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Home arrow Blog arrow December 2008 arrow December 25, 2008

December 25, 2008
WAWA Blog December 25, 2008: Happy Christmas and to a New Year Without FEAR!


Ashley Wilkinson, 29, is a missionary with the General Board of Global Ministries serving as a mission intern with Wi'am (Arabic for cordial relationships) Palestinian Conflict Resolution Center in Bethlehem, West Bank, Palestine.

Her mission is to promote peace, justice and reconciliation through counseling, and empowerment of local women, children and youth. She studied Middle Eastern Studies at Jerusalem University College, has a Master of Divinity degree from Duke Divinity School and is a member of Cokesbury UMC in Pensacola, Fla.

The day after violence erupted between Hezbollah and Israeli forces in July, Ms. Wilkinson left Bethlehem for a planned vacation to Greece. She has since returned to Bethlehem, where she wrote this article for the Reporter—a reflection on life inside the wall:



I was living in the United States in 2002 when I first heard about the wall being built around the West Bank. I remember feeling a sense of heartbreak, loss and division. This was coupled with disbelief, and an inability to conceive of just how much pain and suffering such a barrier might produce.

I had studied in Jerusalem the year before, and I had a hard time imagining what such a wall would look like, how it would feel and what kind of effect it would have on people.

In December 2004, I jumped at the chance to apply for the Mission Intern Program offered through the General Board of Global Ministries. I had read about the changing situation in the Middle East, and wanted to try to understand what it was like to live and work with Palestinians who had lived here for generations. Through a GBGM partnership with the Wi'am Palestinian Conflict Resolution Center, I was given this amazing opportunity.

Upon arriving last September at the wall and checkpoint in Bethlehem, I felt two very strong emotions: shock and despair. I quickly learned that even though the media and Israeli government had taught me to perceive the wall as a "temporary security structure," this explanation was a gross misrepresentation.

The word "wall" does not convey the mental, emotional and physical reactions that such an imposing structure evokes whenever you encounter it. Nor could it convey the devastating effects it would have on Palestinians -- from an economic, social and human rights perspective.

There is no neutral way to speak about this wall. It has been called a barrier, a Separation Wall, a Security Wall and an Apartheid Wall, but no name or label can convey the destructive and oppressive results that have come about since the beginning of its construction.

Snaking its way through the West Bank, this barrier route spans 436 miles. It is comprised of either a 26-foot-tall concrete wall or a 164-foot-wide area of fences, patrol roads, barbed wire, tracking sands and electronic observation systems.

The wall that currently surrounds Bethlehem is 26 feet tall, and will be about 30 miles long when it is completed. That's a little over half as tall as a football goalpost and one-third the length of the Berlin Wall.

There are watch towers every 652 feet, and there are four passages through which people travel in and out of Bethlehem. But the passage through these four corridors is limited, at best, and impossible, at worst.

Bethlehemites must have permits to travel anywhere outside the West Bank. These permits are not easily obtained, and even when people have the proper permit, they are often turned away at the checkpoint.

There are currently over 70 checkpoints, roadblocks and barrier gates in the Bethlehem district. Knowing a bit more about what it is like to live here, I find it both accurate and devastating to hear people describe Bethlehem as a big prison.

Thousands of years ago, the prophet Isaiah brought the word of the Lord to the people, calling them to account for their failure to seek justice and for their inability to recognize or even walk the path of peace: "Like the blind, we grope along the wall, feeling our way like those without eyes" (Isaiah 59:10).

It is no wonder that the words of Isaiah strike a chord deep within me. To write this wall off as a temporary security measure is to "grope about blindly" and to ignore the suffering and violence it leaves in its path. Not only does the wall prevent people from traveling to visit family and holy sites in Jerusalem and Israel, it also interferes with travel within the West Bank.

Some Palestinians are trapped within the wall -- as in the case of the village of Qalqiliya -- while others find themselves in the path of the wall itself or separated from their farmlands and sources of income. A friend's home in Beit Jala (the eastern area in the Bethlehem district) is scheduled for demolition because a portion of it lies within the path of the wall. Another friend can no longer reach the olive trees that have been in his family for hundreds of years because they lie on the other side of the wall.

