Meaningful engagement by American Christian in the Holy Land in the hopes of contributing towards a sustainable, just peace is both necessary and possible.
One chilly Minnesota Saturday in the early months of 2002, I found myself listening in on a conversation between parishioners in my small Orthodox church while we made candles. The radio was reporting news of what became known as the Nativity Church Siege in Bethlehem, and my fellow parishioners were weighing in on their thoughts about the crisis. None of us had ever been to the Holy Land, but this faraway event in a place we only knew through Gospel readings and icons still had an impact in our humble little parish and its parishioners.
More than sixteen years after that morning of melting down paraffin wax in a church basement, my life and the welfare of the Palestinian Christian community of Bethlehem so impacted by that Siege have become forever intertwined. I spent ten years living and working in the city of Bethlehem district, finding a place in the community of my Palestinian Christian wife and sharing in the struggles of the local people. Yet even with the very unique set of circumstances, I feel that my fellow American Christians do not need such a significant personal connection to become engaged in the pursuit of a sustainable, just peace in the Holy Land.
Dear CMEP Community,
“They have treated the wound of my people carelessly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.” Jeremiah 6:14
Earlier this afternoon, the Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) staff gathered around a laptop in our office–just a mile or so from the White House–to watch the President and Prime Minister Netanyahu announce the much anticipated “plan” for Israelis and Palestinians. As I listened to the speech, I was devastated. I was heartbroken as I thought of all the pain, suffering, and injustice that this plan will perpetuate.
The plan presented by President Trump and further fleshed out by Prime Minister Netanyahu is nothing less than a recipe for endless oppression and injustice. Palestinians for far too long have suffered under Israeli military control, a reality which today was denied and ignored.
The proposed plan would further entrench the Israeli security establishment, ensuring that generations of Israeli young men and women will serve in a military tasked with continuing control of the Palestinian people. The inevitable result will be more human rights abuses, trauma, and violence.
This cannot stand. Read more
Two weeks ago, the Christian community in the Jerusalem and Bethlehem area gathered together for the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Services were held at many of the different denominations’ churches, including at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Jerusalem. The Jerusalem/West Bank Young Adults in Global Mission (JWB YAGMs) helped to lead the service, in our debut as the “Young Adults in Global Mission Choir.”
Now, to be completely honest, I haven’t thought a whole lot about “Christian Unity” before coming here and serving as a part of YAGM. Before this year, my focus was decidedly more interfaith than ecumenical. As the vice president of the interfaith council at Vanderbilt University, I worked hard to foster dialogue between people of all sorts of different religious and ethical persuasions. My interest in intra-Christian relations, however, extended about as far as my education at a Catholic school and basic understanding of Catholicism. Read more
You might not believe it, since the image of the Middle East most people have in their heads involves sweltering heat and rolling sand, but it gets quite cold here. Not as cold, perhaps, as the -66 windchill the Midwestern United States is experiencing right now, but cold enough. With houses designed to draw heat out during the summer and no indoor heating, the temperature is often the same chilly 50 degrees inside that it is outside, if not cooler.
We’ve entered what Palestinians call “al-muraba’ia,” “the forty days,” the coldest days of the year. Thunderstorms blow in from the Mediterranean, dumping rain and sleet and hail on the hills of Jerusalem before pacifying in the Jordan River Valley. Wind sneaks in through the windows, making candles and electricity alike flicker. From Christmas until the middle of February, we will wear extra layers and huddle around space heaters for warmth, piling thick fleece blankets on our beds. Then, the warmth will return, spring will break out, and we will move on.
It seems particularly fitting that these days number forty, and that they are coming now, of all times. Read more
This is the final entry in our Advent 2019 devotional series. For the four Sundays of Advent and Christmas Day, we released Advent reflections from voices in the Holy Land. Catch up now: Advent I: Hope, Advent II: Peace, Advent III: Joy, and Advent IV: Love.
Christ is Born
As the Christmas season winds to a close my thoughts on my experiences here are finally beginning to settle. Christmas in the Holy Land, especially in the Bethlehem area, is an incredibly busy time, full of old traditions and new. Over the past month, I’ve attended countless parties, decorated Christmas trees, taken pictures with Santa, eaten chestnuts roasted on an open fire (or in a toaster oven) while sipping red wine, gone to parades, and, of course, worshiped at numerous local churches.
I’ve lost count of the number of times that people have exclaimed to me about how amazing it must be to be spending Christmas in Bethlehem. And there are parts of it that certainly have been amazing, though definitely not what I expected. In many ways, I was surprised at how familiar Christmas was here. Read more
This is the second entry in our Advent 2019 devotional series. For the four Sundays of Advent and Christmas Day, we will be releasing Advent reflections from voices in the Holy Land. Catch up now: Advent I: Hope, Advent II: Peace, and Advent III: Joy.
