Author Archives: thechristianphoenix

The World is Turning Around by Betsy Simpson

This refrain form a song we sang at our closing worship and party was affirming at so many points along our way this past two weeks. It was especially, joyfully, and enthusiastically, shared at the Tent of Nations on Wednesday night and reiterated Thursday morning at Sabeel. Planting trees on the Palestinian hilltop, the gathering in the chapel for song, prayer and the contemporary “gospel” of building relationships with an “enemy” who became a friend and neighbor was a truly inspiring time. It is a holy site and aptly named Tent of Nations.  In the midst of incredible hardship and systemic suffering the stewards of this place refuse to have enemies and always work for peace.  Amal says it best, “Hope builds bridges and fear builds walls.  We are bearers of hope and are called to share that good news with the world , the peace may come to this holy land and spread throughout the peoples of the earth.

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Ain Lifta by Mark Johnson

On Tu Bishvat

The almonds were bitter at Ain Lifta today

The leaves have not broken the bud

Mistletoe embraces the broken limbs

The blossoms are late this year

And last years fruit hangs like black

Tears the kohl casing curled back

To reveal the small stippled shells.

There was no one to harvest the crop

No one to dip the green carpet of husk

In salt, to see the opalescent nut weep,

No one to taste the tart edge of the meaty

Seed when the ridged paper curl peals

Away, no one to spread the scented oil

As it soothes the bared breast of the bride

Whose groom said a prayer to her beauty

In the square of Deir Yassin while the moon

Shone and rippled in mourning in Ain Lifta.

 photo 4

Mark C. Johnson

Lifta, January 16, 2014

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Dominus Flevit by Jeri Parris Perkins

“As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, ‘If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace!” Luke 41-411 NRSV

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! Matthew 23:37, RSV

            Five years ago I was privileged to participate in a Clergy Pilgrimage to the Holy Land through the Cousins Family Foundation and Columbia Theological Seminary. On that pilgrimage we saw many of the holy sites but there was one in particular that took me by the heart and shook me and shakes me still. It was the Dominus Flevit – a place I had never heard of – an experience of haunts me still. The Dominus Flevit is a church built in 1955 upon an old Byzantine site on the top of the Mount of Olives overlooking the Kidron Valley. The church is a small domed-shaped building. The front side is all glass resembling a tear drop. The church marks the site where Jesus looked out over Jerusalem and wept. He wept over the unwillingness of the faithful to recognize him and to allow him to heal their wounds and release them from the chains of sin and separation that bound them. He wept because he realized that it was going to destroy itself by walking in the way of violence.

On this Presbyterian Peace Fellowship Delegation it is that image that keeps coming back to me – over and over and over again –

I see God weeping:

Weeping over the bodies and souls of the oppressed and the oppressors;

Weeping over Jews and Palestinians, Druze and Christians, Muslims – people of every faith and no faith – who continue to fail to recognize God and allow God to heal our wounds and release us from the chains of sin and separation that bind US;

Weeping over walls designed to protect, provide security, keep the others – the enemies out but in reality only imprison, create more insecurity, keep the others – our brothers and sisters out of our lives, our hearts, our minds, our souls;

Weeping over our refusals to see, to hear, to understanding, to “stand under” the burdens of the others – OUR brothers and sisters – US;

Weeping over the land, the water, the walls, the barbed wire, the guns, the bombs, the deprivation, the inhumanity, the humiliation, the systematic removal of rights and righteousness;

Weeping over hateful, shameful words and weeping over the uninformed and cowardly silence;

Weeping over the violence all around, about, among and within;

Over and over and over again – I see God weeping:

Weeping over my/our refusals to “let the ears that I/WE have HEARD and the eyes that I/WE HAVE SEEN”;

Weeping over my/our failure “to love The Lord, my God, with all my heart and soul, and strength”;

Weeping over my/our failure and, sometimes my/our outright refusal,  ” to love MY neighbor”;

Weeping over my/our persistent questioning, “who is my neighbor?”;

Over and over and over again, God, you weep – thank you for loving us so much.

Over and over and over again, God, you forgive – thank you for loving us so much.

Over and over and over again, God, you refuse to give up on me/us – thank you for loving us SO much.

Over and over and over again, God, you urge me, call me, teach me, command me, inspire me/us to weep – thank you for loving ME/US SO MUCH.

From the very beginning, you are God.

Thank you for my/our very beginning and new beginnings.

Over and over and over again, thank you, God. Teach me to weep and “weep with those who weep”;

Over and over and over again, God, teach me to DO more than just weep;

Teach me to care, comfort, accompany, give up, take on, follow, serve, love with heart – soul – mind and strength;

Teach me never to have to ask, “who is MY NEIGHBOR”;

Over and over and over again…to love my neighbors…all of them…every single last one of them…till your kingdom comes, your will be done, on this EARTH as it is in HEAVEN…Amen.