I don't think I ever took the time to consider walls before, whether in my home, my church or my office building. Perhaps I noticed the fence separating me from my neighbor, and perhaps I was aware of the invisible walls that exist everywhere between young and old, rich and poor, female and male, majority and minority, us and them.

But I never had to look at what a wall represented before, and I certainly never imagined what it would be like for someone else to build a wall around me.

Here in Bethlehem, international workers and local Palestinians see walls every day. And we feel the walls even when we walk in the open air. These are not walls we have built for ourselves nor walls we wish to hide behind. These walls do not keep out the bad and keep in the good. We do not feel safe and we do not feel secure.

To ignore this reality is to embrace blindness and to remain oblivious to the path of peace of which Isaiah speaks.

As someone who believes that Christ breaks down every dividing wall of hostility (Ephesians 2:14), I believe there is a better way to work toward true peace. Peace never means a ceasefire or a cessation of violence. Real peace is justice. Real peace is the hard hard work of reconciliation -- of confession, repentance and forgiveness.

G-d did not give us eyes so that we might close them. G-d did not give us hearts so that we might remain without feeling. G-d did not give us souls in order to leave us without compassion.

And G-d did not imprint us with G-d’s image in order that we would not recognize G-d and ourselves in the eyes of everyone we meet.

Oh, how I must constantly check my pride at the door when I spend time with the people of this land. I take for granted the privileges of working and walking where I want, entering the places where I dream to go, finding space to relax and breathing in and out the air of freedom.

Have you ever had the chance to consider a wall before? Next time you do, think of us here in Bethlehem.

Pray for us and for people in prisons everywhere. Remember that you are members of the body of Christ and be grateful that He came to set the captives free. Thank the Lord daily for the unconditional gift of grace given you.

Open the eyes Christ gave you and we will all seek to return His grace to each and every one of His children throughout the world.


For more information, see Ashley Wilkinson's blog, www.ashleyinbethlehem.blogspot.com, from which the following excerpt was taken:

On a clear night in Palestine...

The power is out in most of Bethlehem. This happens occasionally here. And darkness is not so bad. . .when there are candles and stars and moonlight. On a clear night in Palestine you can see forever. I don't know how long my computer battery will last, but I until then. . .

There are candles burning and the mood is uneasy. Every now and then there are explosions and shots in the distance. Are they fireworks? Bombs? Guns? I do not know. In fact there is never any way to know how to distinguish such sounds here.

I tell my neighbor to enjoy the silence. My optimism receives an answer tonight -- even as I shut the door to my rooftop apartment an explosion resounds. Not so close, but still disruptive. . .especially now. . .since we all seem to be waiting for something to happen. . .

Waiting for power to come back?

Waiting for a definitive hostile sound to arise?

We wait.

I do not feel nervous. I am grateful for a chance to pause from my cleaning and laundry.

But what if that is a tank outside? What if that sound is the army rolling in? The fear that I see reflected in the eyes of each person I meet in this prison city. . .

I feel free. . .truly the Lord has set me free. . .but that does not alter this current physical reality.

So, we wait.

We wait.

On a clear night in Palestine you can see forever.

-- Ashley Wilkinson

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL)
Christmas 2008

The Savior cares for our fears

“Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.”
Luke 2:10-11

1. Sources of fear today

More than ever, the angel’s words, “Fear not,” sound strange to our ears. All around us it seems we have much more to fear than last year. On a global scale, economic uncertainty abounds. Huge financial institutions collapse, stock markets plummet and fortunes are wiped out. How many pensioners will be made penniless? How many children will go hungry? How many laborers will lose their jobs? How poor must the poor get before human greed is reigned in?

I was recently in Tanzania, where I saw with my own eyes the effects of global climate change. The “Great White Mountain” is becoming less white. The snows of Kilimanjaro are melting as the temperature of the world increases. How many glaciers will disappear? How many more Hurricane Katrinas will wipe out the homes of the disadvantaged? How many sea-level civilizations will drown before we cease our senseless polluting, which has led to the global warming crisis?

