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Oh Little Town of Bethlehem

English: "(...) Entry of Pilgrims into Be...

English: “(…) Entry of Pilgrims into Bethlehem at Christmas time. It was taken in 1890.” (text from same source) Note: At the source of this picture, several pictures portray Christmas in Bethlehem in 1898 (not 1890). This picture seems to be the only exception. It could be that the indicated date is actually a typo… (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: Autograph manuscript of first stanza ...

English: Autograph manuscript of first stanza of O Little Town of Bethlehem. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On December 21st, our family will be gathering with others in worship for the seventh annual joint simulcast Christmas service with the people of Bethlehem at the Washington National Cathedral.

Prayers, readings, and hymns alternate between Washington, D.C., and Palestine via the Internet, bringing together people of different lands, languages, and ethnic backgrounds in celebration of the birth of the Prince of Peace.

In this age of turmoil and religious strife, it may be a surprise to some to know that Christians have religious freedom in Palestine and that Christmas and other Holy Days are celebrated vigorously!

The carol, “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem”, was inspired by a pilgrim’s first visit to Bethlehem many years ago. This year it will acquire new meaning for me as we join in song with the “Living Stones”, as the descendents of the first followers of Jesus call themselves today. Let me encourage you to visit and attend church services in Palestine when you make your pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Inspiration awaits.

Learn more about the writer of “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem”, Philip Brooks and his journey, below.



Points of Light

Each Christmas season we hang a star exactly like the one in the picture outside on our porch. At the end off each point is a tiny hole where the light shines through. It’s at it’s best if there are no other lights visible around it. We usually keep it burning all night long through the Christmas season. It is especially stunning on the darkest nights.

Moravian Star

Moravian Star (Photo credit: Urban Sea Star)

When our students have asked us its significance we’ve explained that it is a “Moravian Star”, a symbol of the Moravians who took Jesus’ Love to all points of the earth. Each point of the star represents the light of His love.

When I began writing this blog three years ago I wasn’t interested in writing an “inspirational” blog filled with verses and positive advice nor anything remotely home oriented. Nor could I write theology very adeptly.

I was mostly interested in Politics, International Affairs, Justice and Faith and telling the truth about life as I saw it. I imagined reaching into several countries where this particular type of blog might be of interest to someone. Little did I guess how many people might share my interests. At this point I have readers from 123 different countries and every state in the USA.

I am most honored to have readers from countries where I have lived and visited: Indonesia, The Philippines, UK, France, Holland, Singapore, Ecuador, Tunisia, Palestine, and Israel. I’m thrilled that people are reading my blog inside Saudi Arabia, Iran, Algeria and Syria where I may never visit! I like to think this blog is a bit of a Moravian Star for them, shining into their dark nights!

What a responsibility I feel to shine brightly and wisely.

All in all, over thirteen thousand people have taken a peek at the words written here, reminding me of the responsibility I have before God to represent my faith and beliefs with integrity.

Possibly, one reason people read this blog is to find out one American’s perspective on the happenings in the world.  Perhaps they come here expecting one thing and leave with a little different impression. I’d like to think so.  I love to think that my views might make a difference in someone’s life. Who knows?

Since my faith is very important to me, I usually write about current events through the lens of faith. I suspect this appeals to people who also find faith important. I hope my writing reflects how much I love and honor God and Christ.

I wish I were a better writer, but I write simply and frankly. It may come from many years of living overseas and teaching ESL, trying to make myself understood effectively and efficiently. I have little patience with “wordiness” when I can get to the point immediately.

So,  I want to thank everyone who reads my blog, despite its many shortcomings. You warm my heart and fuel my soul! Please, write in and let me know about yourselves. Thanks!

I wish you rich blessings in the New Year, 2013!

Happy New Year 2012

You are in my thoughts as we begin a new year.

As we recover from a wonderful holiday visit with three little grandsons, we face the emptying of our home here in Central New York where we’ve lived such full and memorable lives for over twenty years. This is an important time for me to process valuable memories and to do a bit of grieving.

Our daughter had a reunion with a few of her high school friends after Christmas and seeing these “kids” brought back those days when our home burst at the seams with teenagers!  I remember the year we had 70 kids here on New Years Eve. One girl told us with awe that she was having so much fun even without alcohol!

I remember one Thanksgiving party when we emptied out our home (the sofa’s and chairs went into people’s vans) to accommodate all the University students, when we had servers dressed as Pilgrims and Indians.

Then there were the special Ithaca High Schoolfield trips” when several busloads of ESL teens from all over the world would arrive at our home (our “crib” as Diego from a South American Country liked to call it), for a day of games and food and hanging out at a real home.

So,  my mind is preoccupied with home and hearth these days. I’m sorting and throwing away notes from Indonesia and my entire lifetime. I even found a little story I wrote in elementary school. There is much to process.  So much, that I’m finding it difficult to write my blog. I hope I’ll return to writing soon, but I have other priorities right now. I hope you understand.

Once I’ve decided what to keep as hard copies, what books to give to the “Friends of the Library Sale”, which baby clothes to hang on to, it will be time to clean the rugs, empty the house and put it on the market in March. I suppose there will be times when I will welcome writing as a diversion, but I can’t promise my entire head will be in it for a while.

Right now, my primary concern is: Anybody interested in buying our dream home, and where will our next one be?

Explaining Advent

An Eastern Orthodox wreath containing six cand...
Advent Calendar Day 0

Advent Calendar by kimncris via Flickr

I don’t remember hearing the word, “Advent” until I became a college student.

