“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.

“. . . and dangerous badgers like dignitaries stare. . . “ (*)

Dangerous dignitaries stare

Dangerous dignitaries stare

My writing is dangerous. No, silly. It’s mere “oily palaver” to you (I wish I could remember who said that phrase in my presence many years ago, said it in such a way that I have remembered it since).

I have been to the Providence Zoo to see the badgers. It’s officially the Roger Williams Park Zoo. Named after Roger Williams, contrary to popular belief the only one of the “founding fathers” who came to the New World to find religious freedom. Don’t believe it when Tea Baggers tell you this country was founded on religious freedom—it was founded, except for Rhode Island and Pennsylvania, on the desire of various groups to live in places they controlled under rules that reflected their personal beliefs, rules they forced everyone to live by.

If The Massachusetts Bay Colony had had anything like religious freedom, they would not have expelled Roger Williams, and he would not have founded Rhode Island with the understanding that  “. . . .it is the will and command of God that (since the coming of his Son the Lord Jesus) a permission of the most paganish, Jewish, Turkish, or antichristian consciences and worships, be granted to all men in all nations and countries. . . . [“Turkish,” of course, here meaning “Muslim] (1).

I’ve written about all of this many times, so that’s not what I’m up to this morning.

No, I’m simply admitting that my writing is dangerous to me—and, perhaps, to a few acquaintances whom I quote and mention. I’ve assumed ever since I wrote a blog posting about my friend Mufid Abdulqader in 2007 that what I post electronically in any format is (or used to be) of some mild passing interest to the NSA or the DHSS. I suppose that’s delusional thinking about my own importance, but I’m not sure. The younger half-brother of the head of Hamas is certainly a person of interest (he’s now in federal prison for something like 150 years, convicted of being a “terrorist,” which is a loose translation of “working on behalf of Palestinians attempting to live in freedom in their own homeland”).

So when I mention you in a post here, you can bet the NSA is watching you.

Make us some money, guys.

Make us some money, guys.

Of course, they are watching you anyway. I and my writing have nothing to do with it. You gave up your rights to “freedom of association” and “freedom of the press” and “freedom of speech” when you let your Congressmegalomaniac vote for the so-called “Patriot Act.” You let the Congressmegalomaniacs strip you of any right to privacy when you let them hoodwink you into being terrorized by your own shadow and let the Congressmegalomaniacs give the terrorism industry control over your lives—the same Congressmegalomaniacs who have now shut down the government and are about to destroy the world economy. How is it working out for you that you’ve let the Congressmegalomaniacs take over your life?

But I digress.

A student in one of my “Discovery & Discourse” classes (yes, “D&D”—and the university after two years of it still doesn’t see why that’s funny) wrote the following in his essay on the Flannery O’Connor short story “Parker’s Back.” (The specific topic of my course is “Writing About the Grotesque.”)

O’Connor shows in “Parkers Back” through the ideas of the grotesque that everyday experiences people live, they never notice their own reality. People ignore the truth and create what truth is giving everything in life a wide spectrum of truths, making life itself grotesque (2).

The student’s essay is, quite frankly, virtually unfathomable. His writing is confused and totally out of control. I’m pretty sure most of my colleagues would have struggled through reading it and put some kind of D or F grade on it and told him to get an appointment at the Writing Center before he submits his next essay.

But I think his writing is pure poetry, and any teacher who would not spend enough time to comprehend his writing does not deserve to be in the classroom.

He understands O’Connor’s theory of mystery and the grotesque.

Everyday people experience the ideas of the grotesque,
and, thus, they never notice their own reality.
People ignore the [real] truth and create the truth
that they believe is giving everything in their lives a wide spectrum of truths,
thereby making life itself grotesque
.

What “truth” are we creating that we firmly, and with every fiber of our being, believe is broadening out for us into a wide spectrum of truths? (The Patriot Act, government shutdown, the Second Amendment, Debt ceiling crisis, racism—shall I continue?) We’ve made this grotesquery, not our Congressmegalomaniacs. We’ve just asked them to do it for us.

A throwaway member of a university football team can see it better than you and I can. Taken all together we have less sense than a flamingo “eat[ing] upside-down, by dragging his tremendous head through streams.” Or two tortoises “one push[ing] the other over the grass, their hemispheres clicking, on seven legs in toto.” Or “vigilant lemurs, wrens and prestidigitating tamarins.”

The university uses the student to bring in TV money and this year One Billion Dollars from alumni (I kid you not). Far better the university should discover its own “wide spectrum of truths” and understand we are ignoring truth while our “dangerous dignitaries stare at one another like badgers.”

____________(1) Williams, Roger. The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution for Cause of Conscience Discussed; and Mr. Cotton’s Letter Examined and Answered (1644). New York: Hard Press Editions, 2012. (2) I won’t cite the source because I don’t have the student’s permission to quote him.

Roger Williams. "Let the Muslims in."

Roger Williams. “Let the Muslims in.”

.
.
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(*) At the Providence Zoo
      by Stephen Burt  (b. 1971)
Like the Beatles arriving from Britain,
the egret’s descent on the pond
takes the reeds and visitors by storm:
it is a reconstructed marsh
environment, the next
best thing to living out your wild life.
*
Footbridges love the past.
And like the Roman questioner who learned
“the whole of the Torah while standing on one leg,”
flamingos are pleased to ignore us. It is not known
whether that Roman could learn to eat upside-down,
by dragging his tremendous head through streams.
*
Comical, stately, the newly-watched tortoises
mate; one pushes the other over the grass,
their hemispheres clicking, on seven legs
in toto. Together they make
a Sydney opera house,
a concatenation of anapests, almost a waltz.
*
Confined if not preserved,
schoolteachers, their charges, vigilant lemurs, wrens
and prestidigitating tamarins,
and dangerous badgers like dignitaries stare
at one another, hot
and concave in their inappropriate coats.
Having watched a boa
eat a rat alive,
the shortest child does as she was told?
looks up, holds the right hand
of the buddy system, and stands,
as she explains it, “still as a piece of pie.”

––http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/16843