Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Valiant US leadership is needed

Churches for Middle East Peace announces that valiant U.S. leadership is needed, and that starts with you and me.

In this season of hope and expectation we must remind the President that we support peacemaking even when that path is daunting. Send a Christmas card now to President Obama and let him know that we believe in peace!

While direct talks failed to produce the desired results, we haven't given-up on peacemaking. As a world leader, the role of the U.S. government is crucial to a future peace with justice and security for all.

The president is facing the need to develop a new strategy for advancing an agreement for peace.

What's happening to Palestinians and Israelis cannot be tolerated by Christians who hear the call of Jesus to embody and work for peace. Violence and dehumanization directed at any person cannot be endured without a high price being paid by all of us.

In this season of hope and expectation we must remind the President that we support peacemaking even when that path is daunting. Send a Christmas card now to President Obama and let him know that we believe in peace!
While direct talks failed to produce the desired results, we haven't given-up on peacemaking. As a world leader, the role of the U.S. government is crucial to a future peace with justice and security for all.

If you have send a card by postal mail, many thanks! Please pass this email along to someone you know who may also want to send a card.

Make peace a priority this Christmas. Send a card and join the campaign for peace. Take another step in the hard journey toward peace in the Holy Land. http://org2.democracyinaction.org/o/5575/p/dia/action/public/?action_KEY=4819


For the Peace of Jerusalem: Christians for Israeli-Palestinian Peace Now [http://org2.democracyinaction.org/o/5575/p/salsa/web/common/public/index.sjs] is a national campaign calling on people of Christian faith across the country to work for a just and secure peace for Israelis and Palestinians in the Holy Land. The campaign’s launch on December 1, 2010 is especially timely given the U.S. administration’s focus on direct negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian leadership, the challenges these talks have already faced, and the important role of the Holy Land in this season’s celebrations of Christ’s birth. Find out more about the campaign and its members at http://www.peaceofjerusalem.org/.

Churches for Middle East Peace - http://www.cmep.org/ - a 26-year old coalition of coalition of 24 national Church denominations and organizations, including Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant traditions. It works to encourage U.S. government policies that actively promote a just, lasting and comprehensive resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, ensuring security, human rights and religious freedom for all people of the region. For more information visit http://www.cmep.org/.

--- --- ---

To receive regular bulletins from Ann Hafften, sign up at the blog A Texas Lutheran's Voice for Peace: http://www.voicesforpeace.blogspot.com/

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Lutheran Bishop Younan: Fear Not

The Rev. Munib Younan, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, released a Christmas message last week. Here's the link to the statement: http://www.elcjhl.org/Admin/Bishop/2010.12_BishopYounan_ChristmasMessage2010.asp

Christmas Message 2010

Rev. Dr. Munib A. Younan
Bishop of the ELCJHL

“Fear Not!”

When we think of the Christmas story, the most common words that come to mind are peace, joy, hope, faith, and love. Christmas is a pleasant time when families come together, when choirs sing, and when children are filled with fantasies. Yet the first two words of Christmas are “Fear not!”

8"In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, "Fear not! for see-- I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” – Luke 2:8-11

It was the same when the angel appeared to the aged priest Zechariah at the temple: “Fear not!”

And when Gabriel appeared to the young girl Mary in Nazareth: “Fear not!”

And when Joseph learned that Mary was pregnant and an angel appeared to him in a dream: “Fear not!”

In first century Palestine, there were so many reasons for them to be afraid:
•For Zechariah, the impotency of old age and the potential loss of mental and physical abilities.
•For Mary, a young vulnerable girl, pregnant outside of marriage in a patriarchal society.
•For Joseph, the pressures of leading an upstanding and righteous life with religious zealots judging him on the basis of Mary’s pregnancy.
•For the shepherds, the threat of the natural world with wild animals about to attack their flocks during the darkness of night and the lawlessness of thieves and bandits who would not be afraid of using violence on them for material gain.
•For all of them, questions about God’s presence in their lives when God seemed so very far away.

And yet, “Fear not!” was the message of the angel to all of them. And it was not the terrifying, life-destroying, bad news they might have expected. It was good news of great joy for each one of them and for all people. “Fear not! For I bring you good news of great joy!”

"For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” – John 3:16

For Zechariah, for Mary, for Joseph, for the shepherds, the message was very simple, “God has not forgotten you. God is not far away or removed from your lives. God hears your cries of loneliness, inadequacy, uncertainty, doubt and fear about who you are, what is your purpose in life, how you fit in with your relationships to others, your relationship to this vast universe, and most of all your relationship to God—to God who comes in the form of a child born in a humble manger, among common people like you, on a still silent night, in a small village like Bethlehem. This is good news of great joy. God loves you. Fear Not!”