Though the world’s nations seem unable to make the necessary decisions, they are united in fear. Will there be real change, as politicians promise? Will the war-torn countries of the world, such as Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Congo, Sri Lanka, Somalia, Columbia and Palestine, ever see peace? How many walls of fear must be erected? How many innocent lives will be lost? How many parents in Gaza will burn clothing and furniture before the siege will end? Do elections bring to office charismatic, courageous leaders who will work for peace, justice and the common good, or simply use their power to secure their own country’s welfare and comfort?

Such questions were not unknown in ancient times, for the writer of the first book of Timothy sums up the answers with these words: “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” At the heart of the crisis confronting our world is the love of money in the form of neo-liberal economics – a set of economic principles that seek to maximize private returns in the shortest possible time. This failed economic model has pushed our world to the brink of financial, political and ecological disaster and has created more fear than ever. As the 2008 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Martti Ahtisaari, former president of Finland, said while receiving his award in December, “The effects of this crisis may prove another setback for the developing world. The very poorest people are already being hit hardest by the impact of climate change, rising food prices and lower level of foreign trade.”

Every where you turn there are more things to fear. In such times, we would do well to turn off the TV and stop listening to news that will only multiply our worries.

But in the midst of this, something unexpected can still happen. For us today, as for the poor and despised shepherds outside Bethlehem, the angels’ words still apply: “Fear not.”

2. Sources of fear during the shepherd’s day

The shepherds in the text knew something of such fears. They were, after all, on guard duty that night. They probably expected the night to pass uneventfully, as it had so many nights before. Yet they were still alert to threats to their charges, such as predators or thieves.

Animal husbandry is work rife with risk and economic uncertainty. The flock could be easily wiped out by disease or predators. The animals could perish in drought or flood. They could starve or stray without careful oversight.

Further, the shepherds were part of a powerless minority people under the rule of a mighty, occupying nation. Perhaps the Roman army had a 1st century version of checkpoints and closures. No doubt whatever methods they used, life under the Romans was difficult.

So the shepherds faced threats on many fronts. That night in the field, the shepherds were prepared for wolves. They were prepared for thieves. But they were not prepared for what happened: Imagine their fear when a messenger of the Lord, shining with God’s glory, appeared to them. And perhaps the idea of a fearsome God coming to earth was not a happy one.

So the first thing the angel says is, “Fear not.” God’s incarnation among you is an occasion of great joy for all people. Though God entered history in a specific time and place, the joy was intended for the shepherds then, for you today, and for all people of all times in all places.

3. Amidst these fears, God became incarnate

In the midst of the night, with threats that creep about under cover of darkness, God became incarnate. The shepherds apparently forgot their concerns about predators and the safety of the sheep, for they agreed to “go see this thing which has come to pass, which the Lord has made known unto us.” Perhaps they remembered the ancient prophecies about a coming messiah or were persuaded by the divine messenger. Perhaps they expected this messiah to save them from their economic, ecological or political troubles. All we know is that they believed God had made known to them God’s action in the world and their response was to go themselves to see it.
What did the shepherds find when they arrived at the stable? What they found was a savior not incarnated as a captain of industry or as a Wall Street tycoon to usher in an era of prosperity. The messiah was not incarnated as Mother Nature to restore harmony to the natural order. Nor was he a political messiah to restore the kingdom of Israel.

What they found was a baby – the Creator of the cosmos incarnate as a human baby to be among us, to share all that it means to be human. And at the same time, this baby was divine, sent to deliver a message of divine hope: Fear not.

This baby came to say, Fear not: God has heard the cries of the people. Fear not: God will heal you from your sins. Fear not: the God of justice and compassion acts in history. Fear not: the kingdom of God is at hand. Fear not: God has come to give you hope as you await the day of the Lord and his liberation.

4. Amidst today’s fears, God is still incarnate

The shepherds experienced God incarnate in the midst of their fears. This compels us to look for God in the unexpected in the midst of our fears, where we would least expect or imagine the divine to appear.

Martin Luther called this “Deus absconditus,” the hidden God. Because no one can see God and live, Luther reasoned, God reveals Godself indirectly. Thus, Jesus came not in divine glory and majesty, as one would expect. Instead, Jesus came where you’d least expect him: as a vulnerable baby, amidst the filth of a stable, in a setting of oppression and suffering. In this, God says: Fear not.

