Saturday, November 26, 2011

by Fred & Gloria Strickert

"I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus. . . ."
(1 Corinthians 1:4 --Epistle for Advent 1)

We give thanks for the blessings of
support congregations,
all the people back in the USA who celebrate Thanksgiving in a traditional way and make it possible for us to be here in Jerusalem.

In this part of the world where the sharing of food is an essential part of relationships, we had several occasions for celebrating thanksgiving, both with traditional turkey and stuffing and with Middle Eastern salads and other dishes.

More than food, Thanksgiving is about community.
And when living in a foreign country, we look for times like this when we can gather as community.

On Friday evening together at the home of Mark and Susanne Brown on the LWF campus.

We give thanks for the blessing of community.

Joining at Thursday noon at the Tantur Ecumenical Center with colleagues, Kjell & Inger Jonasson from Sweden and with Chris Cowan, an American Ecumencial Accompaniers in the South Hebron hills.

As I remember Thanksgivings in the States, the biggest distraction from the feast was the football game on TV.  Here the moment we filled our plates and sat down at the table on Thanksgiving noon, my cell phone rang with a text message:
"Demolition of mosque and several residential buildings in Um-Fagareh!"

Holding loud speaker from
destroyed mosque. 

Photos from Maan News

Demolished house in Um-Fagareh.
Two Palestinian women arrested trying to defend home against fifty soldiers accompanying bulldozer.  One woman has leg broken in the scuffle.

Less than an hour earlier, a text message had announced the demolition of a Palestinian residence and animal shelter in Susiya.

The demolition order lies amidst the rubble.
Picking up the pieces.

This is one of the poorest areas in the West Bank. Some villagers live in caves.

Attempts to bring electricity to village are periodically destroyed.

Our Thanksgiving dinner companion Chris was visibly shaken by the news.  Her assignment with the Ecumencial Accompaniers these three months has been in the South Hebron hills, where she has gotten to know well the villagers at Susiya and Um-Fagareh.  Click here to read her own refections...As the sole American EAPPI, her four teammates had given Chris Thanksgiving Day off to relax and to recharge.  This has been a taxing assignment.  Settlers had regularly been harrassing the villagers all through the fall.

Yet this was not the action of lawless settlers.  Home Demolitions are carried out by the Israeli government, the same Israeli government that builds and expands West Bank and East Jerusalem settlements in defiance of every nation of the world, including the USA & clear evidence that Israel remains in control of Palestinian life in the West Bank.  24,813 Palestinian houses have been systematically demolished since 1967 according to the Israeli Human Rights organization Israel Committee Against Home Demolitions.  Click on this ICAHD link to learn more about this flagrant abuse against human dignity.

Later that afternoon the bulldozer made its way to Idna, West of Hebron.

Another home demolished.

CNN, Fox news, and the major networks-- always determined to portray Palestinians as terrorists-- don't find home demolitions as sexy enough for news and prefer to report on such things as American Idol stars  Scotty McCreery as messing up his lip-sinc during Thanksgiving Parade and Laura Alaina as forgetting words to the National Anthem at the Packers-Lions game.  Who wants to hear about home demolitions?

Earlier in the day, yet two other houses were demolished in Beit Hanina, a Palestinian area in East Jerusalem.

The home owner can only watch against such a military display of force.

According to a UN agency, 481 houses have been destroyed in 2011 displacing 887 persons.

Tomorrow in church we light the first Advent Candle-- the candle of hope.

"O that you would tear open the heavens and come down..." (Isaiah 64:1)

"Stir up your power, Lord Christ, and come."
Advent 1 -- Prayer of the Day.

The only Thanksgiving prayer that made sense to us for our Friday community gathering was one written by Brian McLaren:

We thank you, God, for this holiday,.
We have rested, and we think of all those whose lives
Are hard and who enjoy little rest.

We have eaten the fruit of our labors, and we think of those
Who have neither work nor money.