In the first epistle of John, we are told “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). And so the first word of Christmas must be that spoken by the angels, “Fear not!” It is the first, the middle, and the last word of Christmas. “Fear not!” Here in Bethlehem and Jerusalem, and into the whole world, “Fear not!” Then, 2,000 years ago, and today at Christmas 2010, “Fear not!”

There are many issues today that cause us to fear: health problems like cancer and diseases like HIV/ AIDS, economic issues like job loss and decreasing funds for retirement, family issues like divorce or the death of a spouse, environmental issues like global warming and disappearing natural resources, international tensions and the development of more destructive weaponry, extremism in politics and religion. Once again we need a Christmas angel proclaiming, “Fear not!”

Yes, here at Christmas time 2010 in the Middle East, we once again long for a heavenly angel to comfort us with these words, “Fear not!”

Our people are in danger of drowning in fear. Many Christians in many parts of the Middle East are increasingly cowering in fear and becoming timid in their witness. Just a little over a month ago in Baghdad at Our Lady of Salvation Church terrorists gunned down two priests and fifty-one defenseless worshippers. Since then, another three were killed in Mosul and an elderly Christian couple were murdered in their own home in Baghdad. So how do Christians respond? In an Associated Press story, one woman, afraid to give her name, said she lives in a constant state of fear, keeping her children indoors and out of school. In less than fifteen years, the number of Christians in Iraq has declined from one and a quarter million to only 400,000. For centuries Christians and Muslims have lived side by side, yet today religious extremists are holding hostage the moderate majority, Christian and Muslim alike. Iraqi Christians are once again in need of a Christmas angel proclaiming “Fear not!”

A similar picture is developing in Egypt where Coptic Christians have fresh in their memories the drive-by shooting that left six Christians dead in Nag Hammadi as they were leaving church after last year’s Christmas Eve Mass. As we approach another Christmas season, there are heightened tensions in Egypt. We ask both sides — Christians and Muslims alike — to dialogue concerning their differences for the sake of their long-standing relationship. We announce to them from Jerusalem, “We are praying for you.” And we say, “Fear not!”

These and other situations have resulted in the U.S. State Department “International Religious Freedom Report” for 2010 reminding us that: “The right to believe or not to believe, without fear of government interference or restriction, is a basic human right.” To believe without fear — to worship without fear — is a fundamental human right. Yet, because of extremism, people are afraid.

These and other situations were the reason that the Vatican recently held its Synod on the Middle East to:
•“confirm and strengthen Christians in their identity through the Word of God and the Sacraments.
•And to give new life. . . so that they might provide an authentic witness of joyful and attractive Christian life.” [Auxiliary Bishop William Shomali of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, The Middle Eastern Synod in its Geopolitical and Pastoral Context (Zenit.org, May 22, 2010)]

I hope that the World Council of Churches will hold a similar conference so that we Christians of the Middle East will have a coordinated strategy and be strengthened in the process.

Here in Jerusalem and the Holy Land, including Jordan, we are not facing the same problems of persecution as our sisters and brothers in many countries of the Middle East. There may be social and political problems, but we thank God for the religious freedom we enjoy. Here Christians today number only 1.4 % of the population with many Arab Christians emigrating because of the political situation and the lack of willingness and resolve to bring about a just peace, because of lack of jobs, because of lack of housing, because of the difficulty of travel, and because of the rise of extremism on both sides.

Palestinians and Israelis today face a common enemy: fear. In the absence of justice and peace, the common denominator is fear. Fear of the other. Fear for the future. Fear that freedom is not coming. Fear that children will grow in hatred. Fear of insecurity. Fear of the occupation. Fear is our common prison that keeps us locked up in cycles of mistrust and shattered dreams. It is a fear that builds non-productive “facts on the ground”. It is a fear that will only ever vanish when there is peace based on justice and reconciliation built on forgiveness. We proclaim that such a just peace is possible today. We pray that all political leaders will seize the opportunity before it is too late. The same message of the first Christmas rings true today, “Fear not!” There is a child who was born into a world of fear in order to take away that fear and to bring peace to earth and good will to humankind.

