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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.

http://www.hymnsandcarolsofchristmas.com/Hymns_and_Carols/Notes_On_Carols/o_little_town_of_bethlehem.htm

http://www.hymnsandcarolsofchristmas.com/HTML/christmas_classics_videos.htm#Chap_02

Stop Killing Terrorists


Brother Andrew’s Prophetic Plea: Stop Murdering Terrorists | Christianity Today.

The Hazards of Speaking Up for Palestine


Security Barrier between Israel and West Bank/...

Security Barrier between Israel and West Bank/Palestine (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve told my story before, how I grew up unreservedly Christian in the United States and accepted the importance of Israel in our (Christian) lineage and prophecy.

When I met a Nazi prison camp survivor during my college years, I was overcome with emotion. He was sitting across from me at a “dish-to-pass” we held each week at the Messianic congregation I attended in Philadelphia.

These were the years when the JDL (Jewish Defense League) was threatening to attack Messianic congregations in Philadelphia. Each Sunday, as we worshiped in our little storefront building on Chestnut Street, danger was palpable.  Heads would cautiously turn towards the front door each time it opened during the sermon, wondering what to expect.

I counted it a privilege and honor to be a part of my Jewish friends’ suffering for their rights to worship as they wished.

For years, I never questioned my high view of Israel. Meeting a Jewish person was, for me, like meeting a celebrity, because they were “God’s Chosen”.

The first time I realized others in the world didn’t support Israel in the same way that Americans did was in Indonesia. A good friend asked us why America always sided politically with Israel against the Arab world.

I hadn’t realized there were sides.

This was the first step in my education which continued as we traveled across the world and then returned home to host international students who held very different opinions from traditional American views.

This was especially clear as we discussed international issues with our Arab students, especially the one from Palestine.

We selected Ahmed because he listed his home as the “West Bank“, and we wanted to learn about him.

His stories were wildly different from the beatific scenes we associated with Israel. Were they possibly true? We began to read up on this area and ask questions. One book was unforgettable, “Blood Brothers”, by Brother Elias Chacour.   http://www.amazon.com/Blood-Brothers-Dramatic-Palestinian-Christian/dp/0800793218

Blogs were written about life in Israel contrasting it with the very poor conditions behind a wall separating it from the West Bank/Palestine.

I wanted to see for myself, so Jon and I took several trips to visit our Palestinian students, and then met Palestinian Christians who told the same stories about Israeli abuses.

When one is meeting a diverse (Christian, Muslim, educated, working class) group of people and all writers from that area are telling similar stories you cannot afford to dismiss their story lines as fantasy.

So, I resolved to return home as an advocate for the Palestinians to tell their stories. I am not

Bantustans, Palestine 2006

Bantustans, Palestine 2006 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

anti-Israeli, but I will not cover up what they do.

It hasn’t been popular to speak up for Palestinians, but I’ve had it easy.

Others, like Steven Sizer, who has a prominent place in the UK, has his way of life threatened.

Read on:

Stephen Sizer: Craig Murray Responds to anti-Semitism Allegations.

60 Minutes on the Plight of Palestinian Christians


I have a proposal at the end of this blog. I hope some of you will take me up on it!

Even I am curious about why Israel and Palestine are appearing in my blog posts to such an extent lately! I guess we can say it’s because they keep coming to the forefront of world events!

If you missed the segment about Palestinian Christians done by Bob Simon on

60 Minutes

60 Minutes (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

60 Minutes, last night, here it is, within an article about it in “The Atlantic“. Click on the video to watch it.

60 Minutes on the Plight of Palestinian Christians – Robert Wright – International – The Atlantic.

I’ve said that you can only learn the truth about what is going on in the West Bank by going to Palestine and hearing from the people there, but this is almost as good!

I’m also adding a link to, “Tent of Nations”, a Christian farming enterprise in Palestine, surrounded by three settlements. I’ve wanted to give you their perspective for quite some time.

http://www.tentofnations.org/

What do I hope to accomplish with my blog posts?

One small, but realistic goal is that Christians in the United States who visit Israel might do a simple thing. When you tour Israel, let your tour guides know that you want to attend an Evangelical or Orthodox Church in Bethlehem, the West Bank, on Sunday morning. Be persistent. Some guides discourage these visits.

These visits will encourage the “Living Stones”, Christians who remain in the Holy Land, and present an opportunity to learn directly from them. It seems like a small thing for a visiting Christian to do.

I will publish a list of churches in Bethlehem (a short drive from Jerusalem) soon.

We Christians are exhorted in our Holy Book to “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem!”

If we haven’t already been doing this, it’s a good time to begin.  Peace is not within reach anytime soon, but at least, long established misconceptions are being uncovered.

