It was our privilege today to worship at the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church in Bethlehem. It may have been frustrating at times, even with the helpful sheet of translated hymns and prayers, to really engage with the Arabic language, but that was the privilege – to be welcomed into their service as they worship week by week. For me, that set the theme for the day. Yesterday was just too much to take in, such a different world to my home, and so much oppression and hopelessness. Today was a day of context and understanding.
The Lutheran pastor, Revd. Dr. Mitri Raheb, himself a Bethlehemite, set out for us his assessment of this land, which had given him the theological drive to establish the school, the Wellness (great word) Centre, and the International Centre itself. We had visited them all yesterday, but now they made much more sense. I shall do an injustice to him but these are what I heard are his 5 Pillars of understanding the Palestinian situation.
1. Too much talk of peace and peace processes and not enough peace making. They cry ‘Peace, Peace, but there is no peace.’ Through all the projects the church is working at relationships between Muslims and Christians.
2. Too much politics and not enough care for the polis – the city. The church has made a definite decision not to get involved with power games, but to care for the whole person in their community.
3. Too much religion and not enough spirituality. Religions seen as throwing their power around. That is why creativity is so important – “it is about the power of culture, not the culture of power.”
4. Too much humanitarian aid, and not enough empowerment and community development. So the Church does not give fish, but teaches how to fish! Indeed, no services are given for free, but a small charge is made.
5. Too much pess-optimism, and not enough hope. Positive and negative feelings yo-yo with each economic and political event. However, the message of the church is that Hope is not wishful thinking but the reality of God’s love in Jesus Christ.
This last point we see in the lives of Palestinian Christians. At this time of Resurrection we are being shown, as we stare at the offensive wall scarring deeply the landscape, as we see settlements and even planned golf courses thrusting out into occupied land, as we hear the stories of dispossession and of Bethlehem, almost completely cut-off – the real power lies not in the dehumanised aggressors but in the humanity and dignity of the weakest and most vulnerable.
An intelligent, world-travelled American, declared to me today, he has never been in a more politically confusing place. And I feel, the more I see and hear, the more confusing!! But in this chaos is the normality of everyday life, as this people struggle to survive, and make sense of life. And we have met folk who have found meaning in the reality of a risen Saviour in their lives.