The Christmas message must speak loud and clear once again, “Fear not!” We are in need of a heavenly angel, a messenger of God, who says, “Do not be afraid.” “Fear not, Zechariah. Fear not, Joseph. Fear not, Mary. Fear not, shepherds. Fear not, Palestinian Christians. Fear not, Arab Christians. God hears you. God loves you. God empowers you. God calls you to be a vibrant and living witness in this place at this critical time in history.”

When the angels appeared to the Beit Sahour shepherds, the promise of good news overshadowed all their fears. The announcement of God’s love for them and the world cast out all the fear that might have prevented them from traveling to Bethlehem amidst the crowds and the Roman soldiers on that first Christmas night.

The announcement of God’s love for them brought them to the manger where they bowed in humble worship to the long-promised Christ-child, where they prayed, where they uttered songs of thanksgiving, where they were fed spiritually and strengthened in order to return to their normal, mundane, and sometimes exhausting tasks of daily life. Luke describes this return in such encouraging words, “The Shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.”

For the shepherds, the dangers were still there. The threats of violence were still very real and no different than before. The demands of making a living, of supporting their families, and sharing with their neighbors and communities, none of that was different from the day before. In many ways, their lives had not changed, but their spirits had. They went about their daily tasks glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. From the beginning of those two small words — “Fear not!” — the shepherds were called to witness, and sent out, unafraid, to share the good news with those around them.

Likely their home communities, their friends, and even their families met them with some reluctance, perhaps with skepticism and doubt. Those around them were still living in fear. I wonder how the shepherds began their stories about that first Christmas night? Most likely it was with those same two words, “Fear not!” And their witness would have provided a contagion that changed families, transformed communities, and encouraged others no longer to live in fear, but to share in that vibrant witness of the hope that came to Bethlehem in the child born in a manger.

Our task as a church is to be the salt of society, the leaven of the dough. Our task today is to provide education. It is also our task to provide our society with educated individuals who promote the values of human rights, freedom of religion and democracy. Our task is to train leaders who will become teachers, lawyers, and professionals who will contribute to the well being of society. Our task is to provide a witness of non-violent struggle against injustice, to promote religious toleration, to provide a model of peoples of different religious and ethnic backgrounds learning to see God in the other and to love our neighbor as ourselves. We can no longer be timid or afraid about our witness to the world. At this time of hopelessness, it is essential that we Christians develop a theology of witness and coexistence focusing on the reasons that the babe of the manger calls us — like the shepherds of old — to witness here in the Holy Land.

Today Christians in the Middle East are just a small minority, living in a world filled with danger and filled with what must seem to be insurmountable challenges. And so it was with those first shepherds of Beit Sahour, only three or four of them, perhaps one or two still children, all uneducated and untrained in speech. I could understand if they had been timid in telling the story. But Luke tells us they went home glorifying and praising God. And I could understand if today’s Christian community remained timid about its witness. But then I hear again those first two little words of the Christmas message: “Fear not!”

The angels call to us from the first Christmas.

“Fear not!”

They speak to us when we hear the Christmas story once again.

“Fear not!”

And from the manger in Bethlehem we continue to hear.

“Fear not!”

We wish you a Peaceful Merry Christmas and A Blessed New Year 2011 full of a just peace, forgiveness and reconciliation.

Yours in Christ,

The Rt. Rev. Dr. Munib A. Younan, Bishop
Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land

Website: http://www.elcjhl.org/

--- --- ---

To receive regular bulletins from Ann Hafften, sign up at the blog A Texas Lutheran's Voice for Peace: http://www.voicesforpeace.blogspot.com/

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Bethlehem Prayer Service simulcast video available

If you missed the 4th Annual Bethlehem Prayer Service, simulcast from the Washington National Cathedral last Saturday, you can enjoy the service courtesy of the cathedral's on-demand video:

The joint simulcast service joined the National Cathedral with Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem.

Worshippers in the National Cathedral gathered with others in the USA and beyond who watched the service live. In Bethlehem, Palestinian Christians continue to bear witness to their faith this Christmas, as they have done for generations. Once again, voices were joined in seeking and offering hope for a better future.

Prayers, readings, and hymns alternated between Washington, D.C., and Bethlehem, bringing together people of different lands, languages and ethnic backgrounds in celebration of the birth of the Prince of Peace.

In Bethlehem, participants includes The Right Reverend Suheil Dawani, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, the Right Reverend Munib Younan, Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land and President of the Lutheran World Federation, and the Rev. Mitri Raheb of Bethlehem's Christmas Lutheran Church.

