Several of us who are connected to IBTS one way or another, have been making our way to Nazareth over the last few days and hours. I was one of the three making the journey yesterday night – as usual for the Middle Eastern countries, flying in the middle of the night (does anybody know why? Please tell if you do!). So, around five o’clock in the morning, we stumbled out from the plane into the bus, into the terminal of Ben Gurion airport (absolutely beautiful architectural space!) and to the imigration booths.
“What’s the purpose of your visit?” asked the officer in the booth I approached. “Business.” “What kind of?” “European Baptist Federation meetings,” I responded. “European WHAT?” I provided my short explanation of who Baptists were.
The officer didn’t seem to be much impressed: “Hmm.” “Lithuania,” he remarked, looking at my passport. “That’s the most secular country in Europe.” Well, that’s not true, so I gently suggested he probably meant Estonia, and also volunteered that the Czech Republic is very secular. But he wasn’t much into listening – or perhaps wanted to convince me that he knows everything that needs to be known about Lithuania. At that point, I decided it wasn’t worth carrying on with the gentle debate.
“Anyway, you say Estonia and Czech Republic,” he remarked, handing me back my stamped passport. “That’s why they prosper. Have a good stay in Israel, Ms Lina.”
I do know what he means. Surely, religion’s at the heart of so much trouble of this land. I kept sensing it especially accutely as we shot down the Yitzhak Rabin highway towards Nazareth.
And yet, I differ from this officer in that he does not think that religion of some sort – our ultimate loyalties, our affections, our heart-felt convictions – is always there, recognized or not, called religion or not, hidden behind loud phrases or lived out quietly.