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Prayers4Peace: An Easter Never to Forget

An Easter Never to Forget
By Susan Nchubiri, Ecumenical Accompanier in Jerusalem

“Jesus spoke these words to the Pharisees who were telling him to admonish his disciples to keep quiet. When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”
Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”
“I tell you,“ He replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”
(Luke 19:37-40).

On April 5, 2022, our first full day at the EAPPI placement house in East Jerusalem, we went to a parish in Beit Hanina to meet with the Palestinian youth and scouts leader. He gave us a rundown of the upcoming two Holy Week services. The youth and scouts were charged with organizing the processions. At this meeting, Rafi, the youth and scout leader, quoted these words, “if they keep silent, the living stones will shout out.” He added, “the Israeli authorities want to silence the Palestinian Christians, but we won’t be silenced.  We have hope in the Risen Savior”. I heard the same words again on Palm Sunday, the EAPPI Handover Service (between Team 82 and my team), and Holy Thursday. I have heard these words proclaimed at Mass several times, but never did they have a similar impact on me as they do now. These words struck me deeply when a young woman speaking to the Church leadership and the faithful gathered at Bethpage at the start of the Catholic (Western Churches’) Holy Week. She said, “If they keep silent, the living stones will shout out, the living stones will speak…. We are the living stones; we shall speak for us and for Palestine, we shall uphold our faith, and we shall speak for our brothers and sisters in the Middle East. We want you (Church) to include us.”

On Palm Sunday, as thousands of worshippers processed down the hill waving palm and tree branches, national flags, and singing “Hosanna,” occasional groups broke into dance and shouts of jubilation. I kept thinking of the many Palestinian Christians who had wanted to enter Jerusalem that day to celebrate this special day in their faith tradition. They could not because the Israeli authorities denied their permits to enter Jerusalem. I watched as flags from different countries of Europe, Latin America, Africa, and Asia waved above heads, pilgrim groups’ flags, scarves, etc., contributing to the colorful procession. BUT not a single Palestinian flag, scarf, or lapel pin bearing the Palestinian flag colors. They had been ordered not to bring their flags or even wear a scarf or a lapel pin with their flag colors. Should one be found to break this order, the procession would be stopped. Israeli authorities usually apply collective punishment. When a single Palestinian violates a law, the punishment extends to their family and sometimes the whole village. One example is a parent or a sibling related to anyone in jail will be denied entry into Jerusalem. Another example is from the Jenin refugee camp, where after a young man from a nearby village attacked people in Tel Aviv, the Israeli military went on raids in the camp.

With all the joy and jubilation around me, I felt sad. I kept hearing the words, “if they are silent, the living stones will shout out.” Indeed, at this Palm Sunday procession, the living stones were shouting out. And when at an entrance to the Old City, New Gate, the police officers started blocking the scout procession to St. Savior Church, the faithful stood their ground. They would not let the police change the route because this might set a precedent.

Israel not only denies the Palestinians access to fundamental human rights but also the right to self-determination. For this, Israel has received a lot of condemnation from the international community, but nothing has changed.

Jerusalem is claimed by three Abrahamic faith traditions (Christians, Jews, Muslims) as their inheritance and hence their holy city. The Christian faith has two large divisions: Eastern and Western Churches, and each starts its liturgical calendars at different times; therefore, Jerusalem ends up with two Holy Weeks for Easter. For Muslims, the schedule for Ramadan is guided by a lunar calendar, and for Jews, the timing of Pesach is somewhat consistent. Every 30 years or so, Easter, Pesach, and Ramadan overlap. The weekend of Friday, April 14 through Sunday, April 17 marked this rare overlap.

Initially, I had assumed that this would be a spectacularly memorable weekend in a positive way but listening to the news, reading social media, and receiving information from our security and field officer, my assumptions and aspirations of a special holy weekend were dashed. It was clear that tensions were high leading into this period. We braced for the worst and prayed for the best. Some Israeli ultra-orthodox Jewish settlers had planned on entering the Al Aqsa compound (Islam’s third holiest site) during Pesach (April 14-22) to perform a ritual animal sacrifice, which is illegal according to the status quo agreements and a provocative act. The Muslim community had vowed to protect their sacred space. On April 14, during the dawn prayers, heavily armed Israeli security officers stormed the Al Aqsa compound chasing away worshippers. The Israeli authorities allowed the afternoon prayers to go on as usual but then disrupted them again the following morning. The Catholic Way of the Cross celebration went on without any harassment from the Israeli security forces, although there were many of them along the path.

