Bishop Mitri Raheb, a Palestinian Lutheran pastor, who serves Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem, Palestine, was in Wilmington on Monday meeting with pastors and with anyone who wanted to show up and hear him on Monday afternoon in Newark and Monday evening at Westminster Presbyterian, a block away from St. Stephen’s. On Sunday, a few of us met in adult study to discuss his book: Faith in the Face of Empire: the Bible through Palestinian Eyes. Yesterday he preached at the Lutheran Seminary at Philadelphia’s graduation at which our Coordinator for Mission, Douglas Barclay received his diploma. Thanks and praise be to God!
One of the terms Pastor Raheb uses in his book is the French term used by historians: longue durée. In essence this means to take the long view – not an easy thing for us humans who tend to look through the lens of our threescore and ten year time frames.
Yet, as people of faith, we are called to see life from the perspective of God and that is the long view. We are called to live towards a vision that has broken in but has not yet been fully realized. So for instance, Jesus didn’t pay much mind to the Roman occupiers of his day because he knew that empires come and go. The people of his day couldn’t have imagined that to be true because Rome seemed all powerful, but from the long view, Rome’s power would go the way of the previous empires: Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece. Jesus was teaching that true power, lasting power, effective power looks very different from the power of empire. He was empowering his disciples to live in response to God’s reign, not Rome’s. God calls fishermen and farmers andus to be ambassadors for God’s kingdom.
Of course, it’s very hard to live in response to that which is not yet fully realized, especially if the reality in which we live includes suffering, oppression, hunger, violence; and yet, at the same time the only way out of those situations is to act and speak, to live and breathe the alternative power that Jesus offers. The only true way forward is to keep declaring and making room for God’s reign even when it seems that someone else is in power.
Having the long view is what allows us to hope. As Raheb writes: “Hope is the power to keep focusing on the larger vision while taking the small, often undramatic, steps toward that future.”
Do you see how longue durée helps us in our own lives? In our own health struggles? Grief? As leaders of St. Stephen’s? In our work places? Do we live only in response to today or also and always in response to the vision of God’s kingdom that is both now and not yet?