I have waited and reflected a bit since my pilgrimage to Israel and Palestine before writing something about the conflict between the State of Israel and the Palestinians. Recent violence in Gaza and the conflicting destructive messaging all around in my social media circles has compelled me to go ahead and get this written out. I want to be clear and I want to be irenic (peace-making) in what I say. I was deeply grieved and affected by what I saw in Palestine. I was moved by the daily plight of Palestinians in the West Bank having to navigate checkpoints and walls in their daily lives. I was moved by the stories of families and communities who were displaced and dispossessed in the late 40’s when Zionist armed forces removed them from their homes and lands and set them adrift. And what I personally saw was just in the West Bank, we aren’t even talking about the world’s largest open-air prison, the Gaza Strip.
As I process what I saw and what I have come to hope for, let me be clear about a few things. I support the right of the State of Israel to exist, I support it as much as I support the existence a Palestinian State. I would support even more a single state which granted full human rights and civil liberties to all the people within it’s borders regardless of race or religion. Sounds down right American, right? This is my left hand most days now, pictured to the right, with my wedding band inscribed in Hebrew and my bracelet bearing the Palestinian flag and the word love. I choose not to hate either people, or to ignore the needs of either people. My desire is for a peaceful, secure home for all the people of that land. I am glad that the State of Israel was created as a solution to the global and historical problem of anti Semitism and existential threat to the Jewish people which culminated in the Holocaust. I am aware of and terribly empathetic to the needs of the that time which moved the international community to sanction and support the creation of the State of Israel. I have no ill will toward Jewish people or Israeli citizens.
Now let me be as clear on the Palestinian people. They are a dispossessed and disenfranchised people, expelled from their homes, some into exile in other countries and some into lives as exiles near or on their own lands. As a group they were forced into this situation by immigrating Jewish families and Zionist forces, at gunpoint, and their plight has been one of the great injustices of our age. Even as the international community has leveraged it’s great moral weight and power to end Apartheid in South Africa, it ironically has ignored the similar plight of the Palestinians and their systematic and nearly complete disenfranchisement under an invading and expanding power.
The State of Israel has not been a shining example of democracy in the Middle East, but along with it’s achievements and progress as a nation and a military power it has systematically destroyed a people, occupied and dehumanized them, and never extended them full citizenship in their own land or anything near equal representation. When speaking of the Israeli settlements and occupation of Palestinian lands Henry Seigman (past National Director of the American Jewish Congress) only a decade ago warned us that, “As a result of that ‘achievement,’ one that successive Israeli governments have long sought in order to preclude the possibility of a two-state solution, Israel has crossed the threshold from ‘the only democracy in the Middle East’ to the only apartheid regime in the Western world.” <— source The Palestinian people have been repeatedly removed from their homes and lands to make room for immigrating Jewish families, and with the newest settlement under construction just last year, they are still being displaced and dispossessed, today. That great injustice, met so often with war from without and terrorism from within, has been the foundation of all the death and hopelessness we see, today.
That is what we call a 40,000 foot view, from up in the clouds. Down on earth today we have Israeli settlements, Hamas, the PLO, checkpoints and walls of separation, Zionism, the War of 1967, the Oslo Accords, armed occupation and terrorism. We have a human rights mess of titanic proportions including the most recent demonstrations for the Right of Return in the Gaza Strip and the brutal, lethal military responses of the IDF. There is such an enormous difference in Israel and Palestine today between the Israeli cities and the cities of Palestine, an enormous gap in wealth, stability and hope. You can wine and dine in Haifa, Israel, and struggle to find basic affordable medical care in Nablus, Palestine, on the same day. And yet in both areas we find human beings, families, neighbors, communities seeking a future and deserving one. We must take a longer view to find a way to peace. Solutions are not found in one-sided histories or focus on any one day’s violence.
