The Gospel of Rutba book & film

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The Gospel of Rutba is ultimately a story of two walls; one figurative, the other literal. These walls are as different as mental and physical, but they connect in ways that threaten to defeat us all.

The literal wall has grown like a malignancy for sixteen years and stretches nearly three hundred miles through land held as sacred by Judaism, Islam and Christianity. Topped with gun towers, it’s as tall as the walls of San Quentin and, as it expands from the Samarian valleys to Jerusalem, Bethlehem and on to Mount Hebron and the biblical city of Judea, it divides more than property. It polarizes governments, militaries, religions and everyday people. Not only in the Middle East, but in North America and Europe too. And unlike the peace that eludes Israelis and Palestinians, the wall is ever growing. Israel calls it a “security barrier.” That’s half right. It’s a barrier. A barrier to Israelis and Palestinians discovering in each other the inherent goodness that leads to mutual respect and peace.

The figurative wall is responsible for our stones and mortar. Fear. It’s our first and most formidable wall. We struggle to scale it. Or maybe we don’t struggle; maybe we’re so tuckered out from fighting it we’ve stopped trying. Fear of loss, fear of the unknown, fear of cultures and religions different than our own, fear of suicide bombs and smart bombs, kidnappings and beheadings. It’s no wonder that even the strong retreat into the status quo. Like contiguous slabs of concrete desecrating holy ground, fear is more than an obstacle. It’s a fortress. It imprisons and segregates us.

In their return to Rutba, Iraq in January 2010, three American peacemakers who were rescued in Iraq in 2003 run into the figurative wall at the Jordan-Iraq border. Militaries and governments attempt to turn them away with explicit warnings of kidnappings and beheadings.They’re told that no sane Christian or Westerner would dare cross into enemy Arab territory without armed protection. Yet they proceed to Rutba armed only with their good intentions and hands extended in friendship. Scaling their fear they discover in Rutba the same kindness and goodness that greeted and cared for them seven years earlier.

Leaving Iraq, the author and Shane Claiborne travel to the Holy Land to see for themselves the literal wall, and to speak to Israelis and Palestinians about this conflict that divides the world.

In an effort to deconstruct walls literal and figurative, The Gospel of Rutba stretches the boundaries of assumption to discover something comfortable and familiar. As the Archbishop Desmond Tutu writes in its foreword, “The story of The Gospel of Rutba illuminates universal truth. In its pages you will stare into the soulful eyes of a foe and recognize a friend. Keep looking and you will see that the friend is, in fact, family. Look deeper still and a reflection will stop you. It’s you, after all. At our deepest best we are all rooted in a love that grows steadfast— generation to generation. Like perennial flowers opening to spring’s first caress, so too humanity grows toward light. Less graceful, and always groaning, but we are forever drawn to the peace of truth and reconciliation. Agape, and our love for our own children, demands that we provide a better inheritance.”