“The Hopes and Fears of All the Years” (My Christmas Greeting to Friends and Family)

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My brother and sister-in-law’s Christmas tree. Yes, I do know how to have a “Merry Christmas.”

When I was a kid, my parents mimeographed a “Christmas letter” to send to friends and family across America. The letter recounted our family’s important accomplishments and activities for the year, and included “Merry Christmas” greetings. It was a substitute for writing the same message many times, once for each recipient.

For several days I have been trying to write a “Christmas Letter” to email to friends and family across America, “a substitute for writing the same message many times, once for each recipient.”

I wrote about my gratitude for the opportunity to teach a GED class at the Aberg Center for Literacy in Dallas, the joy I have in tutoring athletes at SMU, and other happy events and activities.

Then I wrote, “My year’s activities culminated in joining a Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Witness Visit to Palestine (November 3-11). Learning more about and advocating for the Palestinian people and the unspeakable tyranny under which they live is, as my friends know, more than an ‘interest’ or a ‘passion’ for me.”

The fact is, that Visit, and the reasons I made it are perhaps my central concern of this year (and most years since 2003).

If my life has significance, it lies in large part in my determination to do what I can to bring to my American friends and loved ones awareness of the inhumane and tyrannical reign of terror that has been visited upon the Palestinian people since 1948. Israel’s daily and unrelenting state terrorism precipitously worsened and broadened in scope in 1967 and has been progressively crushing more of the life from Palestinian society and individual Palestinians every year since then.

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The stockings were hung by the chimney with care. . .

At age 70, I have little hope of living to see the end of Israel’s project of Palestinian genocide. I can, however, continue to try to help other Americans to understand the deceitfulness of our nation’s official palaver about supporting democracy and fighting “terrorism” while at the same time supporting and financing a regime and system of tyranny and state terrorism which has almost no equal in the world.

Americans (those of us from the Christian tradition) who, during these Twelve Days of Christmas, sing

O little town of Bethlehem How still we see thee lie . . . . Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light: The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight. How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given . . . Where meek souls will receive him still, the dear Christ enters in. O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray. Cast out our sin and enter in . . . .

participate in a duplicity so frightening that I wonder how we collectively can sleep at night. It is no wonder we seem to have a mass psychosis about nearly every problem we face. Willful and ugly hypocrisy cannot help but destroy the hypocrite. And woefully shrugging our shoulders and saying, “But what can I do?” does not absolve us from participation in this pharisaism.

This is not an abstraction for me. In Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and beyond, my friends Samia, Nuha, Omar, Yusef, and many more live this horror every day. Samir, Waseem, Dalell, Noor, Shukri, Mufid, and many more American friends live daily with the memory and the unspeakable results of this brutality.

If I were a man of prayer and contemplation, I would be tempted to join a cloistered order of monks and live out my days praying for Palestinian liberation. If I believed unequivocally the “facts,” the particulars, of the Christmas story or any of its meaning in the lives of Christians, I would find ways to relate them to the current situation.

I know that the majority of my friends and family (and probably most readers who stumble upon this blog) believe in some way that the Biblical accounts of Christmas are true, so I ask you to consider what the words “on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” pronounced to ancestors of today’s Palestinians, might mean in the context of a cruel occupation of one people by another―in exactly the place Christian tradition says those Christmas words were sung by the angels.

I have friends who will accuse me of trying to be “politically correct” by not writing “good will to men” as is traditional (See note** below). The Greek of the New Testament, however, places the responsibility on us. “Good will” is ours to live, not a sentimental gift from God. Peace comes when we live in favor with God―I would hasten to add, whoever your God is.

On October 27, in my daily blog post, I quoted Dr. Ramzy Baroud’s statement about the relationship between the situation of the Palestinians and the “terrorism” our leaders insist we should fear so much (“Palestine Remains the Core Struggle in the Middle East”). I hope you will read the article.

And I hope you will read the Christmas message from Rev. Naim Ateek, founder of the Sabeel Center in Palestine.

A Blessed Holiday Season to Everyone!
Harold

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Lifta Village, Jerusalem. The population was driven out during the Arab-Jewish hostilities of 1947/48. Israeli neighborhoods surround the depopulated village, evidence of the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians. (Photo: Harold Knight, November 6, 2015)

Note**
From Wikipedia, which, of course, I would not accept as authoritative for a university course in research, but which says succinctly what I could quote pages about from scholarly sources.

