Our task (Dean, Ash, Susan and Judith) was to initiate a conversation that probes the special place of any one (1) Christian community in Jerusalem. Your conversation and/or questions should address that group’s origins, history and relationships with other Christian, Jewish or Muslim groups in the Old City of Jerusalem.
At the outset we sought to identify a religious place such as a Church. On our way we stopped for lunch where we were served by young Muslim men, one of whom took us to his father’s shop (clearly he was the spotter and decided we had money in our wallets!). The father identified as a Muslim Bedouin Arab. During a lengthy encounter as we purchased some of his goods, we discussed his views about the diversity of the Old City and the close working proximity of the different groups. We also discussed his understanding of the Jerusalem Cross as he was trying to sell one to Susan.
After this encounter – which I will come back to – we decided that the significant place may well be the market place, not the Church as we had imagined. It was the market place where people were coming together, where there was a sense of cooperation and mutual respect. Whether or not this is just on the surface is difficult to tell. Our second conversation was with a 25 year old male Muslim who talked about the one God with different ways of worship – he suggested that this one God did not make us all black or white, but made us different, and this was a metaphor for his view that the different religious traditions were all of the one God. He asserted that it was the politicians who saw it differently – the Zionists. These did not represent the views of ordinary Jews (at least those working in the Old City).
We eventually made it to our destination – the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer. It was quiet, constructed simply in white marble, with an archaeological excavation underneath (which was very interesting but a distraction to our endeavour). The ‘feel’ of the Church was cold, quiet, sterile even. It was certainly lacking life compared to the market place – but for some perhaps a quiet retreat from the hustle and bustle outside. There were few people there, and no one we could ask about the significance of the place. Its apparent significance seemed tied up to its relationship to the Church of the Holy Sepulche next door.
Next we went to another shop in the market place where we had another lengthy discussion with a young man who identified as having no real religious affiliation, but had a Jewish mother, an Armenian father and a Greek Orthodox grandfather. His parents were now ‘born again’ Christians! Besides being able to talk about anything to get a sale, and was clearly familiar with the art of flattery, told us about the Jerusalem Cross (which he was trying to sell to us). His view was slightly different from the Muslim man we spoke to.
Interestingly, the interpretation of the Jerusalem Cross encompasses the notion of the five wounds of Christ, the four quarters of Jerusalem, the religions in the Old City, depending on who one is speaking with. The most interesting notion from the Muslim Bedouin was that the different quarters were ‘back to back’ but together.
A further interesting discussion raised by all three shopkeepers was that the market was slow this season – due principally to the perception that Jerusalem was not a safe place, so people were not coming, their sales were down and business was tough. They saw this as constructed by politicians and the media. None had a sense that the Old City, or Jerusalem, was unsafe. As a significant place, the market place, is a place of significance to the lives and livelihood of the people. It is a place where they co-exist; sometimes intermarry; where diversity is accepted; where they support each other yet vie for business; and where they all do well, or suffer together.