The Catholic and the Orthodox Church’s liturgical calendars being different meant that the Orthodox Church was celebrating Palm Sunday when Catholics celebrated Easter Sunday. Both celebrations were taking place in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. I was designated to monitor access to worship at this site while also participating in the service. However, due to the two groups having their services simultaneously, the church was overcrowded and extremely noisy, so I felt I could not pray. I checked with my fellow accompaniers, and they told me that there were clashes at one of the gates to Al Aqsa Mosque/Haram al-Sharif. I decided to join them to monitor the situation.

I had left the chaotic but joyful “noise” at the Holy Sepulcher Church and its safety for the deafening sounds of stun/sound and lights bombs, gunshots, pushing and shoving, shouting, screaming, and ambulance sirens. Instead of celebrating Easter, new life, and the resurrection with joy, reverence, and jubilation, I was amid violence, pain, anger, and frustration. Several injured people were brought out on stretchers to the Red Crescent ambulances. Was this the reason why Jesus had cried when he entered Jerusalem? As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it 42 and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes (Luke 19:41-42).

When we sensed the clashes escalating, we moved away and returned later and stood at a safe distance, and when that space got unsafe, we moved again. While the Palestinian Muslims were being denied entry to Al Aqsa/Haram al-Sharif, my companions who went to monitor access at the site found around 30 or more Israeli Jews walking freely into the same compound. On April 15, more than 150 Palestinian worshippers were injured, and more than 400 others were arrested. This is only a little glimpse of how discriminatory the Israeli authorities are toward the Palestinian people. These words hit me again: “if they are quiet, the stones will cry out.” The Palestinian Muslim community wanted to go to the Mosque to pray, but they were constantly harassed and denied access. The gates are guarded by heavily armed police all the time.

On Holy Fire Saturday, the Orthodox Church’s celebrated day before the Orthodox Easter, brought another awakening of how arbitrarily the Israeli authorities apply their laws against the Palestinian people. Palestinian Christians from the West Bank were denied permits to attend this holy feast. A great majority of Palestinian Christians living in Jerusalem were denied access to the Old City. My teammate and I arrived at the Old City at 7:30 am to make our way to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, where the celebration of Holy Fire was taking place. We found every alley/street leading to the Christian quarter and the Church barricaded with metal bars and hundreds of police officers. We tried to access the Christian Quarter and Church compound from 7:30 am until 4:00 pm. Although the police brutality was not as pronounced as with the Muslims, there were a few violent beatings and arrests of worshippers trying to go to Church. The Orthodox Christians were trying to go to their holy place to worship in communion with each other. The Christians trying to get to Church and the Muslims trying to get to the Mosques are not criminals. Why do the Israeli security officers use excessive and brutal force to stop them? Why criminalize a people? “If they should be quiet, the stones will speak, will cry out.”

The Holy Fire Day was the only day that my movement in and out of the Old City of Jerusalem was restricted. Why was I so frustrated? The Palestinians go through these horrible experiences every day. They can’t move freely in their own land, and they can’t access their places of worship, education, medical care, work, etc., without permits. Reflecting on this experience brought tears to my eyes, not because of my own frustrations but the heightened awareness that this was the “normal” life for the Palestinians under the occupation. How can this inhumane living be normal? Talking with a teammate who had previously tried hard not to get angry or sad about the Palestinian situation, she acknowledged that Holy Fire Saturday experience had put her over the edge. She felt anger, despair, and sadness. Experiencing the restrictions and violence against us made the reality hit home. It is one thing to be in solidarity, empathize with another person, and have a different reality when one experiences those things, not by choice. One cannot adequately understand or feel the pain of another person. You can only feel your own. On this day, when we were denied access to worship and a police officer pushed me, I felt very sad. If this is repeatedly happening, how will I shield myself from being sensitized into accepting it as “normal” life under occupation?


Are you the stone being called to cry out, shout out the injustice
the Palestinians are suffering under the occupation laws?
Are you willing to speak to the forces that give Israel such liberty and power to oppress a people?