Musalaha: Breaking Down the Dividing Wall of Hostility


Deutsch: Musalaha Camp der jungen Erwachsenen ...

Musalaha Camp Summer 2010 in Israel. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Musalaha is an organization in Palestine that is doing a great and practical work. It brings Israeli and Palestinian teenagers together, often for the first time in their lives.

http://www.musalaha.org/

Practicing Peace


The word, “Peace”, seems to irritate some Christians. They want to qualify it in “spiritual” terms, not “Hippie” peace and love…Secular terms…How many times have I seen the bumper sticker, “Know Jesus, Know Peace. No Jesus, No Peace”
Peace! I get that, I really do. I’m thankful for a peaceful heart and relationship with my creator and it has grown as I’ve matured in my faith.
But, many church people I know squash talk of peace with a knowing shake of their heads and a quote from a well-known passage in the Old Testament, though out of context:
“Peace, Peace, and there is no Peace”,  in context, it referred to false prophets who soothed Israel in ancient times, telling the Jews that everything would be okay, when it wasn’t.  In other words, Liars.
I understand where they’re coming from when Evangelicals do this. We believe and experience that Christ brings peace to our hearts through His forgiveness and love.
So it’s frustrating and painful to watch people struggle towards peace outside of that transforming faith and love, when we know darn well that nothing short of a “miracle” will bring it. So, Christians/Evangelicals just don’t think it’s “worth the trouble”. Why bother?
Here’s where I disagree.
Jesus said in His sermon on the mountain, “Happy are those who work for peace for God will call them his children”.  I think He was serious about wanting people’s hearts to have a peaceful transformation leading to peace.  If we’re not out there mixing with people who aren’t peaceful, how on earth can this transformation take place?  I guess you could say, I expect God to show up in the midst of the process, in unexpected ways!
My experience in Evangelical Churches in the USA where I live and worship is that people often respond negatively to good news coming out of the Arab World. I’m told frankly that it is because of the church’s “Biblical” foundations which they feel excludes the Arab world from…? The Peace Process?
However, there are a growing number of followers of Christ around the world who, despite criticism from devout believers, are working to break down barriers to peace in the Holy Land, hoping to exclude neither Jew, Palestinian, nor Christian from the process.  I like to count myself among that number.

The “Christ at the Check Point” Conference,  http://christatthecheckpoint.com/ , in Bethlehem is one place where all of us come together to learn from Palestinian believers how it is done.

Read this article by Munther Isaac, Academic Dean of Bethlehem Bible College to learn more.

How Evangelicals Are Learning to Be Pro-Palestine, Pro-Israel, Pro-Peace, Pro-Justice and Always Pro-Jesus
by Munther Isaac

Many evangelicals, who were discouraged by the failed prophecies and the “mood of doom” that dominated the evangelical church in the second half of the 20th century, are rediscovering that the gospel also speaks powerfully to issues of peace, justice, and reconciliation. Books about the end times, such as those written by Tim LaHaye and Hal Lindsey, no longer dominate the bookshops, and people are being challenged by writings that focuses on the here and now, instead of the there and then!

In particular, the evangelical church typically has looked at the Middle East through the eyes of prophecy, leaning towards an unconditional support for Israel. Evangelicals in the West cheered the creation of the State of Israel in 1948 and the subsequent wars, believing them to be signs of the second coming of Christ—all the while neglecting the impact these events had on real people in the Middle East, specifically on Palestinians, and especially on the Palestinian Church.

The irony for Palestinian Christians is that evangelicals, with their over-emphasis on prophecy, have lost the capacity of being prophetic!

In many cases, when Palestinian Christians (or those who are sympathetic to them) share their take on things, they are demonized, ridiculed, and even accused of being anti-Semitic. The mere presence and voice of Palestinian Christians presents a dilemma for many Christian Zionists, who prefer a simple black-and-white perspective. But over the years, Palestinian Christians have challenged the Western church to consider what it means to be the church. They have reminded them of the importance of justice and peacemaking. If our theology produces apathy to injustice, it must be re-examined. In the words of Carl Medearis, “If your end-times theology trumps the clear commands in Scripture to love neighbors and enemies, then it is time to rethink your theology.”

Many who come to visit the “Holy Land” are troubled by the situation of Palestinians, and are beginning to ask questions about the occupation and the injustices that Palestinians are facing on a daily basis.
Facts do not lie. There is still the problem of about 5 million refugees, of whom about 1.8 million still live in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, and the surrounding Arab countries. The 700 kilometer-long (435 mile) separation wall continues to affect the lives of Palestinians, leaving thousands living in isolated ghettos. The building of this wall has been judged illegal by the International Court of Justice.

