In Jerusalem this week. This is a photo of a ladder on a balcony at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, final resting place of Jesus Christ. It looks pretty beat up and pretty ordinary, but it’s been there for hundreds of years. Or, something that looks like this.
The Church is controlled by three Christian sects, the Armenian Orthodox, the Greek Orthodox and the Roman Catholics. Each is a guardian over a certain section and they haven’t always gotten along. As it was told to me, the Catholics once controlled the door and refused to let the Armenians use it, so the ladder was put in place to allow them access to their section on the upper floor.
Eventually, there was an agreement that allowed everyone use of the door, but the Armenians wanted the ladder kept there just in case relations soured again. A pope in the 1700’s decreed that nothing in the entire church could be moved or replaced unless all the religions agreed.
Hence, the ladder remains. It’s made of cedar wood, maybe from Lebanon, but it rots through from time to time. The last time was in the 70’s or 80’s. And when it did, it needed to be replaced with an exact replica.
That, in its most concrete form, is what is meant by the term Status Quo, when it comes to Mid East tensions. Things should be kept exactly as they have been for centuries. In the 80’s when they found another entrance to the temple mount, there were riots in the streets until it was closed. Just last year, when the Israelis wanted to put in new security cameras, again there were riots.
Want another example? Just Google “Monk Broom fights Bethlehem” and see what pops up. Full on Brother Vs Brother broom bashing. Over what? Because one monk swept dust onto the section that another order controlled.
Back at Jesus’ burial church, the Christians guard the inside. The Israelis guard the streets in the old city, but the Jordanians guard the temple on the top. Muslim’s hold on to the keys for the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. One family has controlled the keys for centuries. Every morning, they open. Every evening, they lock up. The 12 inch key is some 800 years old. After one muslim conquest or another, the head honcho saw, even then, that no Christians were going to get along, so he took the key and gave it to someone with less of an interest and that has been acceptable for millenia.
Giving up any control or ceding any trust is a glacial process with little thaw in site.
Flash forward to dinner the other night at the Jerusalem Young Men’s Christian Association. Sing it now, The YMCA. It may sound seedy, but it’s a landmark designed by the same guy who designed the Empire State Building, who also designed the Leveque Tower back in the ol’ homeland, so… connections. It’s got a tower with great views and reportedly clean, comfortable rooms for very reasonable prices. Spa, Gym, pool and great gardens, too.
It also has a nice little bar/restaurant. I had an Israeli soup and salad along with my Palestinian kebabs and Palestinian beer.
Even through there is a centuries old status quo agreement, maybe there is also movement toward more commonality. Here’s the sign, and the punchline.
I’m not even kidding.
Into the bar together, walked a priest, a rabbi and an imam…