Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

Christmas in a Divided Bethlehem

December 29, 2008

On Monday, December 15, Palestinian children gathered around a Christmas tree next to the Church of the Nativity.  Just days before Christmas, these men, women, and children gathered in Bethlehem to celebrate the birth of Jesus.  Though the Christmas tree was a 32-foot high cypress rather than a pine, and though the carols were in another tongue, surely few other Christmas celebrations were as authentic and true to the source on that Monday evening. (Israel News Agency)

Wall in Jesus Hometown

Wall in Jesus' Hometown

This little town of Bethlehem is as divided now as it was some 2000 years ago when Jesus was born in a manger bed.  Back then there were zealots and Samaritans, Pharisees and Sadducees, Romans and Greeks; today there are Palestinians and Israelis, Jews and Sunnis and Shiites and Christians.  Mayor Victor Batarseh spoke at the lighting of the Bethlehem Christmas tree, hoping that “…the star that led the three wise men to Bethlehem will lead the great powers and brighten their way toward genuine peace.” Closer to home, a wall is being built between North and Mesoamerica as I write this, cutting through the heart of El Paso, Brownsville, and San Diego.  Around the world, walls are being built between nations even as globalization frees up fungible goods.  We are fast approaching a time when goods can travel across national boundaries but people cannot leave their homes, when products possess more rights than people and exports are more respected than immigrants. Martin Luther King, Jr. saw it coming when he said our science “…made of this world a neighborhood and yet…we have not had the ethical commitment to make of it a brotherhood.

It is abundantly clear this Christmas that the modern concept of nation-states, barely more than a hundred years old, creates refugees, suppresses the movement of people, and too often aids in genocide.  From the 1915 Armenian genocide in Turkey to the Holocaust in Europe to the more recent massacres in Darfur and Somalia, nation states have served as walls insulating totalitarian governments and stifling the cries of suffering people.  Refugees, once able to flee persecution by simple migration, now must jump through elaborate hoops and campaign their merits to successfully emigrate to a safe country where they are too frequently welcomed with xenophobia and nativism, even in this Nativity season.

While it is fruitless and perhaps not even desirable to speak of abolishing nation-states, this holiday season must remind us that division, wherever it occurs, makes us somehow less than we truly are. As Dr. King believed “…whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the way God’s universe is made; this is the way it is structured.”

On December 27, Israel bombed the Gaza strip, killing at least 205 Palestinians.  In protest of the air strike, the Christmas tree in Bethlehem was doused, though it normally remains lit until the Orthodox Nativity celebrations in January. (Middle East Times)

In this holiday season of Ramadan, Hannukah, Christmas, and the Chinese New Year, Colossians 3:11 rings truer than ever –
Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.” May we realize the truth in Dr. King’s words, that we are all “tied together in a single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality.”  A wall, be it in Bethlehem or Brownsville or in human hearts, denies that very unity all children of God share, the same unity Christ came to preach 2000 years ago.  Let us not forget.

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An All-American Thanksgiving

November 30, 2008

Akmed and Dea were both at the Apache Mall for its 4 o’clock opening on Black Friday. Despite their fears of American malls from the numerous cinematic chase scenes set there, they both braved the cold and the crowds to witness this uniquely American phenomenon. Both were glad to find out that Iraqis were not the only ones to clamor for goods at market; both were equally contented to know that, unlike the movies, there are not “naked people running around everywhere.”

Though both left behind practically everything when they came to the United States as refugees through Catholic Charities and its Refugee Resettlement Program, they and their families are quickly acculturating and making Rochester, Minnesota, their home. Their children had seen snow in Iraq only once before and were amazed when I told them that in our cold winters your spit freezes before it hits the ground. These men and women are scrambling to get the necessary paperwork together for their driver’s licenses, scouring the classifieds for jobs and cheap furnishings they can afford, and studying late into the night to master English or to comprehend the material for the MCAT.

Last night, we celebrated a belated Thanksgiving with 3 of the 5 Iraqi families here in Rochester. My father-in-law has worked hard to help them get jobs and settle in to their new community, and as such they view him as a paternal figure. They are hard workers, evidenced by Pat’s newly tiled bathroom or Gassuon’s remodeled junker. All of them are trying to rebuild lives which had grown increasingly chaotic since the late 1980s conflict with Iran. The latest United States occupation has unsettled what little order there was, making it increasingly dangerous for businessmen and their families.

A few days before at our family Thanksgiving, a dear relative asked why the Iraqi refugees should have jobs ahead of all the laid-off “American” employees. When we responded that they were extremely talented and had earned the positions, this relative’s only answer was a huff and harrumph. In these times of economic uncertainty, some are calling for our borders to be closed indefinitely. Some might say that our problems are being caused by unauthorized working immigrants or these refugees.

In fact, we can look no further than our own devotion to devastation as we seek to uncover the root of the housing crisis or banking downturn. In the faces of these refugees and the 4 million displaced Iraqis they represent, one is instantly aware of the $720 million the United States spends on the Iraq War every day rather than healing its own or bringing true peace to international communities through positive relationship-building.

Eating turkey and sweet potatoes with these wonderful new Americans, I am reminded of that familiar line from the Christmas classic, “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.” When these refugees came into my life, my heart grew three sizes that day; when they came to be working residents of the U.S., our nation of immigrants grew by the size of five families that day. And they are already making plans to be at the mall for what they hear are the amazing closeouts on New Year’s Day…