Imagining the future
It seems odd that I had to travel over 5,000 miles to get perspective on faith and politics in Northeast Ohio. But that is what happened. On a recent trip to the Middle East, I met with the Rev. Mitri Raheb, Pastor of the Christmas Church, an Evangelical Lutheran congregation in Bethlehem. Church members include teachers, doctors, lawyers, musicians, artists and business folk. There were many young families, children and teens -- just like our congregation. Certainly there are vast differences between Pastor Raheb’s context and mine. His is a world of security walls, occupation and minority status as a Palestinian Christian. My context is one of safety, majority identity and freedom. Yet what he said has application for our current reality in metro Cleveland.
Pastor Raheb reflected upon life in Bethlehem. He said there was “too much politics and not enough attention to the polis.” Polis is the Greek word for city. The mission of his church is to rebuild Jerusalem from the inner city outward. He was a leader of “Bethlehem 2000,” a campaign that raised money to rebuild the center of Bethlehem.
We often forget how important the city is. The Bible begins in a garden (Genesis 2:8) but ends in a city. In the Hebrew scripture there is the exhortation to rebuild the city walls of Jerusalem after the exile (Nehemiah 2:17). The forward-looking leaders in our region are right: we must share the resources and invest in the city of Cleveland. It is the heart of the region.
Pastor Raheb said that there is “too much religion and not enough faith.” Pastor Raheb reaches across religious and denominational boundaries bringing Christian and Muslim together around issues of mutual concern. How often do we, the religious leaders, busy ourselves only with our own institutions, miss opportunities to come together around issues of common interest? We often focus on the “wedge” issues that divide. We often miss the “whole pie” issues that can unite.
Pastor Raheb made a distinction between optimism and hope. Optimism, he said, comes from the same root as the word optic – what you can see with your eyes. The outlook for Bethlehem is not good. Yet his hope is fueled by his faith and this gives him energy to press on. He focuses on the abundance rather than the scarcity of resources. There IS enough to go around.
We in Northeast Ohio see the problems that beset us. However, hope stirs the imagination and taps the power to work for that which is envisioned. We have all the resources and all the capacity to make Cleveland a dynamic and wonderful city where our children and grandchildren safely play, go to school, work and become honorable citizens. If Cleveland thrives, so does Cleveland Heights.
The formula is clear: Focus on the city. Reach across the boundaries and celebrate the abundance. Have faith and cultivate hope so that we will reap the harvest of joy and prosperity for all in Northeast Ohio.
The Rev. John C. Lentz, Jr. is pastor of Forest Hill Church, Presbyterian, in Cleveland Heights.