Monday, 29 December 2008

Holy Land?

I'm almost pleased that the violence in Gaza has erupted during the dead-time between Christmas and New Year - at least it means it gets the news coverage it deserves. At a time when this holy land is at the forefront of our minds, it seems fitting that the unholy conflict taking place there should be brought to our attention again.

There's almost nothing I can write about it, I certainly can't be profound.
I've not been there, but I know people who have. I also know people whose lives have been directly affected by the conflict. But you don't need to have been there to be affected by what's taking place - just look at the stark statistics:

Death toll since bombing began on Saturday - 315
Injured since Saturday - 1,400+
Number of Israelis killed by Palestinian rockets fired from Gaza over the last 8 years - 18 (approx)
[Source: 'Gaza death toll tops 300...', today's Guardian]

It's a time when all I can do is read the articles and watch the reports and pray. If I get the chance I'll head over to one of the demos outside the Israeli embassy. At the same time, I inwardly seeth when I see that a friend on facebook has become a supporter of Tzipi Lvini, the current Israeli Foreign Minister, standing for PM in their next elections.

I've got a request though...
Whatever happens in the next few days, weeks and months; don't forget about Gaza, the West Bank, the Palestinian people and the Israelis. When it disappears from the news and front pages there will still be people whose day to day lives are being destroyed by this conflict. If you pray, then pray for peace. If you don't, just stay informed - it's that simple.

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Finding some real meaning

I'm in the middle of Christmas rehearsals and if I have to sing "O Come All Ye Faithful" once more this year, I may scream.

Actually, I've got to sing it at least once today (probably twice given as it's a rehearsal) and then at least 3 times tomorrow...not to mention the office carol service on Wednesday, church next Sunday, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day...

It's no wonder that my dear Choir Directors keep yelling at us to "remember the meaning" of the words we're singing. It's hard when the alto line for some carols is essentially a middle C on repeat. Fun stuff.

One carol I have no problem in remembering the meaning of is "O Little Town of Bethlehem", which is why I was somewhat surprised to hear that my friend's Dad (who's a vicar, like so many of my friends' parents) has banned the carol from his church. It seems he feels that the words really don't reflect the state of Bethlehem today.

When I was in Bethlehem last summer, I reflected on the irony of the line "how still we see thee lie". Last Christmas, I couldn't sing the carol without remembering the children of Aida refugee camp, the wall snaking its way around the town and the division of the Church of the Nativity. The same's true this year.

People may find the words trite, the poetry quaintly Victorian, but within the carol is the real meaning of Christmas:
"How silently, how silently
The wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heaven.
No ear may his His coming,
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive him still,
The dear Christ enters in."

In the mean time, check out Amos Trust's Christmas in Bethlehem appeal and Christmas cards (as above).

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Case studies of regional discord

Rethinking Mission (a joint venture between the British Methodist Church, USPG & the Selly Oak Centre for Mission Studies - SOCMS) is a forum for articles relating to various aspects of mission. Usually, there's a specific topic that runs for a couple of months. Currently it's "Peace & Reconciliation".

Today I had an e-mail listing 3 articles added to the site this month, including an interesting case study on Palestine, in the context of regional discord between North & South Korea. Well worth reading, and uses Sabeel's principles as its basis.

Case studies of Regional Discord - Salwa Duaybes (Palestine)

Thursday, 8 May 2008

Same place, different motives

As I write this, one of my closest friends is mid-way between Heathrow and Ben Gurion airports. She's travelling to Bethlehem to spend 3 months there, with a view to going longer term in the future, if it's possible.

Part of me would love to be going back there with her. Sitting at my desk, I've got the photo of the Sabeel team in the desert on the wall next to my monitor. Looking at it whilst reading the news, it makes it seem rather unreal that I was ever there at all.

My friend mentioned last week that she was planning on visiting Gilo early on in her trip. This immediately brought memories of the checkpoint there flooding back. The video clip we had copies of still brings tears to my eyes when I watch it.

She was last in Bethlehem around 10 years ago, and pretty much ever since she's felt God calling her back there. Having spent 3 years in Hong Kong until late last year, she had little idea of the changes that had taken place there. Seeing my pictures was something of a shock for her. Yet she was still determined to go.

Over the last few months we've talked a lot about Israel. My perspective is obviously shaped by what I saw and experienced last summer. The things I read tend to mould my opinions in the same direction. Whilst it's never going to be a black and white issue, in my mind I have a set idea of what needs to happen - and that's essentially justice and a restoration of the Palestinians' human rights.

My friend on the other hand, wants to stay out of the political side. Her reading of the situation is first & foremost shaped by the Bible. A good place to start it's true, but it doesn't really illustrate what's been happening over the last 60 years. She's met with people in the UK with a variety of opinions (great!) and is going to Israel with an open mind. Her purpose isn't to dive into the political situation, but to bring the Gospel to those who haven't heard it.

When she spelt it out like that as we said goodbye, it really brought home to me just how different our motives are. Whilst my faith is at the centre of everything, it is my faith that really brings home to me the immense injustice faced by so many people there. It was the presence of God that stopped me from totally despairing in otherwise desperate situations. It will be interesting to hear how she gets on once she's immersed in that community, and whether she is able to avoid the politics after all.

I'm not criticising her approach. I'll just be watching with a lot of interest what happens next!

Counting down to the Nakba anniversary

It's been difficult to keep posting on this blog. So much happens and it now feels a long way away, sitting in London, reading articles and watching reports from Jerusalem/Tel Aviv.

But in the run-up to Wednesday's anniversary, I thought I'd try to do some catching up and concentrate on the issues.

The Guardian website has a great section on its website. Thanks to its diverse readership, it's usually balanced (i.e. couldn't easily be acused of anti-semitism), but has a passion for justice. Their 'Israel at 60' section has some interesting reading.

Also, Saturday afternoon sees a major rally organised by the PSC (Palestinian Solidarity Campaign). Starting at Victoria Embankment, going up to Trafalgar Square, more details can be found here.