If you choose to unconditionally support the State of Israel continuing as it has, then you point to Hamas and speak of a sovereign state defending it’s borders. If you choose to unconditionally support the Palestinians, then you ignore the indiscriminate terrorism of Palestinian factions and speak of the State of Israel only as an oppressor and only as an occupier. I am asking that we change this narrative to speak unconditionally of human dignity and equity, and about the needs of the future. The security of the Israeli people is bound to the security of the Palestinian people. Justice and peace for both sides must be founded in an equity of belonging, an equity of civil rights, and an equity of human dignity. We citizens of the United States learned (and are still learning) this lesson in our own country as we deal with the deep and painful legacy and resurgent reality of racism and oppression in our own nation as we are still learning to live together. We eventually joined the international community and helped end Apartheid in South Africa… not by killing the white South Africans, but by demanding equity and taking economic and political steps to stop the oppression. We must do the same for the Palestinians. This is not about killing Jews or destroying the State of Israel, but about ending the oppression upon which it currently has anchored itself. This is about saving the both Palestinian people and the State of Israel, for their future security and peace are inextricably bound.
As we recognize that the State of Israel was established to protect the human dignity of the Jews, we must also as honestly recognize the great human injustice done to the Palestinian people in that establishment. That injustice is the foundation for the narrative of hate, violence, terrorism and displacement which we have witnessed for the past seventy years and this very day. A new foundation must be laid for the future because anything built on that kind of injustice will forever be plagued by the violence, confusion and loss of human dignity we have witnessed. As we work to help change this narrative we must also deal with our culpability as a nation. Our money has financed and backed the Israeli military for decades. We have ignored the injustices done to the Palestinian people. We have rationalized and sided with oppression, and that must change.
Pray for peace. Mourn the dead. Speak for the future. Help change this narrative of violence and conflict to one of restoration and reconciliation. I’d like share some amazing voices I have recently heard met, and from whom I am learning about a future of hope…
Rev. Naim Ateek who recently spoke in Chevy Chase, Maryland, at St. John’s Episcopal Church and said, “The God we believe in loves justice and all people equally.” I agree. He’s an Anglican Priest, a Palestinian, an author, a theologian and no enemy to any human being. His books can found on Amazon right here!
Sabeel is the foundation for peace and dialogue which was established by Rev. Naim Ateek.
FOSNA is the Friends of Sabeel North America and offers ways to be involved with Sabeel and a peaceful way forward in the Middle East between Israel and Palestine.
Jewish Voice for Peace is an amazing Jewish voice for our time! They are a great resource for our peace studies.
I wish I knew an easy, concrete answer to making peace in the Middle East happen today or tomorrow. I don’t think that such an easy answer exists, but I do fully believe that a secure, peaceful and joyful future for both Israel and Palestine does exist. We have to change our thinking and telling of the narrative, and speak and act for that peace. We have to give each other the grace to grapple with these emotionally charged issues and events, and stay committed to arriving on the other side together. We must at all costs avoid the voices of one-sided extremism who call us to violence and to hatred.
On a personal note… I love my many Jewish friends. I love and appreciate our shared religious roots and I abhor the anti Semitism and history of racial discrimination that Jewish people have faced around the world, and sadly often at the hands of my sisters and brothers in Christ. You matter to me. The safety and security of people in the State of Israel matter to me. I also love my Muslim friends, a group which has grown in recent years and months to include Palestinian friends of both Muslim and Christian faiths. Your lives matter to me and the future joy and security of the Palestinian people matter to me. Never think that I fall on one side or the other, but only ever strive to be on the side of human dignity, something that each and every one of us possesses in equal measure by God’s grace. Renouncing oppression, disenfranchisement and violence is our way forward, a way to peace that will never be purchased with rockets, bullets, bombs or walls. The sooner we can help our respective faith communities, social groups and governmental leaders change the narrative, the sooner we can take real steps toward the future that we all need and deserve.
Today marks the beginning of a new Advent Season, a new year for the Christian Liturgical Calendar. Some of the passages for this special day pulse with the theme of peace and call us to a mental posture of prayer and sobriety. It feels right to stop and think on peace in such times of disagreement, civil unrest and conflict around the world.
Perhaps we can embrace a posture of seeking and desiring more peace. Perhaps getting drunk on power and lust is not going to make the world so needed by our millions of hurting neighbors. Perhaps we can begin in this new advent Season to speak more and act decisively and help create a greater peace in our homes, school, communities, nations and world. Perhaps the only question is if we will, not if we can.
