“. . . the horizon parted and the house greeted the light of day . . .” (Fadwa Tuqan)

French Hill settlement in Occupied Jerusalem. (photo credit: ANGLO-SAXON JERUSALEM)

French Hill settlement in Occupied Jerusalem. (photo credit: ANGLO-SAXON JERUSALEM)

What happened to that light-hearted look at growing old? my friends ask about this blog. It doesn’t quite seem to be light-hearted on the infrequent days I manage to post. What has happened?

Am I less happy than I was on about October 25 (the last time I really wrote a piece for this blog)? Probably not. The not-too-well-kept secret is that I’ve always had something of a struggle to have anything approaching a sunny disposition.

Somewhere about February 15 (exactly February 15) of this year I decided to begin a blog dedicated to gathering bits of news from Palestinian online news sites and publishing a little digest of some I think are interesting or important. Yes, my bias shows absolutely (. . . some I think are interesting. . .) I don’t know if anyone either in Palestine or anywhere else would agree that they are the most important things to repost.

I wish I could remember why I began that blog. One of the joys of old age: I forget more than I remember these days. I should write a light-hearted blog post about that. But there are thousands of such writings by senescent beings out there.

Perhaps I don’t remember because it was nine months ago, and the impetus for my starting the project was some little event or idea that I couldn’t ignore.

And then, for another reason I can’t quite remember, on or about October 1, I decided to go to Palestine for the third time in this century. I signed up to go on the Fall Witness Visit of the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem.  I had been thinking about returning to East Jerusalem and the West Bank (particularly Bethlehem) for a long time, and when I discovered two old acquaintances would be on the Sabeel Visit, I decided to plunk down the money and get myself over there.

I love Palestine.

I don’t think Israel is much to brag about. French Hill is sort of like a wannabe Bushwick in Brooklyn, or a suburb of Dallas, or any other 21st-century materialistic city. That’s no wonder because it has been built mostly by Americans and others whose lives are controlled by acquiring stuff and self-centered modernity. And also, as nearly as I can figure, by Tea Party types. They might on the whole be better educated and more sophisticated than American Tea Partiers, but they think pretty much the same. Damn! Do I speak in unsupportable and unforgivable generalities, or what?

Palestine, on the other hand, is about as real and interesting a place as you can find. It’s poor and rich, old and young, liberal and conservative, political and apolitical (well, not many apolitical folks), and the Palestinians have too much invested in just trying to stay alive and keep body, mind, soul, and their society together to be interested in any Bushwick or French Hill kind of existence.

Take a young woman from Ramallah who has managed to get a job in Jerusalem. I heard this story last week in Jerusalem. I may have the cities or other specific details wrong, but the story is correct. She is a Palestinian Israeli, born in and a resident of Jerusalem, one of those folks who is caught in a no-person’s land. She made the mistake of marrying the man she loves, who happens to be from Ramallah. She moved there and soon had two sons. Then she found a job in Jerusalem that paid more than any job available in the Occupied Territories. So she now lives in Jerusalem and cannot see her husband and sons because they do not have Jerusalem residency permits. He works as a truck driver and can come to Jerusalem for work, but he has to be out of Israel by 7 PM each evening, and he cannot bring his sons into the city because they were born in the Occupied Territories.

Once in a while he manages to hide at his wife’s apartment overnight, but if he ever gets caught, that will be the end (of lots of things). She can only VERY seldom go to Ramallah because she is a resident of Jerusalem, and those privileges have been virtually taken away for all Palestinian Israelis. She wants to be with her sons. She has petitioned the government of Israel either to be allowed to go to Ramallah regularly or have her children with her in Jerusalem. The official answer? If you want to be with your children, divorce your husband.

This family struggles daily simply to keep themselves together (literally). They are not much worried that “Unique Clothing Is Taking The Fashion World By Storm.” Really, they’re not. Having dinner together this weekend and hugging each other is right at the top of their priority list.