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Repenting of Christian Zionism by Laura Newby

On Saturday we drove by the plains of Megiddo, or Armageddon. Fifteen years ago I would have gotten chills seeing the location that I believed the final battle of the end times would take place. Growing up as a conservative evangelical heavily influenced by Darby’s dispensationalism, talk of the end times and return of Christ was a recurring topic that swelled hearts with excitement, fear and hope.

My theology, Christian Zionism, took for granted the establishment of the State of Israel as necessary for ushering in the second coming of Christ. At the time, Israel served almost entirely as an abstract symbol for me, absent of any modern history. As a result, I was able to opt out of awareness, concern or responsibility for the repercussions of Israel’s actions.

I’ve spent the week hearing from Palestinian Muslims and Christians who were pushed off the land they have lived on for generations as a result of the 1948 war. Those who remain are under pressure to leave, and experience intense oppression and discrimination. Palestinian children are arrested for breaking curfew; towns are cut off from one another and from municipal services; communities are terrorized for nonviolently protesting violations to their rights under international law. Though my theology has evolved significantly over the years, the reality check is still jarring. I am ashamed that I once blindly adhered to a theology that accepted the oppression of others as necessary for its own fulfillment.

The State of Israel is able to continue its oppression of the Palestinian people because it has the support of major world powers, particularly the United States. We send several billion dollars in aid to Israel each year which directly funds the weapons, military personnel, checkpoints, settlements, and a concrete wall that segregates the country. We continue to enable this because enough people like me have lent their ideological support in ignorance.

My faith in Jesus, the Prince of Peace, was distorted by a toxic religious/political axis disguised as biblical theology and patriotic duty. I repent that I was ever a part of it.

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Why Do I Weep by Kelly Baker

I am a Christian whose life has been transformed by the power of the Holy Land

For the past five years, ever since my first visit to Palestine, every Advent and Easter I weep

I think of the all pain and the suffering that exists in the Holy Land and I weep

I see the brokenness of the world and I weep over Jerusalem

I weep because my religion has been coerced to support occupation and oppression

I weep because it’s normal

It’s normal that the Bible is used to deny people their rights

It is normal that Christianity is used to justify the usurpation of land and the ethnic cleaning of indigenous populations

I weep because it is normal

In Palestine… as a result of a 65 year struggle to keep their land

Home demolitions are normal

Land confiscation is normal

Settlements are normal

In the Holy Land it is normal for a child’s first memory to be of a tank driving down their street

For a person’s first experience with tear gas to be at the age of 2

I weep because in the village of Bil’in teenagers are arrested in the middle of the night and are not permitted to communicate with their family

Because like at Guantanamo Bay prisoners are held in administrative detention for years without charge

I weep because prisoners go on hunger strikes lasting nearly 300 days and the world is silent

Prisoners are tortured to death and no one says a thing

Midnight Arrests – normal

Administrative Detention – normal

Torture – normal

I know a man whose brother was tortured to the point of death only to be released to die outside of prison so the Israeli Defense Forces couldn’t be blamed.

I weep because in the Palestinian city of Hebron children are strip searched on their way to school.

Checkpoints are erected throughout out the city to keep Palestinians out of the Jewish only areas.

I weep because I witnessed a woman purchasing her produce in the middle of the street while she was engulfed in tear gas.

Strip searches – normal

Tear Gas – normal

Segregation – normal

Soldiers – normal

I weep because my friend’s father died of cancer because Israel wouldn’t grant him permission to seek treatment at the hospital in Jerusalem.

I weep because woman have given birth at checkpoints

And because people are forced to wait hours at checkpoints for no reason other than because they are Palestinian

Daily humiliation – normal

Checkpoints-normal

Permits – normal

I weep because when bombs fall on Gaza Israel is justified

As hundreds of thousands of people living in an open air prison run for their lives Israel and the US lift their heads with pride at Iron Dome Defense system

I weep because as the apache helicopter flew over my head on its way to Gaza in 2012 the streets of Bethlehem grew silent and still

I weep because as Al-Jazeera and the BBC spoke about the 4 Israelis who were killed verse the 167 Palestinians dead, my Facebook page was covered in pictures of dead babies.

Bombs- normal

Rockets – normal

Funerals – normal

People don’t realize that Israel kills people in Gaza almost every single day

I weep because no one seems to ask the question why

Why the rockets?

Why the demonstrations?

Why the Intifadas?

Why Hezbollah? Why Hamas?

What would you do if immigrants moved into your country and told you that you were no longer welcome?

What would you do if you were told that you could no longer live in your family’s home, on land that has been passed down for generations? And before you are even done packing a new family is moving in?

What would you do if your crops, your lively hood, were burned to the ground?

If your house was broken into and your father or mother was used as a human shield?