Allow me to share some of today’s good stuff.
Today’s Collect… Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
From Psalm 122… Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: “May they prosper who love you. Peace be within your walls and quietness within your towers. For my brethren and companions’ sake, I pray for your prosperity. Because of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek to do you good.”
From Isaiah 2… For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!
From Romans 3… You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
And from Jesus in Matthew 24… Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
And I’d like to end with a benediction we often hear at St. John’s, attributed to the Rev. William Sloane Coffin. It makes for in inspiring and challenging close to worship!
“May God give you Grace
never to sell yourself short!
Grace to risk something big
for something good!
Grace to remember
that the world is too dangerous
for anything but truth
and too small
for anything but Love!
The Blessing of God Almighty, Father,
Son and Holy Spirit be with us
now and remain with us this day and always.
Good morning, beloved. This past weekend was our Pentecost celebration in churches around the world, and it got me thinking of making a novena, a nine day prayer exercise for my daily life; it’s a little Spring Cleaning for my soul. I’m starting mine tomorrow, on Wednesday, May 18th. My little novena is not officially sanctioned by any church body, Catholic, Anglican or Episcopal… it’s just my own effort to focus my prayers for the next nine days, and I invite you to go along with me as a spiritual friend.
I’m structuring my novena with an intention, prayers and a practice. You’re invited to join me in that intention, the use of these prayers and my framework of practice, or to change them and use them as seems best for you.
My intention for this novena is to focus on the spiritual flow of my day, to slow down my mind and still my heart to a place where I can sit with God in the middle of my hectic flow of work and play. In short, my intention is a greater awareness of God’s Spirit with me at various points in the day.
I’ll be using three prayers as a beginning place for each prayer time during the nine days, my own daily prayer, the Lord’s Prayer and a prayer from the Book of Common Prayer for the human family In Times of Conflict. I’m going to have these all on my phone for easy access, and I usually have my Book of Common Prayer (also found online and in most used bookstores) in my backpack. Plan for prayers!
My Daily Prayer: “Let me love, let me learn, let me serve.”
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy Name,
thy kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those
who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
and the power, and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.
28. In Times of Conflict
O God, you have bound us together in a common life.
Help us, in the midst of our struggles for justice and truth,
to confront one another without hatred or bitterness,
and to work together with mutual forbearance and respect;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. BCP pg. 824
My practice will be to stop before each meal or a break time when I get something to eat (I sometimes take a break at work and grab a samosa and a diet Coke), and feed my soul before feeding my belly. Again, my beginning prayers are all in the Book of Common Prayer which I normally carry, but will also be in my phone and iPad. I also plan to begin each of the next nine days upon waking with our baptism vows of the Episcopal. If you’re familiar with them, they end with the following lines (my favorites):
Celebrant: Will you proclaim by word and example
the Good News of God in Christ?
People: I will, with God’s help.
Celebrant: Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons,
loving your neighbor as yourself?
People: I will, with God’s help.
Celebrant: Will you strive for justice and peace among
all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
People: I will, with God’s help.
BCP pg. 305
If you join me on this little journey, I’d love to hear about your prayers and days. If you have a different intention or vary the prayers and practice, I’d love to hear about that, too.
I rarely show anything I’m doodling until it’s completely done, but I realized this morning that I haven’t opened my sketch book in a week! This is a piece I started a couple of weeks ago that I need to finish.
I recently made another move in my job with Apple, from retail sales back into the tech support group. It’s a step on my journey into a new role with Apple as I go full-time. I’m one our store’s newest Creative, joining the team that leads workshops and does training sessions. Until I finish my own training for my new position, I’m doing a lot of tech support for mobile devices again, and that can be a stressful job. We work with people in stressful situations. From the failure of a device to incidents of accidental damage, we are helping folks get through some anxiety filled time as they feel the withdrawal pains of being momentarily unplugged from our tech-connected lives.
One thing I do to prepare for each day at work is practice my work mantra on my drive to the store. It goes something like this:
I love my customers.
I am so glad I can serve them.
I love my customers.
I’m going to do my best for them, today.
