I couldn’t believe my eyes. For that matter, I didn’t think I could trust them. We’d been traveling for the last 26 hours and had ambled down to Jaffa Street in Jerusalem to find some solid food to make up for the airplane food, loss of all four pieces of our luggage, loss of my Kindle and my wife’s fractured toe. I just wanted a greasy shwarma stuffed full of colorful varieties of salads and then to drown my sorrows with an ice-cold bottle of grape-flavored mineral water. And it worked. Maybe life wasn’t so bad after all. It was a little before 9:00 p.m. and we still had a few minutes to shop for replacement shirts and underwear before the shops closed. And that’s when I discovered for certain that Jerusalem is changing.
Since the last time I was here, Jerusalem has completed a tramline to different parts of the city. Outside of my little shwarma cafe is the kiosk for buying tickets and hopping on the tram. But the happily chatting group of 20-somethings weren’t happening to go anywhere. At the center of the group of 7-10 were three novitiate candidates for the priesthood. Tall, good-looking, Canadians, Americans, or Australians. And one was wearing a cowboy hat. I’m betting he was from Texas. They must have been hilarious because the Jewish young ladies and macho guys wearing yarmukes (skull caps that the more devout Jewish men wear) were laughing out loud in unfiltered delight. If I could have slipped into the center of the party, I would have, but I think my presence might have immediately extinguished the fun.
The ends of lit cigarettes punctured the night sky as the competing storytellers emphasized their punchlines. This was fun from even a distance! And then a really amazing thing happened. Two Muslim women wrapped in their headscarves joined the group. They stayed at the outer edges of the circle, but they were still there. Their dark eyes danced as they smiled at the easy humor of the crowd. Wow…soon-to-be Catholic priests–one with a cowboy hat–delighting Jewish hipsters surrounding by young observant Muslim women.
When I first came here, people used their different hats, wool jackets, and facial hair to keep themselves distinct and different and aloof. All of that is changing. Maybe some walls are coming down. And maybe the story of Jesus can be told in some new ways by priests in cowboy hats with southern drawls.