Susan Nchubiri is serving with the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) as an Ecumenical Accompanier. Any views or opinions contained herein are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the WCC. If you would like to learn more about the EAPPI program, please visit their website.


Any views or opinions contained herein are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP).

CMEP Middle East Fellowship

Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) offers a unique fellowship experience focused on advocacy, based in the US as well as the Middle East. The fellowship lasts between 6-12 months and includes a few months (remote) work from the United States and three months on the ground in the Jerusalem/Bethlehem area of Israel/Palestine. Applicants will have the opportunity to live and work in Israel/Palestine, acquire deeper exposure to the realities on the ground, develop relationships with local religious leaders and organizations working towards a just peace to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and make meaningful contributions to CMEP’s advocacy efforts. Fellows are essential to our work and receive mentoring and valuable experience through their service.

Advocacy Experience:  During the CMEP Middle East Fellowship, you will have the opportunity to learn about US based advocacy related to Israel/Palestine and gain the necessary tools and knowledge to continue grassroots and legislative advocacy in the United States. You will also have the chance to develop relationships with CMEP connections and partners in the region.

Regional Experience:  By living and working in the region you will experience the lived daily realities for people there, while developing personal relationships and a better understanding of Palestinian and Israeli cultures. You will also develop relationships with the Palestinian Christian community in Bethlehem and Jerusalem and be exposed to Arabic and Hebrew language, though many in the region speak English. Immersing yourself and being a witness to the circumstances will not only provide solidarity with the local communities and Israeli and Palestinian peacebuilders, but will also create a platform in which you will be able to elevate their voices and advocate from personal experience. 

Fellowship Timeline:  The Fellowship is 6-12 months in length, divided into three parts (with some flexibility):

  • Initial six weeks working from the Washington D.C. office or remotely from your home in the US
  • Three month period based in Bethlehem  
  • Final six weeks working from the Washington D.C. office or remotely from your home in the US
  • Note: The specific timeline of the fellowship will be coordinated once applicants are accepted into the program. 

Applicants strongly preferred to:

  • Have traveled or lived in Israel/Palestine previously or at least have a basic familiarity with the region 
  • Be a graduate student in a master’s degree program or be enrolled in a graduate level program 
  • Committed to CMEP’s goals and able to support its Policy Positions and Guidelines
  • Passionate about nonprofit work, political advocacy, peacebuilding, and issues related to the Middle East
  • Knowledgeable about the Middle East region, especially Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories
  • Resourceful, self-starting, organized, deadline-oriented, able to work as part of a virtual team across many time zones, and possess excellent written communication skills
  • Proficient in online research, blog writing, social networks, and other online applications and platforms
  • Proficient in Microsoft Office 
  • Proficient in Google Apps (Gmail, Drive, Calendar)
  • Familiar with or willing to learn Basecamp (CMEP’s project management software)

What to expect in the United States: 

  • Work for CMEP 15-20 hrs/week
  • Participate in weekly and monthly staff meetings
  • Diverse tasks supporting the ME Portfolio and the US Coalition engagement
  • Engagement with the broader staff team on CMEP projects and events 

What to expect in Bethlehem:

  • Work for CMEP 30-40 hours per week, with some meetings/travel around Bethlehem and Jerusalem
  • Administrative support on projects for the CMEP Director of Middle East Partnerships 
  • Government and organization landscaping projects
  • Meeting with CMEP partners on the ground
  • Support to the CMEP Communications team 
  • Social media content development
  • Story development
  • Engaging with the whole CMEP team/staff via staff meetings and 1-1 video calls

To Apply

  • Send your Resume/CV, cover letter, and three references in PDF format to applications@cmep.org 
  • Include two writing samples (at least one academic) in PDF format
  • If you have other work examples that are relevant to CMEP’s advocacy, please include as well (such as a social media campaign, prior event you lead, or other)
  • Include the subject line “[Your Name] Application to CMEP Middle East Fellowship”
  • CMEP is currently accepting applications on a rolling basis
  • Goal start date is August or September 2022

Compensation 

  • CMEP is willing to work with academic institutions for this fellowship to count for fieldwork and other academic requirements, we have MDiv and PhD level supervision for fellows.
  • Support and oversight to find affordable housing during three month stay in the Middle East. 
  • During US work, the stipend is $500/month, during Middle East work, the stipend is $1000/month.