My light-hearted writing about the pitfalls (or just falls—I did it again in Palestine; not to worry, I’ve put the cane away for the second time) of getting older really seems kinda silly at this point. It seems to me that anyone who is not depressed about the situation Palestine, in Syria, in Yemen, in Paris, in . . . has simply capitulated to a materialism that is the same in Bushwick Brooklyn or French Hill Jerusalem.

I have proposed that the second beatitude, “blessed are those who mourn,” offers an apt metaphor for depressive resistance in the age of global neoliberalism. Those who mourn, the depressed, are blessed insofar as they bear witness to the veiled oppression of today’s global hegemony. The concealment of this subjugation is made more complete by a contemporary strategy in which depression is turned into an illness, thus silencing its political importance. (Rogers-Vaughn, Bruce. “Blessed Are Those Who Mourn: Depression As Political Resistance.” Pastoral Psychology 63.4 (2014): 503-522.)

One difference between Bushwick and French Hill is, of course, that the genocide in Brooklyn in the name of materialist hegemony was accomplished 400 years ago, while that in French Hill is ongoing.

“THE  SEAGULL  AND  THE  NEGATION  OF  NEGATION,”  BY  FADWA  TUQAN
It crossed the horizon and cleft the darkness,
Mastering the blue, darting on wings of light―
Twisting, turning and still turning.
It knocked at my dark window, and the gasping silence quivered:
“Bird, is it good news you bring?”
It divulged its secret, yet breathed not a word,
And the seagull disappeared.

Bird, my sea-bird, I know now
That during hard times, standing in the tunnel of silence,
All things change.
The seed sprouts even within the heart of the dead,
Morning bursts forth from darkness.
I know now,
As I hear horses galloping the call of death along the shores,
That when the flood comes,
The world will be cleansed of its sorrows.

Bird, my sea-bird, rising from the depths of darkness,
God’s blessing upon you for the good news you bring.
For I know now
Something happened . . . the horizon parted and the house greeted the light of day.

About Fadwa Tuqan.
From THE PALESTINIAN WEDDING: A BILINGUAL ANTHOLOGY OF CONTEMPORARY PALESTINIAN RESISTANCE POETRY. Ed. and Trans. A. M. Elmessiri. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2011. Reprint from Three Continents Press, Inc., 1982. Available from Palestine Online Store.

The Israeli demolition of a home in the Shufat  Palestinian refugee camp in West Jerusalem.

The Israeli demolition of a home in the Shufat Palestinian refugee camp in West Jerusalem.

“Egomania coupled with an inferiority complex”

Looking toward Lebanon from an archaeological site (I don't remember the name--that's my main problem with travel pics).

Looking toward Lebanon from an archaeological site (I don’t remember the name–that’s my main problem with travel pics).

There’s nothing egocentric about me? A certain organization I’m a part of speaks of “egomaniacs with inferiority complexes.” I think if that shoe fits, I ought to wear it.

Well, it does, and I have it on. Both feet.

In a week I’m off on a visit (my third) to Palestine. The group I’m going with is made up of Christians (I assume everyone in the group although I don’t know for sure) going with the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem.

I have been to Sabeel’s headquarters before. Samia Khoury, a member of the Center, is an acquaintance (no, a friend) whom I discovered on the Internet several years ago and had a correspondence with long before we met in Jerusalem in 2008.

A couple who will be part of the visit to Sabeel are seasoned proponents of Liberation Theology as it applies to the Palestinians, as well as political support for the Palestinians. I have known them since 1985 when he was interim rector of Grace Church in Salem, MA, where I was music director.

The first time I was in Palestine I was with a delegation from the Fellowship of Reconciliation. An independent organization has been created from FOR with the purpose of leading delegations to Israel/Palestine, Interfaith Peace Builders. I count three of the people from that first trip, two of whom are now on the staff of IFPB, as friends and colleagues.

The second trip I took to Palestine was with a group mainly of members of Lutheran churches from the Dallas area. It was led by Ann Hafften, long-time advocate for peace in Palestine/Israel and member of the ELCA leadership devoted to that cause.

