scared to death it would happen again. I’d left two kids at home in bed.

Worst of all, sitting there in the gate area, I found myself looking around suspiciously. Looking for dark faces, Arab faces, terrorist faces. When two Arab-looking young men boarded a different flight, bound for Miami and not California, I breathed a sigh of relief. I watched for others.

I guess it’s no surprise that violence breeds suspicion. I knew that then, and still I fell into the sinister temptation. Call it racism, call it ignorance, call it what you will. I feared dark-skinned men in airports. I feared Arab-American neighbors in public places. I’m no Rush Limbaugh, but I fell for it.

I think about that day, and that terminal, often these days. I remember it clearly, not as a high moment but as a warning sign. I think it was Gandhi who said: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” In a lot of ways, I’ve spent nine years trying to be that change. For my sake. For my kids’ sake. For the world’s. Fear makes for bitterness and lousy politics. I want to be better than that. 

So, all these years later, I’m preparing for a two-week experience in Palestine and in Israel with 25 congregants and Santa Cruz friends. I’ll lead the delegation with my friend and colleague, Rabbi Paula Marcus of Temple Beth El in Aptos. We’ll visit with bold Israeli peacemakers and defiant Palestinian pacifists. We’ll break bread with Muslim sheikhs and Rabbis for Human Rights. Most of their stories will be strange, unfamiliar and unsettling. Some may even challenge our own country’s role, purpose, history in the Middle East. I imagine we’ll see some broken hearts. And it’ll be hard.

But our commitment is to dialogue, respect and openness. Our belief is in the kind of peacemaking that emerges from honest relationships. There are profound women and men—in Palestine, in Israel, around the world—who resist fear and hatred, even when these seem justified by years of history. We want to learn—at least a little bit—from them. In two weeks we can’t hope to change the dynamics of Middle East conflict, but we can become at least a bit of the change we wish to see in the world. It starts with us. It starts now.

THE REV. DAVE GRISHAW-JONES is Senior Minister of First Congregational Church in Santa Cruz. He and Rabbi Paula Marcus lead a 25-person delegation to Israel and Palestine this summer, leaving July 14 and returning July 28. You can follow their experiences at