Loving the Stranger
Destructive policies, actions, and statements are all over the news these days. While this dismays and deeply disturbs many of us, maybe it is useful to try to see the glass half full.
Leaders around the world have gained power by relying on fear-mongering, hate-filled incitement, supremacy, and an encircling of the wagons in a laager or ghetto mentality while undermining both democracy and the world order established post-World War II.
Such subversion of critical agencies such as the United Nations, international law, organs of accountability, or basic civil rights forces us to choose the reality in which we function. We can either go with the masses down the dangerous road to full-fledged fascism, apartheid, and dictatorship, or we can step back and choose differently and fight for human values.
That freedom of choice is a blessing many do not enjoy, but for those of us who believe firmly in the spiritual way – whether via the wisdom of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism or other religious doctrines valuing truth, love, freedom, goodness, empathy, caring (especially for the weak or The Other) and the sacred, holistic nature of life – this is a period in which to reclaim those values.
Listen to the Episode Here
Lorice is a mother of three and a grandmother of five who was raised in the Beit Sahour area of the Bethlehem district. After her children finished university, they left Palestine for opportunity elsewhere. Her sister also went abroad. While she lives with her husband and aging father in the house her father built for her, she says she often feels alone, and in the future, plans to move to America where one of her daughters and her sister live. “I think if you love something, you love somebody; it’s your home.” Read more
This is the third entry in our Advent 2019 devotional series. For the four Sundays of Advent and Christmas Day, we will be releasing Advent reflections from voices in the Holy Land. Catch up now: Advent I: Hope and Advent II: Peace.
Joy to the World: The Confession of a Jerusalem Resident
One of the most beloved Christmas carols—one we all know by heart—is not really about Christmas. Yet throughout the holiday season, “Joy to the world” is everywhere. We hear it on the radio, in shopping malls, at candlelight services, and it’s always blaring through the rickety speakers of Christmas-tree lots.
Even so—the lyrics of “Joy to the World” were not written about Christmas. Issac Watts composed the hymn in 1719 as a paraphrase of Psalm 98 and envisioned the tune as a celebration of Christ’s return at the end of days. “Joy to the World” was written about Christ’s second coming—not his first. The song is the victory anthem of a triumphant king, not the words-set-to-music of a fragile, crying baby in a manger subject to the death-warrant of a jealous king, Herod.
I was troubled when I first learned this. I didn’t want some historical detail about authorial intent getting in the way of my festive Christmas singing. But with time, I began to ponder: why would these lyrics fit so well with Christmas? Why would they resonate so deeply with both Christ’s second and first coming?
This is the second entry in our Advent 2019 devotional series. For the four Sundays of Advent and Christmas Day, we will be releasing Advent reflections from voices in the Holy Land. Catch up now: Advent I: Hope.
On Peace, by Joy of Reconciliation
The true joy of the feast of the Nativity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is often mistranslated by the world, packaged to us in the form of abundance, private gatherings, indulgence in food and gifts, and wrapped in stress. The world, in its fallen state, skews matters of the divine and leaves us empty. The world, in its fallen state, which rejected Christ, belittles His creation and mocks the true human potential. But beautifully, the gift of Christ’s Divine Incarnation and subsequent Crucifixion and Resurrection always resonates with the human soul. His love in these acts is transformative. It is a gift of peace, meant for all. It lifts us up and inspires us to reach our highest calling. Those imbued with such love have lined the darkest chapters of human history with opportunities for light. We call them
peacemakers, and in the words of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God” (Matt. 5:9).
Listen to the Episode Here
Armenians in Jerusalem have existed since at least the fourth century. Today, there are only approximately 790 Armenians who reside within this close-knit minority community in the Old City of Jerusalem and 7,000 throughout Israel and Palestine. In the ninth episode of Women behind the Wall podcast, listeners hear from Vicky, an Armenian Christian who was born and raised in the Old City and now lives in the Bethlehem district. Listeners will learn what it is like to be a minority among the Israeli and Palestinian communities in conflict.
Vicky says she identifies only as Armenian. She grew up in the Armenian Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City, went to an Armenian school, an Armenian church, and Armenian social events as a child. She says it was not until adulthood that she began to feel a part of the Palestinian community. “For an Armenian, we always have a neutral stance in this conflict. Until I moved to Bethlehem and Beit Jala, and then I started to see a different side of my bubble, let’s say. Although I had Palestinian friends, but like politically, culturally, religiously, I was not involved.” Read more