I THINK OF IT AS the Second Stoning of Stephen, circa mid-1990s.
The first Stephen died—right after shouting, “Lord, don’t blame them for what they have done” (Acts 7:60 CEV).
The second Stephen, me, lived—and shouted, “Let’s get to a police station.”
I was not in a forgiving frame of mind.
At the time, I was a curriculum editor for a denominational publisher. I edited Illustrated Bible Life, a Bible background magazine that adult Sunday school teachers in several denominations used to supplement their teacher’s quarterly.
We had a 13-week series coming up on the life of Jesus, and I had talked my bosses into letting me lead a trip to the Holy Land, to prep Sunday school teachers for the lessons. We hoped to fill a bus. We ended up with three bus loads.
After the tour, I stayed behind for a photo shoot. With me: Old Testament and archaeology prof Dr. Wilbur Glenn Williams, award-winning photographer Greg Schneider, and an editorial assistant, Rebecca Privett.
Wilbur drove because he had been to Israel many times and was most familiar with the routes.
We wanted to get some photos of Hezekiah’s Tunnel on Jerusalem’s east side. That’s where Palestinians lived—and where the Israeli government was confiscating plots of land for Jews.
We should have walked. It wasn’t that far from our hotel.
But we drove.
Not just any car.
A rental car licensed by a Jewish company.
Israelis color-coded their license plates. Jews got one color. Non-Jews got another.
We drove a bull’s eye.
Hezekiah’s Tunnel, as it turned out, was closed for the day. Wilbur turned the car around. About 100 yards later, on the driver’s side of the road, out popped a skinny human—face hidden behind the traditional Arab headdress, a keffiyeh.
I had bought one of those earlier in the trip. It was black and white.
I would grow to hate it for a long time.
The skinny human raised a cantaloupe-sized rock over his head.
Sitting shotgun, without a shotgun, I yelled to Wilbur: “Stop!”
Wilbur says I probably saved his life.
The rock hit the front windshield instead of plowing through the driver’s side window. The reinforced windshield was thick enough to stop the rock—something the flimsy side window could not have done.
I was fiercely angry.
The skinny human could have killed one of my friends: Wilbur or Rebecca sitting directly behind him.
“Did you get a picture?” I asked Greg.
“Are you kidding?” he said.
No I wasn’t. I was fighting mad.
And I got madder.
As we drove through the Palestinian neighborhood looking frantically for a policeman or a soldier, Palestinians looked up at our car and smiled. Some laughed.
We came within a shout of death, and these people are laughing about it?
In that moment, I would have gladly rounded them all up, confiscated their land, and sent them packing to God Knows Where and I Don’t Care.
I was glad when we left Israel and moved on to Rome.
Later it hit me. I got that angry over a single stone on a fleeting trip, yet Palestinians and Israelis live in a perpetual cycle of violence and retaliation.
Little wonder that before we left Israel, Israelis as well as our Christian Palestinian bus operators made one request of us. They quoted a line from the Old Testament, which is the Jewish Bible:
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.
And pray for heads more level than mine—in Israel and wherever violence erupts. Because if I would have had a shotgun while riding shotgun I would have shot the gun.
Sad to say.
I hope I’ve mellowed since.
But I’m not so sure.
Lead me not into temptation.