What would you do if 40 of your community’s children were all arrested on the same day just walking down the street?

If you spent 6 years in jail for throwing stones when you were 15?

I weep because without asking the question why and understand what has led to the situation in Palestine and Israel being what it is today… there will never be peace.

I weep because my country lies

The wool has been pulled over our eyes and people are blind to reality

My country lies because it says that it stands for freedom and justice yet when people fight for freedom and justice we call them terrorist

I weep because as US drones kill civilian populations in Afghanistan we don’t stop to question why terrorist groups to like us,

My heart breaks for the people who suffer at the hand of exceptionalism and empire

I have been implicated by my own history, the history of my ancestors and the history of my religion

Because of the genocide of the Native Americans and the Jews in the Nazi holocaust, I know what is being done to the Palestinians is wrong

Because of slavery and Jim Crow, I know that what is happening in Palestine is wrong

And because of the India Independence Movement, the Civil Rights Movement in America, and the BDS Movement in South Africa, I know that the Palestinian Resistance Movement is justified

I stand on the side of freedom and justice for all people and I hope and pray that one day I will weep over Jerusalem tear of joy.

This was written after I returned from living in Bethlehem for 6 months in 2012.

2014-01-13 15.42.25

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Tears for Bethlehem by Jean White

Monday we visited Bethlehem, the city where Jesus was born.   It is governed by the Palestinian Authority in accordance with one of the many peace agreements negotiated of the recent past.  An 8 meter high wall separates the city from the rest of the West Bank.

 We spent some time in the Aida Refugee Camp,   listening to those who live there, visiting a community center, buying crafts made by the women of the camp and reading their stories. A man told us how difficult life is there; how all aspects of life is controlled by the Israelis and, that he was once jailed for 6 months for playing football with his brother after  a curfew.

We learned that Israeli soldiers at times break into their homes. There have been instances where mothers have been shot, as well as young boys. While there, an armored Israeli truck entered through an opening in the separation wall. Suddenly young boys were taunting the soldiers. There was a heightened sense of excitement as well as noise as the situation rapidly grew more intense. Our group was quickly whisked away by our guide.

Looking out on the camp from a roof top, it looked like a prison with the wall and several surveillance towers with machine gun stations.  And in fact, there are many of these located along the long stretches of the separation wall.

As we were leaving the city we heard two tear gas bombs explode and saw the smoke. It was reported that this happens around 4 PM almost daily as an act of intimidation towards the Palestinians. I felt sad as I prepared to leave Bethlehem. This was no longer the city of my childhood dreams of Bethlehem, the Christ child in the manager and the eager waiting for the magic of Christmas for a young girl, the singing of “ O ’Little Town of Bethlehem and “Away in a Manger”.   My beautiful Yuletide dream has changed. No longer the peaceful image of Christmas and the birth of Christ. It is now a walled prison where basic human rights are not available to its citizens, a place where Palestinians living there are not permitted to make the 6 mile journey to Jerusalem.

 As I walked along the wall on my way to the check point, where I was free to leave and journey to Jerusalem, I took notice of the graffiti and paintings on the wall along the way. One stood out for me.  It was a painting with these words of Scripture on it from II Corinthians:

                                “Earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot heal.”

I  hope for a day when there will be peace between Israel and Palestine.

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Slingshot by Luke Rembold

The young boy stood in the center of the road, his slingshot in his hand. Above him loomed the giant, a power that had defeated the boy’s fathers and grandfathers. Everyone else fell back behind the boy, fearful and scared to draw too close to the giant. Yet the boy stood his ground, calling out and jeering at his enemy.

Sound familiar?

David and Goliath, anyone?

The funny thing is, it is modern day Palestinians that are referred to as Philistines in the David and Goliath story of the Old Testament. And today, while in the Aida Refugee camp outside Bethlehem, I watched from a roof as a young boy played with a sling, aiming at telephone poles and streetlights, yelling out loud as he released stones at his targets. His actions gained the attention of the watchtower at the nearby security wall, and we watched as the gate was rolled open and an armored jeep began to roll out. The boy’s friends gained courage, still yelling and jeering at the Israeli Defense Force manning the jeep.

Our group was quickly herded to the bus, as our hosts were worried about our safety.

I worry for that boy. For Palestinians in occupied territories, resistance is life, and I applaud that young boy’s courage. Yet that boy will likely live his entire life in that refugee camp with no opportunity to leave, and in that situation, that frustration could turn into hatred. His heart could turn hard. How can he still have hope?

And what of those 19 and 20 year old young men and women of the Israeli Defense Force that are supposed to patrol that security wall and control the children? What of their hearts as they are charged with orders they may or may not want to carry out? How much of their fear turns into posturing with their guns and armored vehicles? What is happening to their hearts and their humanity?

The Old Testament David and Goliath had a clear winner. The modern-day story I saw today does not.

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