Most years I can write up a brief Christmas message for my friends, full of a little personal insight and a fair amount of polemic. This year it's been harder. It's been a challenging one on almost every level, happy mostly (as the past six years have been) but with challenges to nearly every level of my life and consciousness...and tough times for many friends and family. I'll be thinking of a few of those people, sending them happy and constructive vibes during my two-week "break," talking to people who need conversation, and spending a lot of time reflecting on my own limits. And, of course, playing with the children.
Long story short, I can't find anything profound to say for Christmas this year. But Stephen Leah, a progressive Christian activist, wrote this updated hymn that I found very moving--even as someone who's tried to be equally critical of the violence on both sides of the Israeli occupation, to the point of pissing off my friends--and not just accurate, but poetically accurate. I don't agree with the theology of the guy giving the sermon where the Leah hymn appears, but the hymn itself is simple, unapologetic, and makes me shiver a bit.
O Little Town of Bethlehem
Imprisoned you now lie.
Above thy deep and silent grief,
Surveillance drones now fly.
And through thy old streets standeth,
A huge illegal Wall.
The hopes and dreams that peace will come
Are dashed in this year’s Fall.
O morning stars together,
Look down upon this crime.
The people sing to God the King
But justice, who can find?
Yes, Christ was born of Mary,
God’s love remains supreme.
But mortals sleep as children weep,
Their pain is never seen.
How silently, how silently,
The world and Church protests.
As checkpoints grow and towns confined,
As settlers steal and rest.
No ear may hear the outcry,
As Israel’s Wall is built.
While meek souls muse, Apartheid rules -
We speak or share in guilt.
O Holy Child of Bethlehem,
Give strength to us,
Cast out our fears and open eyes.
O give us voice today!
We stand against injustice,
The Occupation must end.
May justice rule our Lord’s birthplace,
May now Christ’s peace descend.
Maybe this Christmas, Christians in the U.S. could think about what agents of the Israeli government are doing to Christians as well as Muslims in Palestine. It's time for a mass demand that violence, brutality and misleadership stop there, and everywhere. And the next time you hear a Christian in the United States assume that the default position on Israeli occupation is uncritical support, do some homework and challenge them on that. (And I'll include my obligatory but important acknowledgement that Palestinian leadership is cynical and exploitative, and unconditional support for either side in this conflict is not the answer). Peace on earth, good will to all. Yeah, that's what I was looking to say...something like that. Happy holidays everybody.