the holy land, walls, exceptionalism & Jesus.

wailing wall

* ps: my blog is a little wonky right now. none of the menus work after an update so hopefully i can get it fixed soon.

what a wild and amazing adventure to israel & palestine last week. i can honestly say it was a trip of a lifetime.  my mom took me as one of her dreams and i am so grateful that through a really amazing connection at the denver faith & justice conference in november, we hooked up with a learning group that was perfect for what we wanted.  we did not want a typical holy land tour but rather a more raw & real experience, and that is what we got.  the society for biblical studies does a fantastic job of integrating archeology-history-scripture-sociology together.  the other part i loved about them is that they are very concerned with justice and we stayed on the palestinian side in the west bank and brought our resources & presence there instead of where most tourists go.

there is so much to share, and i will do my best over the upcoming month to download pieces of our experience. some of you have seen a few of the pictures on facebook & i’m planning to pull together a complete album; maybe i can figure out how to link here to flicker.

this trip was always a learning trip, not a vacation. and whoa, did we learn a lot!

here are a few initial thoughts that are on the tip of my tongue.

the holy land is holy…and complicated…and somehow represents a microcosm of the wider system in a way that i can’t quite explain. the rich and deep history here and the realities of the conflict between the palestinians and israel run deep.  the mix of jew-muslim-christian all tangled up together. the harshness yet beauty of the land.  the “no wonder Jesus was rejected” because what he embodied was so strong. over our week i spoke with a mix of people from all three faiths and it it did feel clear that the on-the-ground relationships between the groups are often good & kind but it is the political & religious agendas & the bigger system issues that keep perpetuating the divide.

that wall represents far more than just the barrier between the palestine & israel.  when we first went through the wall into the west bank, we had come directly from the sea of galilee & capernaum & the mount of beatitudes, where Jesus did a lot of his ministry.  standing at the synagogue where he unrolled the isaiah 61 scroll in luke 4 proclaiming freedom for the captives, reflecting on the beatitudes and the sermon on the mount and then driving into the reality of what war & separation & power can do was honestly one of the most powerful experiences of my trip.  i can’t quite explain what happened to me but it was a crazy whoosh of the holy spirit that was completely unprompted, unexpected, and a little freaky. for me, the wall represents all of the ways we are prone toward hate & division & power & privilege & us vs. them. i was reminded that we might not have a huge physical walls in other contexts but we do have many invisible but strong ones that keep us divided and comfortable. the wall represents a life opposite of the beatitudes.

exceptionalism strips dignity & ruins love.  oh i will write much more on this soon but this was a term i hadn’t heard before so specifically but it aligns with much of what i have seen in the church and known in my own life.  exceptionalism is when we think we are better than other people, as a group or as individuals.  it’s being above others because the Bible says so, or we say so, or however we want to justify it.  it is the opposite of humility.  this isn’t just the root of the problem in the israel-palestinian crisis, it is the root of many christian & societal problems as well.  it is us-better-than-them in it’s finest form.  it is centered on pride & comfort & homogeneity & power & privilege. i get how easy it is to get sucked into it, but i was convicted of its danger in even the smallest of forms. it is damaging to unity and peace.

Jesus is more real to me than ever. i did not have one of those holy land experiences where i was weeping at every turn. but i was reminded, in a strange & important way, why i believe what i believe and why i am a nutcase for change. Jesus was (and is) just so wild! the incarnation & the way God chose to reveal himself. the radicalness of the message.  how so much of what we were taught about Jesus was corrupted by systems dedicated to exceptionalism instead of humility & love. how deep & mind-and-heart-bending his teaching was then and is today.  how dedicated he was to the oppressed & breaking down religiosity.  how alive he still is, calling us to bravely live out our faith.

out of everything that was shared over our time there, the one phrase that struck me the most was from a palestinian leader in a refugee camp.  he said “we just want to be equal.”

we just want to be equal. not over or under another others–but learning what it means to be side by side as friends & neighbors & human beings who may believe different things but are all made in the image of God and worthy of dignity, hope, and freedom.

oh, we have a lot of work to do–here and abroad–to practice what that means.  God help us all.