Lent 2022: Maundy Thursday

The Washing of Feet and the Gospel of Peace
Kevin Vollrath

It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted
Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. 
John 13:1-17 (NIV)

Why feet?

Why not hands? A perfectly kind way and appropriate place to touch a friend. Pragmatic, too.

Why not faces? A gentle and intimate way to observe another’s visage. 

The thought of few body parts other than feet evokes such vivid sensory memories for me. When I think of feet, I think of smells. Smells I’ve never smelt outside of locker rooms, shoe drives, and shoe stores. Nowadays many cover their feet with two layers of clothing– it may be that makes them smell worse than in Jesus’ time. Keeps the dirt off, and the smell in. 

I know there’s something practical about washing feet that walk dirt roads. As Jesus put it, “A person who has had a bath needs only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” I would hate to be the one who skipped a bath that day. 

Why does Jesus choose something so banal to teach his disciples as one of his final teachings before being taken away? Weren’t they all gathering regularly before this, and wouldn’t he have had many opportunities to wash his disciples’ feet? Was he in the habit already and the other gospel writers just forgot to mention it? 

I wonder if when Jesus washed those feet, he wasn’t thinking about the dirt or the potential smell. I wonder if he was thinking about more than the cultural role he performed. I wonder what feet meant to Jesus. 

Today’s feet often symbolize dirtiness. Muslims often remove shoes before entering a home or mosque as a sign of respect and to preserve the space’s cleanliness. Footwashing is part of the pre-prayer ablutions/ ritual cleaning. The Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) reportedly said that cleanliness/ purity is half of faith. Throughout much of the Middle East, showing the soles of one’s feet can be offensive.

One foot connotation in the Hebrew scriptures is authority. The psalmist praises the Lord for making humans “rulers over the works of your hands; you put everything under their feet” (Ps 8:6); John also notes that “Jesus knew the Father had put all things under his power” (John 13:2). In illustrating the authority of the Messiah, Jesus quoted Psalm 110: “The Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.” (Matthew 22:44). The author of Ephesians echoes this connotation when describing Jesus’ authority: “God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church.” (Eph 1:22). 

Jesus and his followers supplement another connotation for feet: peace. In sending out his disciples, Jesus instructs: “But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust that sticks to our feet we wipe off against you. Yet be sure of this: The Kingdom of God is near.’” (Luke 10:10-11). The letter to the Ephesians encourages believers to “stand firm… with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.” (Eph 6:15). 

In this foot-washing, Jesus showed his disciples the full extent of his love (John 13:1), and the scene appears to conclude with the words, “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” (John 13:17). Jesus sent his disciples with his authority to bring peace to the world. 

At CMEP we try to walk in this authority, speaking out against injustices to people in positions of power. We believe peace can be achieved if it becomes the world’s top priority (that’s why we advocate). We believe local churches and their denominations are uniquely obliged to seek peace because of the vision of God’s Kingdom the Hebrew Scriptures declared and which Jesus continued teaching (that’s why we educate our partners and elevate the voices of those working towards peace). 

In washing, Jesus fitted his disciples’ feet with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace, so they could continue to make level paths and bring peace wherever they went– wherever Jesus was to go next. He loved his disciples by commissioning them, letting them partake in the Kingdom of God, inviting them to join his lasting work. In this spirit, we pray these words from the Scriptures:

 “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!” (Isaiah 52:7)

May you also “burst into songs of joy together, you ruins of Jerusalem, for the Lord has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem” (Isaiah 52:9). May the peace that surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus as you declare Jerusalem’s redemption, even as we wait for its peace and redemption, “for the Lord will go before you, the God of Israel will be your rear guard” (Isaiah 52:12). Amen.

____

Kevin Vollrath is CMEP’s Manager of Middle East Partnerships. Kevin is a Ph.D. candidate in Religion and Society at Princeton Theological Seminary, where he also earned an M.Div. His research focuses on the relationship between the Israeli occupation of Palestine and Palestinians with disabilities, and how the occupation produces disability. In joining CMEP, he is excited to complement his research with advocacy work.

