I arrived in the Amman airport yesterday to discover that the Associated Church Press press tour was going to include for the week a film crew from a Christian TV show Travel with Spirit. Each of our groups consists of five people; there are ten of us in total. The other journalists in the press tour include two Canadian freelance writers; a journalist from CBS news; and Trish Edwards-Konic, Quaker pastor and previous editor of Quaker Life.
Of the ten of us (the press tour and the film crew) there are an equal number of men and women. The entire film crew is from Southern California while the journalists are from all over. I appear to be the most progressive of the lot, but that remains to be seen.
Our day’s itinerary was simple. In the morning we visited the ruins of Umm Qais and in the afternoon we visited the city of Jerash. While the Roman and Ottoman stones shone beautifully in the bright spring sun it was the view of the Sea of Galilee from the top of Umm Qais that attracted my interest. Looking past the Golan Heights (Syrian territory occupied by Israel) the Sea of Galilee displayed its breathtaking sparkle. Directly across the water from my vantage point was the city of Tiberius. Almost exactly two months ago, like a magic mirror, I had stood on the shore by Tiberius looking back upon Jordan.
The city of Jerash was also magnificent. It is one of the best preserved Roman ruins in the world. The complex is immense and the amphitheater is almost completely preserved. The press tour spent some time watching the film crew as they interviewed local musicians. Unbeknownst to me, the bagpipe of Scotland originated in Jordan. Two Jordanian musicians played for us in the amphitheater where the acoustics were most likely as spectacular as they had been 2,000 years ago.
Between the two cities of Umm Qais and Jerash runs the river of Jacob. This is the river by which Jacob is said to have wrestled with the angel who named him Israel (Gen. 32:22–32). I have often used this story as a metaphor to explain challenges in my own life. Seeing the river snake through the steep valley was serene and thought-provoking.
In reflection of my day, I find that once again the story of Jacob and the angel serves as a metaphor for my life, because, like Jacob, I wrestled with my faith today between the two cities of Umm Qais and Jerash. At the very end of our mid-day meal, before receiving our receipt and leaving the restaurant, one of the film crew abruptly asked me (in front of everyone), “So Rachel, what’s a Quaker?”
It’s a question with which I am familiar. I have been asked that question hundreds of times over the course of my life. Over the years I have developed better and better answers but at that moment I wished that I had 12–24 hours (like Jacob) rather than 5 minutes to wrestle with that question.
Even an additional ten minutes would have allowed me to cover my normal slate of Quaker talking points: Christian history, sacraments, different worship styles, testimonies, pacifism, continual revelation, and realized eschatology. But how do you explain Quakerism in five minutes? What do I leave out? Of course, in addition to the time crunch, Trish Edwards-Konic was sitting next to me. We represent very different persuasions of Friends. She just shook her head and let me try my best.
Prefacing my explanation with saying that it would take a bit more time to explain Quakerism in full and that Trish and I come from very different communities, I engaged fully in the challenge. I didn’t get very far before the questions started, and soon we were in the parking lot racing through the differences between Friends, Christian denominations, and faith communities in general. While the conversation remained friendly, I felt unexpectedly defensive.
Back on the bus (the press tour and the film crew have different vehicles) my mind spun from the experience. Given five minutes, how would you explain Quakerism? Could you do so and still feel like you walked away with integrity? I’m not sure I passed the litmus test set before me. In some ways I feel like I did my faith community a disservice. I feel acutely frustrated at both the limitations placed on my voice and my inability to simply describe my faith. My pride is humbled from this experience and I feel a bit like Jacob, limping away from his bout with faith.
published first at the blog of Friends Journal