So, here we are today, in a time of great distress and fear, when we feel that everything is on the brink of collapsing. Maybe these economic, political and ecological upheavals are signs that God is disturbed by our greed and injustice. Maybe the Lord is trying to tell us that we have trusted our own might and our own post-modern idols. Maybe the hidden God is calling us to repentance – to turn from trusting ourselves to once again trusting God, as the first commandment says. As Luther explains it, a God is one in which you put all your trust. Maybe – no, definitely – we are to stop trusting in the idols of the Nikkei and the Nasdaq and instead trust Christ. We are to “fear not” – to turn from nursing our fears to seeking the living Lord in all that is happening.

Today, the body of Christ is incarnate among us as the church. To trust God does not mean that we – particularly we in the church – have no responsibilities. Indeed, in the midst of all this fear, it is the church’s role to act as a light to dispel the fear. It must fulfill its call to be prophetic, speaking truth to power about the injustice and greed that led to the current situation. It must call for economics with ethics and politics with integrity. It must renew the dignity with which God endowed all humanity. It must seek the equality and acceptance of all. It must work to eradicate poverty and enact justice. It must lead the way to real peace on earth.

Here in Palestine and Israel, fear is no stranger to us. In the very place where the God of peace and justice was incarnate, there is still no peace and justice. Despite the good intentions of the innkeeper, there is still no room for peace and justice at the inn. And still, the angel says, “Fear not.”

We pray that all people in this land hear the angel and do not succumb to fear. In the shadow of a wall, we continue to ignite candles of hope and compassion, friendship and hospitality, for a secure Israel and a free Palestine. Within hearing of house demolitions, we continue in our steadfastness and resilience, to sing praises to the one God. Among religious divisions, we continue to yearn for a united Jerusalem, shared peacefully among Jews, Christians and Muslims. Despite headlines that announce ethnic tensions, Israelis and Palestinians forge cross-cultural friendships and work courageously together toward a shared future. In the face of forces that divide Palestinians, we continue to call for the unity of the nation. And in spite of all indications, we continue to hope that this will be the last Christmas of fear and injustice; that one day all our small candles together will overcome fear and darkness. In this, once again, you can hear the angel say, "Fear not. For unto you a Savior is born.

No one captured the hope of the Palestinian people better than our poet, Mahmoud Darwish, who passed away last August. He wrote the following poem.

We are here near there

We are here near there, thirty doors to a tent.
We are here between pebbles and shadows,
a place for a sound, a place for freedom or
any place that has rolled off a mare or scattered
out of a calling or a bell.

We are here, soon we will puncture this siege,
soon we will liberate a cloud and depart in
ourselves. We are here near there, thirty
doors to a wind, thirty has-beens.

We teach you to see us, know us, hear us,
touch our blood in peace. We teach you our
salaam. We may or may not love the road
to Damascus, Mecca or Kairouan.

We are here in us. A sky for August, a sea for
May, a freedom for a horse, and we ask of
the sea that it haul out the blue circles
around the smoke.

We are here near there, thirty shapes and
thirty shadows to a star.

And that star is a glittering one, which shows us, politicians and populous, religious and secular: A Savior is born. Peace and justice are born. Freedom is coming. Fear not: He will be born quicker than expected.

Merry Christmas and a blessed New Year!

+Bishop Dr. Munib A. Younan


 http://www.elcjhl.org/admin/bishop/bishop.asp


   
 
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The Paradoxical Commandments
by Dr. Kent M. Keith

People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.
Love them anyway.

If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
Do good anyway.

If you are successful, you win false friends and true enemies.
Succeed anyway.

The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.

Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.
Be honest and frank anyway.

The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds.
Think big anyway.

People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs.
Fight for a few underdogs anyway.

What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
Build anyway.

People really need help but may attack you if you do help them.
Help people anyway.

Give the world the best you have and you'll get kicked in the teeth.
Give the world the best you have anyway.

© 1968, 2001 Kent M. Keith

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The age of warrior kings and of warrior presidents has passed. The nuclear age calls for a different kind of leadership....a leadership of intellect, judgment, tolerance and rationality, a leadership committed to human values, to world peace, and to the improvement of the human condition. The attributes upon which we must draw are the human attributes of compassion and common sense, of intellect and creative imagination, and of empathy and understanding between cultures."  - William Fulbright



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