Lent 2022: 3rd Sunday of Lent

Good Light 
Nicole Morgan, Executive Administrator at CMEP

My mother has a collection of potted plants inside her home and a garden full of flowers designed to attract butterflies and bees to her yard. She always has an aloe plant on hand for scrapes or burns. I didn’t know you could buy aloe gel in a plastic container until I was in college. My father grew up on a farm and can coax food out of the ground or mix fertilizer into the red Georgia earth to balance out the nutrients needed for whatever they desire to grow.

Me? I can’t keep kitchen herbs alive and once killed an aloe plant (in less than a week) that my mom had propagated for me. Recently I sat a vase of flowers in front of the window in my office, delighting at how the light shone on the small vase of delicate pink roses and small yellow wildflowers that looked like little puffballs. The next day I sat down at my desk and noticed that while the wildflowers were still strong and tall, the pale pink roses looked positively roasted – their petals wilted and withered. The light was good, or at least bearable, for one flower and absolutely crushing for another.

I often first think of light as universally good. And that its goodness exists on a scale of “the more light, the better.” So often when I think of plants and growth I think of the light it needs, not the need to protect it from the light.

But seeds start in darkness and some blooms are delicate.

The Psalmist exclaims: “O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” (Psalm 63:1) A bright light is most likely to be detrimental to one who is already parched, in a dry land. The Psalmist continues: “My soul is satisfied . . when I think of you on my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night; for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy.”  They have found comfort in darkness and shade. It is this cool and quiet place where they are able to find rest and express joy and satisfaction.

The harshness of all the injustices in the world seems ever more scorching and destructive: the pandemic still kills thousands a day, racial injustice is rampant, the economy seems designed to reward only a few and destitute others, wars begin and stretch on, people live without basic human rights, and our political advocacy on behalf of justice and human rights in the Middle East and elsewhere can so often seem like we are throwing drops of water at a plant that is wilting in this blistering heat.

I’m asking myself what it means to “meditate in the watches of the night” and to “rest in the shadow.” What does it mean for me as an individual human to acknowledge that at times I and my communities are more delicate blooms than hardy wildflowers and we can’t be in the harsh light forever without some respite? How do I resist the myth of a resilient people especially qualified to suffer and demand that we find a way to offer relief from the searing heat of injustice? What does it mean for all these hopeful seeds of justice we seek to plant? Where do I need to rest in darkness until there is good light and what does it look like to think about our work for justice and peace with a knowledge that darkness and soft warm light is part of the process? How do we shade those seeds and soft blooms of hope?

Each plant is different. Mature wildflowers and cacti exist. We are in different phases of growth. We are different seeds and blooms. The light that is oppressive or endurable is different for all of us and our work for justice.

Those are a lot of questions without any answers. But the questions keep me motivated in my work as they remind me of the possibility that darkness is good in the growing process. I was recently asked how we approach burn-out and despair in our work at Churches for Middle East Peace. My answer is that we celebrate small progress and we acknowledge that it won’t be bright and sunny and victorious looking often. This acknowledgment of small things is not a consolation prize. It is a vital way that plants grow and thrive. It is part of the process. We are planting seeds and they are resting in the cool darkness. They will find the light when it is a good light. 

I’m giving my office window and its bright, harsh light another chance. I bought an aloe growing kit and dutifully filled the bottom of the container with small stones, topped with wet soil, and finally carefully buried a few tiny seeds just under the surface. The kit calls for the whole thing to be covered in plastic and sat in a warm place for a couple of weeks until it starts germinating. I sent pictures of my set-up to my mother, asking her about what would be a good light for this plant. She advised me on moving the table back from the window a bit, closing the white curtains to diffuse the light, and paying attention to which hours of the day the curtains are open or closed. Even this desert-dwelling aloe plant can be sensitive to the bright light and harsh heat of the direct sun, she said. If I want this plant to root and sprout, to grow and flourish – I’m going to have to be mindful of a good light versus any light. The seeds are covered for now under the dark soil. I’m going to try my best to ration out the sun and the shadow and learn what amount of each will help this plant to thrive.