On the other hand, my husband, who grew up Episcopalian, celebrated it every year of his life. The year our first daughter was born, Jon made an “Advent wreath” resembling the one here. Beginning in November, we would light a candle each week and read a verse which prepared our hearts and minds for Christmas, and remembering Christ’s coming to earth.

As our family grew we added Advent Calendars with little doors which the kids opened each day, to read a verse from the Scriptures pointing to Jesus’ birth. It became the highlight of our year, and lighting the candles a great honor.

Here is a two minute video which explains the Church Tradition of Advent for people who didn’t grow up with it.

For those of you who are from a more traditional background, this is geared toward a younger crowd, what do you think?


Gratitude , The Tall Ships' Races, Szczecin 2007

Image via Wikipedia

T0day is Thanksgiving in the United States. It is my Husband’s favorite holiday.

He loves the freedom from obligation to find, wrap, give or receive presents.

He feels there are no requirements other than to be Thankful, and he enjoys being thankful.

Of course for many of us, women in particular, we feel a big burden/responsibility/joy, to participate in an annual Thanksgiving feast.

Every year, my husband says it isn’t necessary, but we still do something special because I feel it is.

We are managing to simplify each year, though.

Thanksgiving is more than dinners, family, and football, and Black Friday sales, though you might never know from watching Americans celebrate it.

Thanksgiving is about Gratitude…Being thankful from deep within our hearts. Thankful to God and to others. Some people enjoy making lists of things they are thankful for, that doesn’t really work for me.

I love to travel on Thanksgiving Day, and take special pleasure in thanking people who are working the holiday. I wonder how many of them are sacrificing time with family, or are lonely people with nowhere to go? Today, I enjoyed going to the GIANT food market where I thanked a guy at the checkout counter for working this shift.

But, I’m really making an effort to cultivate thankfulness in little things all the time; to notice when people make an effort to help me, whether it’s their job or not.

I try to thank soldiers in camouflage for serving our country when I see them in airports.

I can’t help but think, in these economic times, few people are paid what they feel they deserve, but I hope that I can add to their job satisfaction just a little.

If we are thankful, maybe others will pass it on.

Christmas in Bethlehem off limits for Gaza’s Christians

Catholic procession on Christmas Eve in Bethle...

Yesterday, at a Bible Study I attend, we were studying Isaiah, and a woman commented that in the passage, “God punished the Nation of Israel because they depended on horses and military might instead of Him, then just as they do now”.

Another woman commented, “But, they are still God’s Chosen people”.

This topic never fails to elicit the “Chosen People” comment, it is clearly woven into the fabric of our Evangelical Church narrative.

To bring up the fact that God also loves and cares for Muslims and the Palestinians, as I did yesterday, brought the same response as always, “But, the Jews are God’s Chosen People”!

I wonder how this woman would deal with the fact that hundreds, even thousands of Christians of Palestinian Christians are living under the occupation of Israel?

The leader quickly led us away from that topic..which didn’t surprise me.


A Helpful Perspective for us Grinches

Third Friday of Advent – Finding Jesus by Julie Clawson

Posted on December 17, 2010 by Christine Sine

This reflection comes from Julie Clawson.   Julie is a mom, a writer, and former pastor who lives in Austin, TX with her family.  She is the author of Everyday Justice: The Global Impact of Our Daily Choices and blogs at julieclawson.com.


It can be easy to despise Advent.  I don’t mean the period of waiting in hopeful expectation itself, but the actual trappings of the season.  It is easy to despise the commercialism – to condemn the frenzy and the greed and see it as an obstacle to entering into a meaningful discipline if waiting.  It can be easy to despise those that jump straight into Christmas – those that deck the halls in red and green and blast Christmas carols during what should be a time of building expectation.  It is easy to despise those that leave Christ out of Christmas (or to despise those that get offended when Christ gets left out of Christmas).  From tacky decorations, to pushy sales clerks, to religious wars – the hustle and bustle and the secular trappings of the season often stand in the way of our hopeful anticipation of the Christ child.  And so we despise it all, letting Advent become a time of spite and condemnation.

I’m one of the first to question the all consuming ways of empire and consumerism, but I’ve had to humbly realize that all too often I let my animosity towards such things turn my experience of Advent into a twisted period of judgment instead of hope.  And in standing in that judgment I prevented myself from encountering Jesus in the very things I despised.  I found myself hoping to draw near to a Jesus of my own creation – a Jesus that liked the things I like and ran in the same circles as I did.  This was the Jesus I lit the candles for in hopeful expectation during Advent.

But of course, my image of Jesus was a poor reflection of the real Jesus.  Jesus was the one who was out there in the world, hanging out with the uncouth and common members of society.  He was accused of being a drunkard and glutton because he enjoyed being with and feasting with people.  Sure, he delivered challenges to his culture and found moments for retreat, but he didn’t shun it because he despised it for getting in the way of his contemplative spiritual journey.

The Messiah showed up where no one expected him to.  Born to a poor family in the unexpected dinginess of a stable, he subverted all cultural expectations.  I’ve had to learn that my narrow expectations about Jesus do not give me the right to define the modern American secular Christmas as God-forsaken.  Even there – subverting expectations – Jesus is at work.  If I desire to draw near to Christ this Advent, I need to let go of my judgment and condemnation of such places and be willing to see how Jesus appears unexpectedly even there.  My narrow conception of Advent should not lead me to a place of bitterness and hate, but instead allow me to find hope in the redemption of all things wherever it may be occurring.

Filed under: Advent, Advent 2010 synchroblog, blogs, Christmas, meditation, Prayer and inspiration, Rhythms of life, spiritual practices Tagged: | , , , , ,