My first trip to Palestine was prompted in 2003 by my increasing puzzlement about the situation there as we Americans were told about it in the media. Somewhere in one of my blogs is the story of my meeting (and teaching) a Palestinian student at Bunker Hill Community College in Boston in 1987. He did more teaching of me than I of him. He told me first-hand the story of his and his family’s exile from their home. That was my first real knowledge of the “facts on the ground” in Palestine, and when we Americans began hearing the horrendous news about the First Intifada, I knew in my heart of hearts that we could not be hearing the whole truth―or even very much of it.

So I decided to go there and see for myself.

The rest, as far as my knowledge and involvement is concerned (shudder at the cliché), is history. I challenge anyone reading this to stand beside the Apartheid Wall―you don’t need to tell me I’m biased: someone has to be―in Jerusalem and not be shaken, moved, horrified, disgusted. I have no “right” word for my weeping that first day in 2003. And the wall wasn’t built yet at that particular place in Jerusalem. We stood overlooking the great miles-long gouge in the earth that would soon be the Wall.

There is nothing unbiased about my feeling, speaking, writing, acting on the situation of the Palestinian people.

On my first trip there, I had no expertise with the Internet. I came home with hundreds of pictures and no way to use them. The idea of posting online was a pipedream.

My second trip was different. These days I quite frequently post pictures I took then.

This visit will be different still. I will have both my smart phone and my iPad with me, and I will be blogging probably every day.
Here’s where my egocentricity comes in.

Where to post? Here on this blog that had its inception as a humorous look at growing old? I doubt there will be much humor to write about although I will have a good time, and I will be joyful in being with old friends.

No, the hookah did not make me hallucinate (I don't know how my friend managed this). A restaurant in Bethlehem.

No, the hookah did not make me hallucinate (I don’t know how my friend managed this). A restaurant in Bethlehem.

Should I post on the blog where every day I post news from and about Palestine, a digest of news accounts (and a poem by a Palestinian poet just because I can’t help myself)? That hardly seems sensible since my postings will be personal and immediate.

Or should I post on a blog I have kept for years, one that I have not used much since “Me senescent” began? It is much more about personal opinion and reaction to circumstances and events.

The name of the blog is my incorrect pidgin Latin (intended to be humorous, or at least tongue-in-cheek) for “I am not crazy.” Sumnonrabidus.

I’ve decided that all of you and the whole world (there’s my egomania) will want to read my personal account, so I will be blogging as “Sumnonrabidus” beginning a week from today. I am not crazy. Just a little wacky and opinionated.

My opinions, as anyone who reads this blog knows, include my agnosticism bordering on atheism. Being with a group of Christian Liberation Theologians for ten days may be as much a challenge as getting to and through Ben Gurion Airport alone (I have never left the country for any reason—ten times now—by myself). But I assume I can trust that the hotel taxi will be at the airport to fetch me to Jerusalem. And I assume that there is a place for me in a religious atmosphere. At least I can focus on the “liberation” part of the discussion and the experience.

Watch Sumnonrabidus beginning November 3.

The Fearless Bedouin, 2008.

The Fearless Bedouin, 2008.

From the foundation of the world?

Come ye blessed of my father. (Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel.)

Come ye blessed of my father. (Michelangelo,
Sistine Chapel.)

In a little more than two weeks I will be in Jerusalem. I will spend ten nights in Palestine and Israel―in Bethlehem, Nazareth, and religiously important places in the Galilee, as well as Jerusalem. I have been to all of these places before. The first time I was in Palestine, I also had the remarkable experience of spending two days and a night in Gaza.

In the late ‘80s-early ‘90s I was in therapy with a Jewish Jungian psychiatrist in Cambridge, MA. He is about my age (we were both very young at that time). My neurologist referred me to him because he had experience working with persons with Temporal Lobe Epilepsy, the condition with which the neurologists at Harvard Medical School had recently diagnosed me after I had lived with it for 40 years.

One of the presentations of TLE is a propensity for heightened religious experiences. Out-of-body experiences, strange feelings of transcendence, seeing visions. All manner of mystical experience.

I have had quite a few of those experiences, but I have never exactly attributed them to being in touch with God or the gods or the meaning of the universe as some TLEptics do. From childhood I have had what might be called a “mystical” bent―having deep experiences of connectedness to reality of some kind. I have tried to explain those experiences many times.