Creator God, We thank you for light and we thank you for shadow. We pray that we will find respite in shadows and darkness. That we will not yearn to be in a light that will ultimately whither the fruit of our work, but that we will know what light is good for the work you have created in and for us. 

————–

J. Nicole Morgan is CMEP’s Executive Administrator. She endures the bright summer sun near her home in Atlanta, GA but much prefers the shade. Her writing has been published in Christianity Today, Religion News Service, The Christian Century, Sojourners, and others. She is the author of Fat and Faithful: Learning to Love Our Bodies, Our Neighbors, and Ourselves (Fortress Press). Nicole earned her Masters in Theological Studies from Palmer Seminary at Eastern University.

Lent 2022: 2nd Sunday of Lent

Seeds Planted on Fertile Soil
By Rev. Dr. Mae Elise Cannon, Executive Director at CMEP

“But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty, or thirty times what was sown.”
(Matthew 13:23)

Many years ago, when I lived in Jerusalem, I was shocked that the Jericho Road into the “wilderness” was a desert full of rocky soil. I grew up on the east coast of the United States and our wilderness was wooded terrain with lots of trees and hidden beasts like black bears and wolves. Or at least that’s what I feared when I was a child! The soil of the Middle East shocked me. The rolling hills of the Judean wilderness do not have fertile soil, but rather rocky sandy terrain where it is difficult for anything to grow.

Some of you may be horticulturists who will challenge my assertion about plants not growing in the desert as there are some incredible desert flowers that defy the harsh conditions and bloom into beautiful colors and specimens – such as the crown anemone (most likely the lily of the field mentioned by Jesus in Matthew 6:28), the tumbleweed gundelia, or the toxic Golden henbane. Despite these exceptions, Jesus was clear in his parable of the good sower that seeds planted in good soil will “bear fruit and yield plenty.”

Clearly, in the Scripture, the parable of the good sower provides a metaphor for someone who “hears the word and understands it,” but what does this story teach us about our work for peace and justice in the Middle East?

I believe this parable is about what it means for us to be “good soil” – ready and prepared, in a posture of willingness to embrace God’s good news for all people – a message of love, acceptance, justice, and reconciliation. There are times in my life I can look back on and acknowledge that the soil of my heart was hard and rocky, unreceptive and not loving towards those who hold opposing views. What does it mean for someone to be loving while not compromising on holding fast to core values and practices of human rights and justice?

This question became very profound for me several years ago. I was working for an international development organization and often led multi-narrative experiences in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories for conservative Christians from the United States. We sought to have speakers and guests from across the spectrum related to Israeli politics and Palestinian perspectives. No one voice, thought, or idea is monolithic within either society. Our goal was to honor every person’s individual experience and narrative while still addressing the devastating effects of the occupation, the repercussions of settlement expansion, limits to mobility for Palestinians living in Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza, and other such realities.

One speaker’s views and perspectives were antithetical to my own. I abhorred his politics and views toward the Palestinian people. At the end of his presentation, I couldn’t even shake his hand. My heart was hard, I was filled with rage and grief that Palestinians in the audience had been asked to listen to his racist stories and perspective. After the meeting, I was overwhelmed. First, I asked forgiveness from the Palestinians in the room. How could I have welcomed a speaker who reinforced so many false narratives about them and their people? My second thought was an overwhelming conviction that I was not living out one of the core teachings of Jesus. Love your enemy.

 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:43-45)

This Lent as we reflect upon what it means for us to be fertile soil upon which seeds can be planted, and grow, and prosper – what does it mean for us to hear and do the word of God that calls us to “love our enemies?” What does it mean for us to love all people – even those with whom we completely disagree? I believe the transforming power of God allows us to transcend human limitations – so that we can become people who love boldly, while not compromising on pursuing truth, goodness, reconciliation, and justice.

I believe a part of the answer to what it means to love our enemies is to enter into the paradox of both loving people with whom we disagree while working to respond to injustices they may perpetuate. This can look like sitting across a table from someone who holds positions different than your own. This might mean acknowledging and seeking to learn from disparate narratives, while still advocating and working for policy changes that promote human rights. Loving your enemy might not have a visible manifestation, but could mean looking at them with compassion and not harboring hatred in your heart.

