Saturday: A Sabeel into the Future

Yesterday’s post was long; this will be short.  This morning was recuperation up here at Ryan and Ingrid’s place on the Mt. of Olives, catching up on blogging and other work.   Mid-afternoon I walked down the hill, across the Gihon Valley and up toward the Temple Mount, then through the Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem to St. George’s Cathedral to meet Maha Ateek.  It was a long, hot march, but I welcomed the exercise and enjoyed strolling through the vibrant life of the back streets.  
Pictured above: Anglican priest Rev. Dr. Ateek.  For more about him and Sabeel, read on.
Hearing the sound of organ music from inside the oasis from the city’s bustle that is St. George’s compound, I stepped through the Cathedral doors and saw Maha practicing for tomorrow’s Palm Sunday service.  I relished a few moments listening to an Arabic hymn about Mary’s lament over Jesus on the cross, my head resting against the cool marble of a column, still trying to switch gears from yesterday’s mayhem at Damascus Gate just a few blocks away.
Maha is the intrepid partner of Naim Ateek, founder and still the visionary of Sabeel (which means “way” in Arabic).  Together they have managed to lead a movement and raise a family.  She is a consummate musician, as is their youngest son, now a church musician in Sweden.  She takes a low key role in Sabeel conferences, but everyone here knows she is the glue that keeps everything together.  And a great cook to boot!
Naim had organized a meeting this afternoon at the office with some of his incoming board members to talk about challenges facing Sabeel.  Like so many great organizations founded 20 or 30 years ago, Sabeel’s pioneering leadership, made up of impressive professionals who have worked tirelessly to build this movement, is now aging, and they are struggling to make the transition to the next generation.  They have successfully recruited younger board members, and are now trying to face the question of how to begin filling in for Naim, who needs to step back, write more, direct less.  These are classic issues for small movements, and we talked about the issues frankly–after a long debrief, that is, about yesterday’s protests and what they mean for the situation here.  
Naim and I then enjoyed a lovely, leisurely dinner at a local restaurant, talking nonstop about movements, organizational transitions, politics, theology, and the Kairos Palestine Statement.  Though Naim is my elder in every sense of the word, we both came up through the liberation theology and activism movements of the 70s and 80s, and we see things very similarly.  I am so grateful for his writing, leadership, and friendship, but above all for his dogged yet ever-gracious spirit that makes one want to be part of the Sabeel movement, despite how challenging the issues and this context are.  I hope you’ll check out their website and Naim’s many books, and consider becoming part of Friends of Sabeel North America, which both supports the work here in Palestine and extends its work and witness in our country.