In a folder on my computer desk top I have a miscellaneous assortment of documents with stuff I want to be able to find if I ever need it. Somewhat like my last year’s tax return―it’s here somewhere. One of those documents is a quotation from Fyodor Dostoyevsky describing his seizures (I have no record of the article that quotes Strakhov).

Nikolay Strakhov, a philosopher and literary critic, and a friend of Dostoyevsky relates Dostoevsky’s description of the aura: ‘…Often told me that before the onset of an attack there were minutes in which he was in rapture.’ “For several moments,” he said, “I would experience such joy as would be inconceivable in ordinary life―such joy that no one else could have any notion of. I would feel complete harmony in myself and in the whole world and this feeling was so strong and sweet that for few seconds of such bliss I would give ten or more years of my life, even my whole life perhaps.” Frank J. Goldstein. Selected Letters of Fyodor Dostoevsky. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press (1987).

I don’t know if the experience on the Oregon coast I linked to above was a seizure, a mystical experience, or simply the way anyone who hadn’t a care in the world for the moment would experience the ocean and the cold air and the solitude. My guess is that many (most?) people have these experiences, but they don’t feel compelled to write about them. And they don’t think of them as “religious.”

I should note here that the times I know for sure I am having a seizure are not wonderful. A month ago, for example, I was walking at the fitness center and suddenly had no idea where I was or why I was there (which is a much more frequent experience than being at one with the ocean). It’s more difficult for me to explain that kind of experience than the mystical ones (or whatever they are). Fortunately at the fitness center I was able to get to a bench and sit before I checked out completely. I came to (after probably 2 or 3 seconds) and knew someone named Chris was nearby and that I should see him.

But I had no idea where or who he was or why I needed to find him. It took me a few minutes to remember he is my trainer, and I had an appointment with him in a few minutes.

So that’s the sum total of my mystical experience.

For the most part.

Since I find it almost impossible to say I believe in God these days, it’s just as well that I don’t have experiences where I think I’ve run into her.

When I was working with the Jewish Jungian psychiatrist in Massachusetts, he told me he hoped I would someday have the experience of standing at the Western Wall (the “Wailing Wall”) in Jerusalem. He thought anyone who had had so many “mystical” (I’ll call them that for want of a better description) experiences needed to be in that place where so much of the Western religious tradition had been centered, supposedly, for 2,500 years.

When I finally touched the Wall in 2003, I had nothing like a religious experience. Perhaps that was because on my way down into the courtyard I was greeted by a teenage girl and boy (Israeli soldiers carrying assault rifles) obviously looking everyone over with suspicion, and it was difficult to feel anything other than wariness. I was not wearing a yarmulke as the other men in our group were.

I am fairly certain that when I am in Jerusalem in a couple of weeks, I will have religious experiences. I don’t think William James would have classified them as religious, however. But it’s the only way I have of participating in or knowing or experiencing anything “transcendent” or of “God.”

The purpose of my trip is to join, as best I know how or can figure out, the cause of justice for all people. If God exists, I have only one way of knowing God. That is by doing my level best (which is pathetically inadequate and probably misinformed) to be of service to other human beings, especially in the cause of justice and mercy. It is only then―not by belief or prayer or meditation or good works―that I expect to have anything like the experience of hearing, “Come ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world”―in this life or any other.

(Some of my reasons for going to Palestine/Jerusalem.)

The new

The new “Wailing Wall.” (Photo, Harold Knight, 2008.)

 

“. . . They sip at their longing for God. . .” (Samih Mohsen)

Like mother like son

Like mother like son

I bought an iPad about three years ago. I’m not exactly sure why, except that the (more than) friend I was hanging with had one, and it looked so convenient and fun. I discovered it will do almost everything I ever want to do on my computer.

The thing goes with me nearly everywhere these days. About all I do with it is check email and Google to find answers to questions (actually, it’s Safari, not Google) I want immediate answers to. Once in a while I take pictures. Probably the most time I spend on it—shall I admit this public?—is playing Sudoku. I’ve gotten so I can hardly sit and watch TV without playing Sudoku, and the iPad is much easier to see than my iPhone.

