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Ways of the World

Carol Stone, business economist & active Episcopalian, brings you "Ways of the World". Exploring business & consumers & stewardship, we'll discuss everyday issues: kids & finances, gas prices, & some larger issues: what if foreigners start dumping our debt? And so on. We can provide answers & seek out sources for others. We'll talk about current events & perhaps get different perspectives from what the media says. Write to Carol. Let her know what's important to you:

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Time Magazine/O Little Town of Bethlehem

As last Christmas, our hearts and prayers are drawn especially now to Bethlehem. Some weeks ago, Arab leaders, President Olmert of Israel and George Bush gathered at Annapolis. They agreed to start again on peace talks that might lead to a Palestinian State. We pray for progress and for mutual respect in this holy, but frightening and threatening center of the world's great religions.

Jamil Hamad, a Jerusalem correspondent for Time Magazine and a Muslim, writes in the current issue a "Postcard: Bethlehem" that tells of his experiences with his friends and family as residents of Bethlehem. Paired with Phillips Brooks' touching words about Bethlehem, it is reminiscent for us of Simon & Garfunkel's "7 O'clock News/Silent Night", but, importantly, Hamad's piece has a better ending. . . .

O little town of Bethlehem
How still we see thee lie
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight

There are still strings of lights draped around Manger Square and the Church of the Nativity--perhaps many more lights--but for me, every one of them burns with a memory of . . . splendid days lost and of my Christian friends who have left. Why did they go? After all, some of their families had lived here since the birth of Christ or even longer. The simple explanation is that Bethlehem's Christians are caught between the rise of Islamic extremism and the rigors of Israeli occupation. Because the city is under the control of the Palestinian Authority, Israeli security forces are building a 26-ft. (8 m) high concrete wall around it. The Israelis lump Christians in with all Palestinians as possible terrorists. . . .

Wearing a cross at Israeli checkpoints doesn't help. To security personnel, we're all Palestinians and all dangerous. . . . Sometimes it can take an hour to clear the checkpoint. As a Christian university student said the other day, "Jesus Christ wouldn't be able to leave Bethlehem today unless he showed a magnetic ID card, a permit and his thumbprint."

At least the Israeli security wall is attracting a new kind of tourist, the graffiti guerrilla. The phantom British artist Banksy recently led a posse of foreign artists to the wall. He spray-painted a picture of a peace dove in a flak jacket that was captured in a sniper's crosshairs. . . . At times, the graffiti lifts my spirit. Other times, when I'm angry after being delayed at the checkpoint, I think that art alone can't bring down that wall around my Bethlehem. But what makes me laugh--with some bitterness, I admit--is the sign the Israeli military put up over the checkpoint at the entrance to Bethlehem. It reads: PEACE BE WITH YOU.

Oddly, that's not a vain hope. My son has put up a tree in his Muslim home; I've been told to find a Santa suit, and my grandkids are learning carols. This is the peace I find in Bethlehem at 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.

* * * * *

Warmest Blessings to you all from Ways of the World . . . .

* * * * *

Jamil Hamad, "Postcard: Bethlehem", Time Magazine. December 31, 2007 - January 7, 2008, page 13.


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