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A World on the Move
Queering Faith
Igniting Change

Immersion Blogs


Holy Places and Dispersements an Immersion in the Middle East

By | Holy Places and Displacements, Immersions | No Comments

Winford Horsley is an M.Div student at the Pacific School of Religion.

My immersion trip to the Palestine/Israel was both exhilarating and heartbreaking.  As a practicing non-denominational Christian Minister and an Interfaith Hospital Chaplain, having the awesome opportunity of visiting sacred holy sites made Biblical Scripture come alive.  For example visiting the Jordan River where Jesus Christ was baptized by John the Baptist was a surreal experience.  We also spent a couple of days in Nazareth which is where Jesus lived and thrived for almost twenty-seven of his thirty-three years on earth.  Walking the streets of Nazareth caused me to reflect and reimagine what his life might have been like for Jesus Christ as a child and young adult long before he would be known by some as the Messiah or the King of Jews.

Tracing further the steps of Jesus from his birth to his crucifixion, as the stories are told in the Gospels, was a dream come true.  It was a deeply moving religious experience.  I was blessed immeasurably and greatly humbled to be able to share this experience with so many people from all walks of life.

The heartbreaking aspect of my immersion excursion involved witnessing firsthand the many types of racial, economic, and religious disparities that exist in the region.  For instance I saw the devastating consequences of some of the indigenous Palestinians being dispersed, displaced and left without land and homes that had been in their families for decades.  This was due to the often violent takeover of their land by the Israeli Government in order for the government to make room for Jewish settlements and communities.  Hearing people describe so many of these stories left me feeling sad, confused, angry and heartbroken.  Witnessing a region of the world so utterly divided by strong lines of demarcation such as walls and roadways was difficult to witness and absorb.  As we navigated throughout Jerusalem, Nazareth, Jericho, and Bethlehem security check points carried out by Israeli soldiers with assault weapons were common place.  So much of what I witnessed was very reminiscent of the racism against African Americans during pre and post slavery as well as the Jim Crow segregation laws that existed in our own country not too long ago.

This immersion trip to the Middle East left me with so many conflicting emotions and feelings that quite frankly I am still trying to process and understand.  What I am clear about however, is that I have an even stronger resolve to treat people the way I would want to be treated.  I plan to share my thoughts and experiences with some members of my local church congregation and with some of my patients within the context of my work as an Interfaith Hospital Chaplain.

I still believe in a two state solution for my brothers and sisters in Israel/Palestine.  I am stubborn enough and have faith enough in God to believe that God can do anything under the sun.  I purposely choose to believe that all things are possible.

Fear and Loathing in Jerusalem

By | Holy Places and Displacements, Immersions | No Comments

Ed Stewart is a first year M.Div student at the Pacific School of Religion who recently returned from this Immersion course in Middle East: Holy Places and Displacement.

Having returned from Israel and Palestine, I’ve had time to decompress a bit and reflect on the past two weeks.  The journey with my PSR colleagues was challenging and thought-provoking, and ultimately a rewarding experience.  But now that I’m back home, I’m struck by how very militarized the Holy Land is, and how this fact colors my memories of the religious sites we visited.

The juxtaposition of the sacred and the profane was readily apparent nearly everywhere we went.  In Bethlehem the Church of the Nativity is the featured attraction, but the more imposing structure is the nearby “security barrier” that snakes across town, separating Palestinian communities from Israeli settler neighborhoods.  Along the Jordan River near where Jesus was baptized are stations of Israeli and Jordanian soldiers, who stare at each other uneasily across the narrow waterway dividing Jordan from the occupied West Bank.  At the Western Wall of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, the most sacred site in Judaism, even the most devout worshipper would find it hard to ignore the nearby contingent of Israeli troops with their machine guns at the ready.

We spent the last week of our immersion in Jerusalem, which the Knesset has declared the eternal and undivided capital of Israel.  Nevertheless, the city reminded me of the divided city of Berlin before the fall of the Wall.  The West Bank security barrier (or separation wall, depending on which side of it you happen to be standing) winds its way though neighborhoods on a seemingly random course.  But look more closely and you notice the difference in the the condition of housing and infrastructure on one side of the wall versus the other.  Even the ever-present police vehicles look different: West Jerusalem is patrolled by police cars; East Jerusalem by jeeps.

Security checkpoints and constantly-patrolled borders seem to be of paramount importance in this corner of the world.  Yet it is unclear to me — as an outsider — what has been achieved.  Despite all the efforts to maintain an enforced separation between these two peoples, my sense is that Palestinians and Israelis are locked in a mutually-suffocating embrace.  Palestinians resent the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, and Israelis are frightened of the Palestinian resistance to this very occupation.  For the last 50 years neither side has been able to let go of its fear and loathing, or to alter the prism through which they view each other.  And so the conflict continues.


Rawdat El-Zuhur

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The children sang a song in English for us!

The children sang a song in English for us!

Some of them were shy, and others were excited.

Some of them were shy, and others were excited.


An interactive calendar the children use to describe day of the week, date, weather, season, etc. We all agreed that we needed something like this to help us learn Arabic.

Some of the outdoors.  The school doesn't have enough playground space for its students, really.

Some of the outdoors. The school doesn’t have enough playground space for its students, really.