The most useful App I have is my Nook book app. All of the books I’ve bought for my Nook, I can read on the iPad. I haven’t picked up the Nook since I bought the iPad.

I hear women occasionally talk about how they have become their mothers (is there a famous book about that?), but I never hear men talk about how they have become their fathers. I have.

My father became interested in computers in the ‘80s when he was in his 70s. He owned one before I did. Now I’m in my 70s and trying desperately (hardly at all, in point of fact) to keep up with technology. I am my father. I am amazed at all of this stuff. My computer knowledge is stuck somewhere in about the ‘90s. I can’t do anything technological. I have a big flat-screen (not THAT big) “SMART” TV that I can’t watch movies on because I can’t figure out how to make it talk to my wireless modem.

And things go downhill from there.

All of the messages from one of my very closest friends (there are many of them) were ending up in the spam file in my email. I was checking the file for messages of his and dutifully moving them to my inbox when I noticed that the “spam” icon at the top of Outlook turns to “Not Spam” when I open the spam file. I clicked on it when I had one of his messages open, and voila! Problem solved.

I’ve been using the same Outlook email for 20 years.

You can extrapolate from that little example to the larger world of GPS and iTunes and. . . . to understand how limited my ability is.

My dad bought his first computer when he discovered he could have the pictures he and Mom took on their 50th anniversary trip to The Holy Lands in 1987 scanned and printed out on a computer. It was pretty crude and rudimentary back then, but it was possible. He had to have one.

I had no clue then.

But when I was part of a delegation of the Inter-Faith Peace Builders (Fellowship of Reconciliation) to Palestine/Israel in 2003, I bought a digital camera. I have hundreds of pictures. Unfortunately, they are on 3 ½ inch floppy disks, and I have no way to read them. But that began my love affair with digital pictures. I use my phone and my SONY camera to take zillions of pictures, as everyone else does.

Wonderfully strange that my father and I both learned about digital photography through trips to The Holy Lands.

There was one huge difference in our experience there, however. He went with a Baptist church group, and the only place they went in the West Bank was Bethlehem—even though the Apartheid Wall was only a gleam in Benjamin Netanyahu’s eye at that time.

My dad’s group could have wandered anywhere they wanted, but they went where all tourists went at that time (and still today). Mom and Dad never saw a Palestinian Refugee Camp or the ruins of a Palestinian village covered in pine trees planted by the Israelis to make the ruins disappear.

Somewhere I have a digital picture of my mother terrified and angry on a camel—she had no idea it was going to stand up suddenly once she got on. Of course, that was at the Great Pyramid in Egypt, but the same trip.

I have such a picture of myself taken on my second visit in 2008—except I was having the time of my life, and not solely because of the hunky young Palestinian man who owned the camel—riding in a little walled-in yard in Jericho.

The Baptists did not know the Al-Aqsa Mosque is on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem or that the Dead Sea was becoming a resort for Israelis which the Palestinians who live within walking distance are not allowed to share.

Etc.

The latest download on my iPad is Nakba: Palestine, 1948, and the Claims of Memory. Ahmad H. Sa’di and Lila Abu-Lughod, editors (Columbia University Press, 2007). It is a collection of essays about the Palestinian “Catastrophe” of 1948—the year those villages were plundered and the planting of camouflage trees began.

My father, having been two miles (or less) from a couple of those destroyed villages never knew the word “Nakba.” I know because I asked him.

My parents were a stone’s throw from Deir Yassin, one of the first villages to be depopulated by the citizens of the newly formed Israel, and he never saw it or heard of the massacre. (Some of the buildings are still there—used as a state-run Israeli mental hospital.)

I was hoping last week when I heard about it to find a Nook Book version of the book A Bird is not a Stone: An Anthology of Contemporary Palestinian Palestinian Poetry, edited by Henry Bell and Sarah Irving (Glasgow: Freight Books, 2014). Of course, there is no Nook version. But I ordered the paperback edition.