I have many friends who are Israeli and who are committed to spending their lives and resources to bring an end to the occupation of the Palestinian people. And I also know many Israelis who hold similar views to the man in my story. How do I respond to them? What does it mean, as Jesus calls us, to love them? I hope and pray over the past several years my heart has softened while at the same time, my commitment to justice and human rights has never wavered. I do not believe the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a zero-sum game. But rather any solution to the injustices of the occupation will also be a solution that is in the best interest of Jewish Israelis as well.

This Lent, my prayer is that we at Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) might be a place of fertile soil – where love for all people is held as a core value as we seek to live out God’s love and justice in the Middle East and the world.

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

God, make us good and fertile soil.
Soften our hearts and root out any hatred within us.
Give us perspectives of love toward all people.
Help us to hear your word and to understand it.

Help us to understand and pursue both your love and justice,
To not be afraid, but courageous in our efforts toward peace.

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Amen.

____

Rev. Dr. Mae Elise Cannon is the executive director of Churches for Middle East Peace and an ordained pastor in the Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC). Cannon formerly served as the senior director of Advocacy and Outreach for World Vision U.S. on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC; as a consultant to the Middle East for child advocacy issues for Compassion International in Jerusalem; as the executive pastor of Hillside Covenant Church located in Walnut Creek, California; and as director of development and transformation for extension ministries at Willow Creek Community Church in Barrington, Illinois.

Lent 2022: 1st Sunday of Lent

By Kyle Cristofalo, Senior Director of Advocacy and Government Relations at CMEP

“For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building. By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care.” 1 Corinthians 3. 9-10

­I do not have a particularly green thumb. One time when I was in Seminary, I accepted a plant-sitting job. The family had stopped their mail and brought their pet with them on vacation. The only task I had was to water their plants. If it rained enough (which it did), I only had to water the inside plants. One simple task. No problem, right? Well, the plants survived, but by the time I left, they were not looking particularly healthy. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I did not receive any future plant-sitting requests.

What does gardening have to do with Lent? What does it have to do with my work at Churches for Middle East Peace? During this season, I have been reflecting on a prayer written in honor of Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador, assassinated due to his criticism of a corrupt government that overlooked the needs of the people. One section, in particular, stands out:

“This is what we are about. We plant the seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities. We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something and to do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest. We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.”

In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he reminds the leaders of the community that while they play an important role as “co-workers in God’s service,” ultimately, God brings the results to fruition. In other words, “We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.” This does not give us an excuse to sit back and wait–indeed the work of being God’s field and building comes with great responsibility. Whether we are master gardeners or struggle to keep plants alive, is irrelevant. The seed is not good because we plant it. We can plant the perfect garden only to have our hard work undone by an animal or a particularly bad storm. It is good because it is part of God’s redemptive work for this world. Our role is not to do everything, but to be faithful to our call to help bring about God’s justice in a world that so desperately needs it.

 “We plant the seeds that one day will grow….”

Every day we hear more news of death and destruction throughout the Middle East. In Yemen, 16 million people live on the brink of starvation as the Saudi-led civil war enters its seventh year. In just over the year since President Biden began his term in office, Israel has demolished more than 1,000 Palestinian properties resulting in the displacement of over 1,300 Palestinians. The economic crisis in Lebanon continues without indication it will let up anytime soon. We might be tempted to ask whether it is worth continuing to advocate if the facts on the ground continue to deteriorate by the day. Does our voice really matter? On days when I feel particularly helpless, I remind myself that I am a worker, not a master builder; a minister, and not a messiah. I am not responsible for “solving” all of the challenges faced in the Middle East. Yet, I am not absolved from doing my part, either. The results might seem small, but they are a step along the way, an opportunity for the good seeds planted to blossom into a future in which all of God’s people are finally free.

Creator God, on the days when we feel our work is for nothing, remind us that you have called us to be co-workers in the service of peace and justice for your creation. May we trust that the seeds planted today will one day blossom so that justice will prevail in the Middle East and throughout the world.

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Kyle Cristofalo, Senior Director of Advocacy and Government Relations/Special Advisor to the Executive Director. Kyle holds a BA in Peace and Conflict Studies from Messiah College and a Master of Divinity Degree from Emory University’s Candler School of Theology. Kyle was first introduced to Middle East advocacy work during a semester abroad in Cairo, Egypt. After graduating from college, Kyle spent 10 months serving with the Mennonite Central Committee in Bethlehem, Palestine, where he was seconded to work with Bethlehem Bible College. 