Participants in DC included: The Most Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop and Primate of The Episcopal Church; The Right Reverend John Bryson Chane, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington; The Very Reverend Samuel T. Lloyd III, Dean of Washington National Cathedral; and The Reverend Richard H. Graham, Bishop, Metropolitan DC Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

--- --- ---

To receive regular bulletins from Ann Hafften, sign up at the blog A Texas Lutheran's Voice for Peace: http://www.voicesforpeace.blogspot.com/

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Highlights from the ELCA Peace Not Walls newsletter

It's late in the month for me to be sharing the Dec. 2 ELCA Peace Not Walls newsletter. The complete newsletter is at this link: http://www.elca.org/Our-Faith-In-Action/Justice/Peace-Not-Walls/Resources/Newsletter.aspx

Here are some highlights:

Join CMEP's new national Christian campaign; send Christmas greetings to the President
“For the Peace of Jerusalem: Christians for Israeli-Palestinian Peace Now” is a year-long effort of 26 (and the number is growing) Christian churches and organizations to engage Christians across the country in the pursuit of a just and secure peace for Israelis and Palestinians in the Holy Land.

The initial campaign action is to send thousands of Christmas greetings to President Obama as a way to show him and all those who hear of our ecumenical efforts that we expect peace with justice and security for all Palestinians and Israelis; and, in the spirit of Advent, we expect it soon.

How you can help:
• Sign and send an online card at http://www.peaceofjerusalem.org/.
• Organize a card-mailing campaign in your synod or congregation. Cards should be signed and mailed (in one big envelope) to CMEP before Wed. Dec. 22 for delivery to the White House. Find planning advice and sample messages by clicking on the Take Action tab.

--- ---

The final entry in “Prince of Peace” 2010 Advent/Christmas Sunday Reflections from Christians in the Holy Land (this one by Brother Jack Curran, FSC, PhD, Bethlehem University): http://www.cmep.org/sites/default/files/advent2010_4_0.pdf

--- ---

Journey to Bethlehem in Advent by ELCA Denver lay leader Jan Miller is at her blgo: http://adventjourneybethlehem.blogspot.com/

--- ---

Churches for Middle East Peace has a completely new and updated website. Find Christian and Interfaith Statements, news, resources, photos and more at http://www.cmep.org/.

--- ---

Film, “Budrus,” expands theatrical release
“Budrus,” the award-winning film about Palestinian non-violence, is expanding its U.S. release. See a trailer and find showings: http://www.justvision.org/en/budrus

--- ---

New Gaza report published
Amnesty International and 21 other human rights and aid groups published a November 30 report on conditions in Gaza, titled, “Dashed Hopes: Continuation of the Gaza Blockade.” The 12-page report outlines the struggles which the people of Gaza continue to face and states, “Lifting the blockade of Gaza remains a legal, economic and political imperative for those seeking a lasting resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The time for credible and effective action is now.” Read the full report: http://www.amnesty.org/en/news-and-updates/ngos-gaza-civilians-continue-suffer-2010-11-30

--- --- ---

To receive regular bulletins from Ann Hafften, sign up at the blog A Texas Lutheran's Voice for Peace: http://www.voicesforpeace.blogspot.com/

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Litany for Bethlehem from Bright Stars

Bright Stars of Bethlehem shares this litany for Advent

Litany for Bethlehem Sunday (Advent 2010)

Voice I -
With Christians around the world, we are traveling to the little town of Bethlehem to see the child whose face reflects the face of God.

Voice II
By the light of a star, we travel to see what God has done and is doing for us, among us, within us.

I - We remember the story of a star-lit stable and an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. In our memory we smell the hay and hear the bleating of sheep as shepherds approach and wise men come bearing gifts.

II - With hope born of memory and faith, we also come to the stable to give thanks to God for the birth of this child whose life bears witness to God’s presence among us.

I - And in the little town of Bethlehem this day the miracle continues in the faith and lives of God’s people who live behind a wall that separates neighbor from neighbor and farmers from their fields. In the witness of our sisters and brothers of Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem, the light of that ancient night still shines transforming humble stables and ordinary lives into places where God can be seen and experienced.

II - Let us continue to believe in the miracle of Christmas and the transforming power of God’s love made known to us in a tiny baby born in a manger. Let us join with Christians in Bethlehem, asking God to be born in and through us this year that our lives might also be bright stars of hope in our world.

Sing: “O Little Town of Bethlehem”

-- --

Bright Stars of Bethlehem: http://www.brightstarsbethlehem.org/

--- --- ---

To receive regular bulletins from Ann Hafften, sign up at the blog A Texas Lutheran's Voice for Peace: http://www.voicesforpeace.blogspot.com/