“. . . most modern scholars and Bible translators accept the reading of the majority of ancient manuscripts, translating [the passage] as ‘on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests’ (New International Version) or ‘on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased’ (English Standard Version).”

Note two salient features here: the “good will” becomes the attitude of human beings not a sentimental gift from God, and neither of these translations is by “liberal” scholars; on the contrary, they are from “conservative” scholars.

“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.

“. . . it is basically fear that prevents Bishops and governments. . . from taking a stand against the rich and powerful and on behalf of the weak and marginalized. . . “ (Rev. Naim Ateek)

PLEASE NOTE: IN SOME SORT OF SENESCENT MIX-UP WITH MYSELF, I POSTED THIS HERE INSTEAD OF ON MY OTHER BLOG WHERE IT WAS INTENDED. I APPRECIATE YOUR READING IT IN SPITE OF MY ERROR, AND PLEASE VISIT THE BLOG WHERE IT WAS INTENDED TO APPEAR. THANK YOU.

St. George Episcopal Cathedral,. Jerusalem. Not a mirage.

St. George Episcopal Cathedral,. Jerusalem. Not a mirage.

Some time ago I was getting onto the elevator at a favorite Dallas movie theater, when another old coot who couldn’t manage the long staircase said to me, “Does such a place even exist?”

He was referencing my T-shirt, which was from St. George’s Anglican Seminary in Jerusalem. Yes, I explained. I’ve stayed there twice on trips to Palestine. The Cathedral and Seminary were founded in 1920, long before the state of Israel.

He obviously did not believe me. I have had the same reaction other times when I have worn the shirt.

This posting has nothing to do with my religious beliefs except that I must state the caveat that my theological ideas these days (as I have written before) have little to do with a belief in God, but have everything to do with the justice and mercy and ethics of what I perceive to be the essence of Christianity. I used to be a confirmed and (marginally) believing Episcopalian (Anglican), but to say that I am now would be stretching the idea to the breaking point.

So I have no standing for any of what I am about to write. So be it.

The House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church USA recently voted not to proceed with divesting itself from stock in companies that profit from the illegal “settlements” of Israelis in the West Bank and Jerusalem, internationally-recognized sovereign territory of the Palestinian people. (A description of the bishops’ vote is here.)

An aside: I believe we should be exact in our language and call the settlers what they really are: “squatters.” (dictionary.com: squatter, “a person who settles on land or occupies property without title, right, or payment of rent”). But that’s an issue for another day.

Surprisingly (at least to me) the American bishops took their stand at the urging of the Episcopal Bishop of Jerusalem.|
I am happy to correct this because this is Apparently not true, but is a misrepresentation by the Episcopal News Service.  See this article.

“. . . it is basically fear that prevents Bishops and governments. . . from taking a stand against the rich and powerful and on behalf of the weak and marginalized. . . “ (Rev. Naim Ateek)

The Rev. Naim Ateek is a Palestinian Episcopal priest who in the 1980s was Dean of St. George’s Cathedral in Jerusalem. In 1991 he founded the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem, which is now an international organization working for justice for the Palestinian people.

The Rev. Naim Ateek

The Rev. Naim Ateek

In response to the vote of the American Episcopal House of Bishops choosing not to antagonize such groups as AIPAC in the US or the Knesset in Israel, Naim Ateek has written letters to the House of Bishops and to the new Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Bishop Michael Curry of North Carolina.

Both documents are detailed statements describing the theological issues raised by the Bishops’ vote.

I suggest that anyone interested in either justice or theology read Naim Ateek’s statements.

I was annoyed when the stranger on the elevator questioned the existence of an institution in Jerusalem that is not Jewish (I assume that was his disbelief).  I’ll have to suggest that FOSNA create t-shirts to sell.

Naim Ateek’s responses are available here.
Click on the links:

  • Naim Ateek’s letter to PB-elect Michael Curry
  • Naim Ateek’s response to the Episcopal Bishops’ vote

Another discussion of  the vote of the House of Bishops, Episcopal Church USA.
Biographical sketch of Rev. Naim Ateek.
Daily news from Palestine not available in American media.

Episcopal House of Bishops Annual Meeting Voting Down BDS, 2015

Episcopal House of Bishops Annual Meeting Voting Down BDS, 2015