Isn’t technology marvelous? Computers used to take up the space of entire rooms; now, many carry what are essentially tiny transistors that are faster, with more memory, and include high definition cameras in our pockets and purses! Our smartphones connect us to others by phone, through social media, and we’re only a search away from being able to find answers to countless questions. This connectedness provides us with much information, misinformation, knowledge, and opinions. The news seems to find us these days rather than needing to walk to the postbox for a paper copy.
The pervasiveness of information and interaction can lead us to believe that we’re more connected to one another now than ever before; however, we are also more susceptible to find ourselves in silos of like-thinkers, separating “us” from “them.” These dividing lines previously crossed by coffee shop conversations, attending family gatherings, or around the water cooler at work have taken hold. Society loves dichotomies, consider these categories: right vs. wrong, good vs. evil, scarcity vs. abundance, dark vs. light, evil vs. goodness, sinful vs. righteous. More often than not, we put ourselves in the “good” or “right” category, simultaneously placing those who aren’t sure they agree or who certainly do disagree in the “other” camp. The gap fills with distance, darkness, vilification, distrust, and fear as the separation wall’s cornerstone.
This division doesn’t always occur consciously. You may simply note thoughts like “they’re not like me,” “they’re not one of us,” “they don’t know,” or “they only get their news from the ____ channel.” What is good news to one group is detestable to the other. More significant problems than misunderstanding one another that “othering” can cause include hardness of heart, unwillingness to hold a posture of wonder, humility, or empathy, acknowledgment of their dignity, value, and belonging. We relinquish our faith to our fears. This behavior is ages old.
These divisions and dichotomies certainly exist in the minds of Christians and other Americans regarding the Middle East. The question “who’s side are you on?” is not uncommon. The increasing civil discord in our country has also led to the association of certain political parties and their unilateral support of segregated parts of the Middle East. Some people and groups support the state of Israel. Others find themselves more in solidarity with Palestinians. Other areas of the Middle East, like Iran and parts of the Arab peninsula, might be viewed with suspicion or distrust.
Our perspective at Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) is that peace will not be possible until political actors and civil society (including us!) get out of the mindset of division and discord. Only when we pursue equality, justice, and human rights for all people will peace be possible. If we genuinely care about the people of Israel, including the Jewish population and Palestinian citizens of the state, we must also care about their Palestinian neighbors living in East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza. If we ever want an lasting and comprehensive end to the occupation and justice for Palestinians, we cannot ignore the humanity of their Jewish Israeli neighbors. Peace in the Middle East is not a zero-sum game. Our goal is not a “balanced” perspective of the conflict. Still, we seek holistic engagement – where the humanity and narratives of all people are honored, and injustices, inequality, and human rights valuations must be addressed. And differentials of power cannot be ignored – including the responsibility of Israel to bring an end to the military occupation of the Palestinian people.
What does this mean for us as followers of Christ? As Christmas approaches, we proclaim the good news of the birth of Jesus, the Messiah. May we not bend to fear or humor divisiveness but draw near to God, who calls us to reconcile ourselves to Himself and to one another.
As you gather with friends or family and share a meal, listen to carols, wrap packages and deliver gifts to one another. Consider these trappings as beautiful, but also be mindful of the distance between your experience and that of others. Might our posture be that of learning and listening to others who ask us the question: Do you know what I know?
May we, in humility and with wonder, work toward peace and justice, proclaiming the name of Jesus and advocating for the least and most vulnerable, trusting that God is with us yet today. May we have eyes to see and ears to hear.
May we remember our being as part of the whole of creation.
May we not think more highly of ourselves than others.
May we not compromise in our quest for equality, justice, and human rights for all people.
May we be the face of goodness and light amid evil and darkness.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Written by Rev. Dr. Mae Elise Cannon and Rev. Aune Carlson
Support Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) this Advent season. We rely on your generous donations to continue to pursue peace and justice in the Middle East. Thank you. cmep.org/donate