The building of settlements continues to complicate matters for Palestinians and remains one of the biggest obstacles to peace. Though Palestinians and Israelis share the same water resources, per capita use in Israel is three and a half times higher than in the West Bank, due to water restrictions placed on Palestine by Israel. The Israeli military occupation is the longest occupation in modern history. Any visitor to the Palestinian areas cannot escape these realities. Checkpoints, the wall, refugee camps, land confiscations, and lack of water define the reality of Palestinians.

More and more evangelicals are paying attention to the Palestinian Church and its testimony and ministry in the midst of the conflict; the writings of Elias Chacour, Naim Ateek, Mitri Raheb, and Alex Awad are good examples, along with the nonviolent peace activities and advocacy by Palestinian Christian organizations. There are also the writings of many Western evangelicals who are sympathetic to Palestinians, and new documentaries that offer a different perspective, such as With God on Our Side and Oh Little Town of Bethlehem.

Then there is the “Christ at the Checkpoint” conference, in and of itself a big example of this change. Among the confirmed speakers for 2012 are ESA’s Ron Sider and Paul Alexander, John Ortberg, Lynne Hybels, Shane Clainborne, Tony Campolo, Samuel Rodriguez, Sang Bok David Kim, and many more.
In addition to the international speakers, local Palestinian and Messianic Jewish leaders will share their own experiences and offer diverse perspectives. Participants will meet Palestinian Christians, and be able to listen and see first-hand the realities on the ground, as seen through the eyes of the people.

Lynne Hybels, co-founder of the Willow Creek Church with her husband Bill, has described her discovery of the church in Palestine. She concluded after many journeys, “I am still pro-Israel, but I’ve also become pro-Palestine, pro-peace, and pro-justice and pro-equality for Jews and Arabs living as neighbors in the Holy Land. And the bottom line is always: pro-Jesus!”

If more Christians go to Bethlehem in 2012 and leave with the same attitude, we can start looking at this part of the world with hope, in a time when it is desperately needed.

Munther Isaac is the Vice Academic Dean at Bethlehem Bible College and a PhD candidate at the Oxford Center for Mission Studies. He is also the director of the Christ at the Checkpoint Conference. Learn more about the event.

Palestine in Threads


English: Embroidered pillowcase produced by Pa...

Palestinian Embroidery

Men and women in every culture create beautiful crafts that are valuable commodities. Regardless of politics, beauty is something we can all appreciate.

As Jon and I prepare for our move, we are sorting through our treasure trove of Batik and other cloth from Asia. It’s a cinch to find people to share them with around Cornell with its Indonesia and South East Asian connections.  We anticipate it may be more difficult to find many South East Asian experts in Colorado…but, who knows?

During our first visit to Palestine, I admired the intricate Palestinian embroidery work on tablecloths, pillow cases and especially, women’s “Thobes”.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/dalbera/5453990541/

These are the long dresses worn by many of the young women on special occasions, while most of the older women wear them on the street going to market and doing their daily tasks.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/lilies_of_the_valley/3652885370/

I learned from a friend that each town has it own distinctive design and color scheme. Many of the colors originated from plants indigenous to the area: “reds” from pomegranate, “dark blues” from the indigo plant: “yellow” from saffron flowers etc.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palestinian_costumes

I had hoped to find one for myself from her hometown,  but they are costly, and time for proper bargaining ran out.

Eventually, I bought one for myself, in a tourist market in Nazareth.  It was highly inappropriate; immodestly short-sleeved, over sized even for me, with bright multi-colored threads on black.  It resembles a rainbow and wear it as often as possible. I guess you could say it represents is the “Tourist visit of Mary Perry”.

On my next visit, I want to buy the authentic “Thobe” representing Bethlehem, the city of Christ‘s birth. Bethlehem’s pattern reminds me of a traditional red Ukrainian stitch, against a black background.  All the women in the Choir at Bethlehem Bible College wear this costume so I hope I can find somebody who will help me shop and bargain for it.

As I searched on the internet for the exact pattern I was looking for, I found the following short film advertising a book about historic Palestinian embroidery motifs written by Margarita Skinner in association with Widad Kawar.

My interest piqued further as I discovered this ancient film clip from the ’20s of a Palestinian woman wrapping herself in a double thobe/dress.

This was before the modern world came to Palestine. I was fascinated when I thought about Mary, the mother of Jesus  and possibly even Abraham’s wife, Sarah, wrapping their own dresses in a similar fashion. It seemed entirely possible since time stood still for so many centuries before the arrival of our modern technological age.

A little more information on Palestinian stitchery follows:

http://alquds2009.org/etemplate.php?id=300