This mantra helps me get in the mindset of service. It helps me center on the truth that our customers are coming to us with real needs, and my response must focus on those needs. It would be too easy to just become defensive or upset, to reflect back their anxieties and stress. No, I have to let their anxieties and frustrations be authentic and real, spoken and experienced, and let those anxieties and frustrations pass through me and past me without landing in my own spirit. Then, I’m ready to get down to business with helping them determine the best solution for their situation.
My mantra is an action of intentionally deciding what will be planted within me so that I can choose what I’ll be producing from the soil of my heart and mind. This is not just a service industry principle, but a life principle. I must choose the seeds of peace, compassion, empathy and love as what I cultivate within myself if I want to have those things to share with others. This is a daily effort, forever unfinished and being finished. I guess it’s ok to share a doodle before it’s done, as its unfinished state can meaningfully reflect the on-going becoming of life.
My message this morning at Church in Bethesda for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, lighting out Peace Candle…
We’ve been lighting candles each week for the themes of Hope, Love, Joy and now Peace.
I pray that your holidays are blessed, safe and joyful!
Fourth Sunday of Advent: Peace
December 20, 2015
I’m a life-long Shakespeare fan. Back when I lived in East Africa at the ripe old age of nineteen I bought a paperback complete works of Shakespeare at a bookstore in Mombasa, Kenya, and I read many if not most of his plays. Perhaps you know the opening scene of conflict in Romeo and Juliet, when young men of the Montoague and Capulet families square off for a public brawl, and one young man tries to keep he peace…
I do but keep the peace. Put up thy sword,
Or manage it to part these men with me.
What, drawn, and talk of peace? I hate the word,
As I hate hell, all Montagues, and thee.
Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet, Act 1 Scene 1
How easy it can be to choose another path than peace. How easy it can be to choose conflict. How exciting and romantic it can be! And how elusive peace can be in this world when we can so easily fight and rip and tear at one another. It seems too often that live in a world which when we ask for peace replies, “We hate the word!”
Our peace candle is lit, but peace is still far from so many in our world. So, let’s talk about peace, about our passing the peace, about the little choices we make which bubble up into a redeemed world. One of the things that has been catching on in the Protestant Christian world for the last few decades is the practice of passing the peace in worship, sometimes called a “love feast” or just a few moments of greeting. This is an old practice for the Catholic, Orthodox and older Christian communities.
In fact, it’s sometimes been a point of controversy for communities as it is can be considered too raucous a celebration that breaks the solemnity of the worship service! I guess we can have controversy about anything, including passing a bit to peace to one another.
But I’m a fan. I like the passing of the peace. As a worship element and as a celebration it’s not something explicitly seen in scripture or commanded of us, but it is such a beautiful expression of scripture and a way of life that was taught and modeled by Jesus. Scripture references associated with the passing of the peace begin in Matthew 5 when Jesus blesses the peace makers and then goes onto explain in the same chapter the importance of reconciliation between us, even over and before worship and religious obligations.
Scripture also shows us that Paul begins his letters to churches in a very formulaic way, offering peace each time to his audiences. And so the idea of reconciliation and offering peace becomes today’s ritual and exercise of greeting. I have also heard that it is importantly placed before the Table practice of worship to realize the admonition of Jesus to do reconciliation before approaching the altar. So before we gather at the Table we make sure that we have restored our relationships. Can it be a bit perfunctory and less meaningful as a weekly practice? Of course, like anything we say and do, we carry the burden of making it meaningful with our intent and sincerity. And I hope we always do just that… sincerely offer peace to one another.
I like the peace passing because it reminds us of a couple of important ideas. First, God is our peace. Peace is God’s inclination toward us: peace in reconciliation and peace in our lives. Secondly, peace is one of our prayers that we begin to answer even as we speak it. Peace is not relegated to a far-away time and place, a hope and a dream of days to come… peace is our now when we choose it. We pray for peace and can immediately begin with God’s help to answer the prayer in our words and our actions, today.