I’d suggest that you get it. That is, if you have any desire to know Palestinians as persons, as a nation, as a people loving and longing for life in their homeland.

“Lamentation,” by Samih Mohsen

At Manger Square, at midday,
The chairs outside the cafes
Are taken by Western tourists, in September
They sip at their longing for God
The streets teem with passers-by
And foreign languages
We tread on the shadow
Of an old man stretched out on the pavement
With his arm and a tattered shoe for a pillow
His mattress was a story. . .
We pass by his wounds without seeing
Beer tickles our bellies to laughter
And telling inane anecdotes
We try to release the child within us
We stand in Manger Square
And mimic the dance-steps of Zorba the Greek
We step
We laugh
We step into the ring of lamentation.
–translated by Henry King

Samih Mohsen was born in the village of Naqour in Nablus, Palestine (Occupid Territories) in 1953, and has published two collections of poetry, Exiting the Narrow Rooms and Kingdoms & Peril.

From a book review of A Bird is not a Stone: An Anthology of Contemporary Palestinian Palestinian Poetry in which this poem is published:
“It is poignant and grimly amusing to read of the Western tourists who ‘sip at their longing for God’ in Manger Square and ignore ‘an old man stretched out on the pavement’ (‘Lamentation’ by Samih Mohsen, trsl. Henry King). It is hard not to feel something of a tourist oneself when reading a book of poems like this written, as it were, from Emily Dickinson’s ‘great pain’. As Iain Crichton Smith wrote in his long essay about the Hebrides: ‘Real people in a real place’; the Palestinians are also real people in a real place. And the land itself which is the subject at the heart of most of these poems, guarding the bones of their relatives and ancestors, is sacred to them.” From the online magazine, “The Bottle Imp.”

A special guest message

(Note: From my friend Samia Khoury in Jerusalem. About Samia: http://samiakhoury.wordpress.com/about/ )

On Wednesday, November 19, 2014 3:57 AM, Samia Khoury <samiaorama@_______> wrote:

Reflecting on today’s events

November 18, 2014


Jerusalem, 2008

Jerusalem, 2008

It did not start with the kidnapping of the three young settlers which Israel claims to be the reason for retaliation on all fronts. It did not start with the occupation of the Palestinian Territories in 1967. It has been an ongoing dispossession ever since 1948 even after the Palestine National Council recognized Israel on 78% of historic Palestine in 1988. The onslaught on  East Jerusalem has been going on with a clear agenda that  Jerusalem is the united eternal capital of Israel, with a plan to build the Temple to replace El-Haram El-Sharif.

Ironically Har Nof where the events of today took place is originally a Palestinian suburb adjacent to Deir Yaseen where the infamous massacre of the Palestinians took place in April 1948. That was the spark that  terrorized the Palestinian residents of West Jerusalem that led to their exodus.

Yes indeed it is brutal and completely unacceptable to attack worshipers in their place of worship, as was the attack of settler doctor, Baruch Goldstein, on Muslim worshipers during the month of Ramadan at the Hebron Mosque in February 1994. Twenty-nine Palestinian were killed and 125 wounded at the time. The epitaph on Goldstein’s tombstone called him a martyr with clean hands and a pure heart.

As much as I believe in non-violent resistance, it is very sad to realize that the futility of the negotiations and the  failure of the peace process, on top of Israeli provocations, are all leading  the Palestinian population of Jerusalem to desperation as they feel  completely abandoned. While the International community continues to claim the annexation of Jerusalem as illegal and so are  the settlements, and the demolishing of homes, no action has been taken  to reverse the realities that Israel continues to create on the ground. The young people of Jerusalem cannot sit still any more, simply watching and resisting peacefully while their holiest site El-Haram El-Sharif is being coveted and taken over while the world is watching. The more desperate those young people become, the more violence will prevail. We continue to hope for some wisdom to prevail and a definite resolve on behalf of the international community to put an end to Israel’s impunity and spare both people further suffering.

Watch this and then you will understand why so much violence  is encompassing Jerusalem.
http://wp.me/p2HBz8-2vI   


SAMIA
 
(See more about Samia at Ann Hafften’s blog.)