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ps: today i also have a post up at sheloves magazine for the monthly column on down we go.  this month’s theme is “free” so i wrote a post from my hotel room called we must fight for our freedom.  i hope you’ll go over there and read it!

that’s me in the pink at the wailing wall (one of my favorite things we did) & here’s my mom & i in jerusalem at the mount of olives overlooking the city on our last day (she rocks):

mount of olives with grandma karen

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar is dedicated to creating safe and brave spaces for transformation and healing in real life, online, and outside. She co-pastors at The Refuge, a hub for healing community, social action, and creative collaboration in North Denver, co-directs #communityheals, a non-profit organization dedicated to making spaces for transformation accessible for all, and is the author of Practicing: Changing Yourself to Change the World, Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.


  • First of al Kathy, glad to hear that your trip lived up to expectations.

    Yes the things about walls, visible and invisible “divided and comfortable” and opposite to the beauttitudes.

    Our “natiional treasure” here in the UK Stephen Fry says “It’s now very common to hear people say “I’m rather offended by that.” As if that gives them certain rights. It’s actually nothing more than a whine. “I find that offensive.” It hs no meaning, it has no purpose; it has no reson to be respected as a phrase. “I am offended by that” Well so ******* what?”.

    One story I heard breaking out fomr trouble between Irsraelis and Palestinians was of a Palestinian Christian women who wouldn’t let herself be intimidated by Israili soldiers. Her children played near them, and she came to the soldiers, she lovingly gave them flowers.

    Now that is power, to love your enemy in such a way. It must have taken power from God.

    Something of the story of the widow with the two coins in that, that Jesus used as an example and a rebuke to those in power that looked down on her.

    All of us have power available to us, and strength in the Lord, some of us aren’t aware of the extent of that or of how much strength and power we have. With that, someone can be of humble position but be more powerful than a king.

    I think the beattitudes starts with humility, and knowing God’s provisison and favour in spite of how circumstances appear fomr a human perspective.

  • I felt inspired just hearing about your trip! Thank you so much for sharing. Jesus’ ways ARE so wild and radical and just so good and nourishing for us. I just love all of your reminders to continue to fight against the forces of inequality and exceptionalism both inside and outside of ourselves.

    • I like your point Tamara about there being issues in ourselves as well as outside that are getting in the way of the beattitude living that Kathy talks of. So we can opress with our own force or be opressed by outside force. It being as much then about repentance as fighting for justice.

      Just in the last few days, I’ve been made aware the I have been shutting the door on church, saying I am done with it after expereinces of suffering and being continuially misunderstood and mistreated. In prayer with others, someone who knew nothing about this, spoke into this saying that this had happened and that there was a place for me in terms of bringing about change into the church. The way they put it was that I was to breathe oxygen into a church with asthmatic lungs.

      What was great also without knowing it was that the team praying with me talked of a specific thing about a lie that had been spoken into me that they would not have known without God revealing it to them. So they engaged in warfare against that lie.

      It was a great and freeing expreince to know there would be a place for me somewhwere somehow where I am gifted can be applied in the church and to be released from a lie that has been a hindrance. I had my part to play in repenting on having been done with the church and now see the frustrations I have had as being a springboard to something new and adventurous.

      • that is so fun, to hear this story of healing and redemption in some way. “i love that imagery of “i was to breathe oxygen into a church with ashtmatic lungs”.

        • Nice to part of it :). I guess time will tell as to whether the thing about the oxygen and asthmatic lungs will come to fruition.

        • OOOoooo I just had a thought – remeber what I said on an earlier post when I mentioned I feel I can breathe? 🙂

  • Kathy, this is truly inspiring. Thank you for writing so beautifully and getting the word out about Jesus, and against exceptionalism…I shared your blog with my husband last night, and we were overwhelmed with thoughts of heaven. I really think heaven is that there will be no more walls. We will be extending bridges to everyone, and everyone will want to. There will be no more crying because no more loneliness, no more rejection of others.

    Praying for you Kathy as you share and make a difference – you are a beautiful soul!

    • thank you, laurie, and it always makes me happy when i know people are reading some of these things together and processing it somehow. amen to your thoughts on heaven and so glad that tastes of it here on earth are possible with God’s wild and crazy wind blowing through people. thanks for reading.


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