Paul eloquently warns of the other side of our choices, when peace is left far behind… to the Galatians, a church wherein he himself has been held suspect by some and come under accusations: “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.” Galatians 5:13-15
There are consequences to choosing conflict over peace, but the real motivation is the wealth of dividends that are paid by choosing peace. Peace is bound up in the presence of God and peace is the chance we give to one another to restore brokenness, advance joy and heal the hurting. Peace is a gift that we can share among ourselves, like a fine meal, like a treasure. It’s a prayer that we not only say, but do. Peace is a plea that we ask and beg, and then begin to answer and realize, with God’s help. We are not without the ability or the opportunity to be the peace. Everyday, every greeting, every person in our lives, every disagreement we have: these are opportunities to plant the peace we would see cover the earth.
In the next line of the play Romeo and Juliet, Tybalt says to Benvolio, “Have at thee, coward!” and attacks. Tybalt sees peace and an effort to keep the peace among neighbors as a weakness and a cowardliness in Benvolio. How little we’ve changed since the days when Shakespeare played out our prideful lives on his stage. We too are often lulled into the romance of conflict, the adrenaline of violence and the hope of domination. We fall into the Tybalt Trap of seeing peace as a weakness or a fear. It is in truth a strength. And as Benvolio in Shakespeare’s story, we will pay a price for standing for peace. But unlike a fictional character upon a stage, we stand in the reality of God’s good world and God’s kingdom business of making peace. With God’s help, we will be the peace. We will do the peace. We will plant the peace. Amen.
Peace, my beloveds… Todd
We face a moral challenge as a global people and a nation. Our species faces a moral challenge. It’s the question of turning on the most vulnerable and needful to vent our fear and rage. It’s the question of targeting the refugees of Syria as scapegoats for the sins of ISIS.
Even as State Governors embarassingly and proudly announce that they will not welcome refugees we need to be heard loud and clear as people of faith: attacking the most vulnerable is a moral outrage and wrong.
I cannot speak to the Muslim faith with authroity, nor to the scriptures and faith of Hinduism, Sikhism or Buddhism. These are neighbors and belief systems with which I am familiar and I respect, but am not an insider. I have spent a good bit of time with the Jewish and Christian scriptures, and there is a strong witness from both of our being a safe place for the hurting, a refuge for the vulnerable and peacemakers for the afflicted.
In the Jewish scriptures we find a beautiful image and phrase the heart of the stranger (Exodus 23:1-9, Laws of Justice) to describe the turning of one’s heart to the foreigner, the alien, the needful, because of our shared human experience. There are many ways that Israel was commanded to care for the stranger among them, but I have always felt that the reminder that we are all strangers was one of the most compelling.
Christians have a life and faith framed by what we call the Beatitudes (Matthew 5), an ordering of life based on the mutuality of human needs, experiencing life together and making peace. Those ideas frame the sermon in which Jesus says we are to love our enemies, refrain from striking back and to pray for those who hate us.
The West has been supposedly built on these Judeo-Christian faiths, ideas and teachings, but in fact many politicians today appeal to their faith in one moment and attack the most vulnerable of fellow human beings in the next. Perhaps we have lived too long with these teachings without an opportunity or the will to actually practice them?
We need to be loud and clear: Targeting the Syrian refugees in fear and anger, further compounding their pain and loss with our demonization of them and a denial of their basic human needs, is immoral and wrong on every level imaginable. Any political figure who does so is not worthy of your time or attention.
Instead, let us embrace the chance to live our faith in amazing ways, letting our hearts enlarge to surround and serve the most needful, and possibly to even be broken in service to the least. While together we pray…
35. For the Poor and the Neglected
Almighty and most merciful God, we remember before you
all poor and neglected persons whom it would be easy for us
to forget: the homeless and the destitute, the old and the sick,
and all who have none to care for them. Help us to heal those
who are broken in body or spirit, and to turn their sorrow
into joy. Grant this, Father, for the love of your Son, who for
our sake became poor, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
36. For the Oppressed
Look with pity, O heavenly Father, upon the people in this
land who live with injustice, terror, disease, and death as
their constant companions. Have mercy upon us. Help us to
eliminate our cruelty to these our neighbors. Strengthen those
who spend their lives establishing equal protection of the law
and equal opportunities for all. And grant that every one of
us may enjoy a fair portion of the riches of this land; through
Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
From the Book of Common Prayer page 826