Fleeing from Deir Yassin, April 9, 1948

Fleeing from Deir Yaseen, April 9, 1948


A Meditation on “O Little Town of Bethlehem”

Christmas Lutheran Church, Bethlehem

Christmas Lutheran Church, Bethlehem

Many years ago—in the ‘80s (seems long ago in the short span of my life)—I wrote monthly a little column about church music in the newspaper of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, The Episcopal Times, edited by Barbara Braver. (Whew! I do have some memory left; it did exist, and Barbara was the editor.)

For the December edition one year, I wrote a wonderfully elitist and snobbish piece on the sentimentality of the tune we’ve all known since before we were born for “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” Its altered harmonies and that silly raised second on the fourth note of the melody are simply too much for a real musician to bear.

Of course, what I forgot when I wrote the pompous little stuff-shirt article was that I was in Phiips Brooks country (Rector of Trinity Episcopal Church, Boston, from 1869 until 1891, when he was elected Bishop of Massachusetts). Brooks wrote the words, and his organist while he was at Holy Trinity Church in Philadelphia, Lewis Redner, wrote the tune.

It’s the only time in my life enough people read what I wrote to give me hell for it. Barbara Braver received letters for months afterward asking who I thought I was attacking a Boston icon.

Little did I know that one summer about 20 years later I would be in the crypt of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem with a group (mostly) of Lutherans from Texas singing “O Little Town of Bethlehem” in one of the great spiritual moments of my life.

So much for elitism.

(This, by the way, was my second trip to Bethlehem, the first with the Inter-Faith Peace Builders—part of the Fellowship of Reconciliation—in 2003, shortly after the fragile end of the Second Palestinian Intifada.)

Somewhere on some flash drive I have many pictures of the more recent trip. Many of them are from Bethlehem where we stayed for the largest portion of the ten days or so we were there.

One of the pictures that still startles me is of a young man in a car with a make-shift bloody bandage around his leg. The driver of the car stopped to tell us what we had just witnessed before he sped off to the hospital. We were on the rooftop garden of the building that houses the community center of the Dheisheh Refugee Camp on the south edge of Bethlehem (I’m pretty sure you didn’t know there is a refugee camp in Bethlehem for Palestinians whose homes were destroyed in 1948 as a result of the Nakba—yes, their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren still live there.)

On the other side? Bethlehem.

On the other side? Bethlehem.

While we were there, the IDF (Defense? Force—one of the great oxymorons in world affairs) had discovered a Palestinian “terrorist” living in, or at least staying in, a home on the street below. They, of course, had to arrest him (or her), and sent several armed vehicles. There was some sort of altercation (I’m remembering all of this through old-man thinking), and shots were fired. The man whose picture I have was, I think, an innocent bystander.

But everyone was taking it in stride. Business as usual in the Occupied Palestinian Territories of the West Bank.

“O Little Town of Bethlehem. . . the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”

That same flash drive has several pictures of me standing (dwarfed) by the Apartheid Wall as it bisects Bethlehem. I don’t even need to comment on that.

. . . in July 2004 the [International Court of Justice] determined that the Israeli government’s construction of the segregation wall in the occupied Palestinian West Bank was illegal. Even Thomas Buergenthal, the American judge who cast the lone negative vote. . .acknowledged that the Palestinians were under occupation and had the right to self-determination. . .the wall ravages many places along its devious route that are important to Christians. In addition to enclosing Bethlehem in one of its most notable intrusions. . . (Carter, Jimmy. Palestine: Peace not Apartheid. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2006 (193-194)

We, the protectors (or is it the servants) of the Apartheid system in the Occupied Territories of Palestine, and in all of Israel and Palestine, have very little right to pretend to be the “meek souls” we will so mindlessly and carelessly sing about in our most sentimental goose-bumpy way for the next few days. Phillip Brooks, the great abolitionist preacher, would be horrified.

How silently, how silently,
The wondrous Gift is giv’n!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heaven.
No ear may hear His coming,
But in this world of sin
Where meek souls will receive Him still,
The dear Christ enters in.