Lent 2022: Shrove Tuesday

The pre-Lenten season of Shrovetide begins 49 days before Easter and culminates on Shrove Tuesday. For many churches, the tradition is for the palm branches used in the service the previous Palm Sunday to be burned in preparation for the next day, Ash Wednesday. Other traditions celebrate Fat Tuesday and mark the day with pancake breakfasts, or other sweets, such as Pączki (fried dough). These traditions embody the tension between death (ash) and sweetness in life (cakes).

As Christians around the world, including in the Middle East, prepare for Lent, all experience a sharp reminder of humanity’s mortality, finiteness, fragility, and our need for God. God who is love, life, infinite, and abundant. It also takes place at the time of year when those of us in the Northern Hemisphere experience the lengthening of days in the move from winter to spring. As you join CMEP and our brothers and sisters in Christ in the Middle East this Lenten season, I pray that you would not find yourself mired in despair for your humanity, but that the awareness of your need for God’s goodness, grace, and forgiveness would increase. We especially keep this truth in mind as we grieve so many realities affecting people in the Middle East such as the ongoing war in Yemen, the devastating economic crisis in Lebanon, and the humanitarian and human rights concerns in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Then I turned to the Lord God, to seek an answer by prayer and supplication with fasting and sackcloth and ashes. Daniel 9:3

From death, dirt, and ash comes growth, fruit, abundance, and life. May the light of God meet us in these dark days, watering our parched spirits, cultivating our souls, laid bare, with the seeds of awareness and future promise sown so that God may begin a new thing in our life. 

God, I pray that you would meet each of us in our dark night of the soul to warm the coldness of our hearts and that while we reflect, examine, confess and repent we would be prepared for the new season you invite us to. Spirit, prick our hearts and guide each of us to a fuller, deeper, richer knowledge of your love, life, and the ultimate sacrifice of Christ Jesus, our Lord.

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Written by Rev. Aune M. Carlson, Director of Operations for CMEP. Aune earned her Masters of Divinity and Masters of Nonprofit Administration and graduate certificates from North Park Theological Seminary and School of Business and Nonprofit Administration. Ordained by The Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC). She is passionate about creating, defining, and refining structures to operate effectively and efficiently. A collaborative team leader, building a strong team atmosphere where tasks are met with close attention to detail and creativity.

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Any views or opinions contained herein are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP).

Eastertide Meditation with Fr. Ramzi Sidawi

In this session, Rev. Dr. Mae Elise Cannon, CMEP’s executive director, speaks with Fr. Ramzi Sidawi OFM. He was born in Jerusalem in 1972. At the conclusion of his maturity studies he entered the Order of Friars Minor where he took his first vows in the year 1996 and the Solemn ones in the year 2000. After completing his formation and studies in Theology, he received Priestly Ordination in 2002, he spent a short period of service in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. Transferred to Rome to complete his studies in Dogmatic Theology at the Pontifical University Antonianum, he graduated in 2006 and defended the doctoral thesis in 2010. While preparing to defend the thesis, he was appointed parish priest of the Parish of Saint Anthony of Padua in Jaffa – Tel Aviv, Israel. Along with this assignment, he also began teaching Dogmatic Theology in the Studium Theologicum Jerosolymitanum in Jerusalem. From 2013 to 2016 he was director of the Terra Santa Boys School in Jerusalem and from 2016 he is the General Administrator of the Custody of the Holy Land.

Merciful God, Grant us grace in abundance. The land of our Lord’s life and ministry is filled with violence, fear, and want. As followers of Jesus Christ, we wish to come together for good and for your glory. Grant us mercy as we share our pains, fears, and aspirations, that we may listen and better understand our brothers and sisters in Christ, while we pursue peace, justice, and restoration. May the walls that divide be turned, becoming a table by which we seek communion with one another, and with you. In this spirit of unity, we pray together the prayer of humble access: We do not presume to come to this thy table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in your abundant mercy. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under your table. But you are the same Lord whose eternal nature is to have mercy. Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, that we may eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that we may continually dwell in him, and he in us. Amen.

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