A Table of Reconciliation

Jeff Wright – Palestine Soon after we arrived in Bethlehem, I found myself riding in a car with Mohammed – not the prophet, but one of his followers, a dear friend we’ve made over the years. Mohammed received a call on his cell phone, spoke with concern in his voice, turned the car around and drove us to the Selesian School where his brother is a student. His brother had gotten into a fight with a schoolmate. It had turned into a brawl. The other boy had been taken into custody by the police. When we arrived at the school, Mohammed’s brother was standing with some other boys. I don’t speak Arabic, but I understood that Mohammed was chewing out his brother and telling him to return home immediately.

Soon after we arrived in Bethlehem, I found myself riding in a car with Mohammed – not the prophet, but one of his followers, a dear friend we’ve made over the years. Mohammed received a call on his cell phone, spoke with concern in his voice, turned the car around and drove us to the Selesian School where his brother is a student. His brother had gotten into a fight with a schoolmate. It had turned into a brawl. The other boy had been taken into custody by the police. When we arrived at the school, Mohammed’s brother was standing with some other boys. I don’t speak Arabic, but I understood that Mohammed was chewing out his brother and telling him to return home immediately.

Mohammed heard the priest’s account of the event. The other boy had been injured and would need stitches. Next thing I knew we were driving to a restaurant owned by the other boy’s father. Mohammed knew the man, and wanted to talk to him as quickly as possible so that together they might go to the jail to tell the police that they would work out the disagreement as families. Learning that the boy’s father was already at the jail, Mohammed dropped me off and went to the jail. I called that night to ask if the situation had been resolved. Mohammed said that things were okay.

The next day, as we were having dinner in Mohammed’s home, he told me what had happened. I hadn’t known it, but Mohammed and the other boy’s father had embarked on an ancient practice in Arab culture called Ashira. It’s a way of restoring broken relationships. The ancient practice of Ashira began in the Bedouin communities of old where, without police and magistrates, families were left to work out their disagreements.

Together Mohammed and the other boy’s father were able to have the child released from police custody because they agreed to work out reconciliation between the two families, to practice Ashira. That evening, many of the adult males in Mohammed’s family had gone to the home of the other boy’s father and met with many of the males in that family.

Mohammed spoke first. He explained to the men of the other family that his family wanted to settle the argument between the boys before it got out of hand. It had started simply with one boy kicking the other on the soccer field. Neither family, Mohammed explained, would want the relationship between the two boys – and the two families – to deteriorate.

Mohammed explained that his family was prepared to do whatever the other family might ask of them. They had come to make restitution and wanted to do whatever they needed to do to reconcile the two families.

They were offered coffee. But Mohammed said that his family wanted to explore the terms of restitution before they shared coffee together. Then the boy’s father spoke. He said that he and his family valued the long relationship, too. And that by coming to his home and drinking his coffee, Mohammed’s family had done all that was necessary to heal the breach. They all drank together. It was Arabic coffee without sugar.

“That was it?” I asked Mohammed. “That was it,” he said. But if he and his family hadn’t gone, there might have been a bad feeling between the two families. And bad feelings lead to rifts, Mohammed said, and rifts, after time, lead to broken relationships. Neither family wanted that. It’s never just a fight between two boys, Mohammed said. It’s always a relationship between two families in the context of the entire community.

I was curious about the coffee served without sugar. In Palestine, I had never been served Arabic coffee without sugar. I asked Mohammed about it. Mohammed explained that when coffee is served without sugar in the Arab world, it’s a sign that something important, something grave, has occurred. For example, coffee without sugar is served on occasions of bereavement. So the meeting began with coffee without sugar. It was a sign of brokenness. The families’ sharing of it was an act of mutual grief and longing. Before they parted that night, both families were drinking coffee with sugar. Because healthy relationship is something to celebrate. Ashira is an acknowledgement that healthy relationship is at the very heart of life’s meaning and purpose.

I think this is why near the end, when Jesus begins to talk about experiences of suffering, rejection and death, he doesn’t say, “Follow the rules” or “Get your beliefs right”. He says, “Follow me. Believe in me.” Because it’s healthy relationships that matter – our relationship with Christ and the relationships we have nurtured that help us through life’s difficult, terrifying and joy-filled experiences.

As I come to the Lord’s Table these days – where together we give thanks for and remember the cost of Jesus’ gift of Ashira – I am reminded of the many tables God spreads before us day by day. Each may become a table of reconciliation, like the one around which Mohammed and those two families drank coffee together.

Jeff Wright
In February and March 2006, Janet, Jeff and Nathan Wright served as mission volunteers for the Common Board of Global Ministries of the United Church of Christ and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Janet, a mental health therapist, and two colleagues offered Part II training in EMDR to twenty-six therapists at the East Jerusalem YMCA Rehabilitation Program in the West Bank town of Beit Sahour. EMDR is a treatment for trauma, especially Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.