We have feasted, and we think of all whose stomachs
Are hungry and have too little.

We have felt safe and at home, and we think of those
Who live in danger and turmoil, in war and fear, and all
Who have been driven from their homes.

We have been together, and we think of all those
Who are lonely and alone.

We have laughed, and we think of all
Whose hearts are heavy.

We have shared stories, and we think of al
Who need a listening ear.

We have counted our blessings, and we ask
That our gratitude can now be translated
Into the desire to be a blessing to others.

Taize service on Friday
at Redeemer led by
Frere Emile from Taize.

Wait for the Lord

by Fred & Gloria Strickert

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Concerning Times & Seasons
by Fred & Gloria Strickert

Credit Propst Uwe Graebe
Wednesday midnight -- on 9 November
A ring around the moon
A halo above Redeemer Tower

A halo appropriately marks the call for our servant community
gathered weekly in the worship space below.

A halo also seems an appropriate sign for a city of three religions
Especially in the culmination of a season of holiness
Of rituals and songs and prayers
Of time set aside for reflection.
  • Eid al-adha -- the Muslims' Feast of the Sacrifice at the height of the Hajj
  • Rosh HaShana & Yom Kippur followed by Succoth & Simchat Torah--High Holy Days for Jews
  • All Saints Day -- and for Lutherans also Reformation Day.
In the Midwest (USA), folklore says a ring around moon means a change in the weather.
A winter storm's a comin'.
Or just a change?
So, does this mean it's snowing in Minnesota?
Or stormy days for Jerusalem?

Last week, Jerusalem experienced its first rainfall of the season.
Seven months of dry hot weather have come to an end, L'hamdilla.
the days are getting shorter,
the temperatures are dropping,
our sweaters and gloves have come out of storage,
and we pray many heavy rains will soon follow
filling empty stone cisterns,
refreshing the hillsides,
and turning desert brown landscapes to life-filled sprouts of green. 

"Now concerning the times and the seasons, I have no need to write. . . "
says Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5:1 (Epistle lesson for Pentecost 22)

The changes are natural and expected.
They are observed and well-noted.
How can one expand on the obvious?

The view out the door of our house, walking to gate reminds us of the changing times.             After a month of the olive harvest, the trees have been pruned, branches destined as fuel for the fire, but trees cut back for next year's crop-- a better harvest of olives, inshallah--hope for the future.

The times and seasons
All the while, messages of hope are countered by threats of a new Middle East war with rhetoric and rationales voiced in government news conferences and newspaper editorials.  With this backdrop we drove to Galilee two weeks ago for Fred to film a National Geographic television program at Bethsaida, constantly interrupted by the sounds of Israeli fighter jets and bombers flying overhead with practice runs to northern destinations, and on the highway an occasional tank transported toward the Golan.

Our schedules here make it difficult to keep up with Fred's archaeological interests.   Here's a link to Fred's book on Bethsaida published last spring.  One thing archaeologists understand is change.  Sites like Bethsaida provide a sober reminder, not just of the antiquity of this land and its thousands of years of human stories, but also the arrivals and departures of various peoples, the cycles of building and destruction, the times of prosperity and the seasons of war. Walking the old stone streets of Bethsaida, history comes face to face with current political intrigue.             
The times and seasons. . . .

. . . yet not bringing a destiny of wrath and despair, so says Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5:9.

"The times are a changing," so the ring around the moon would suggest.

There's a scientific explanation.
It's water in the atmosphere
ice crystals high in the atmosphere reflecting the moon's light
which, in turn, is a reflection of the sun.
So, ring around the moon = light + water.

You are children of light, so Paul in verse 5.

And we gather weekly at the baptismal font.
And so it was that our Sunday morning's children sermon and Sunday School hour focused on baptism.  Our International English-speaking congregation with children from Sweden, Finland, Palestine, Scotland, and the USA-- all gathered around the baptismal font, and marked with the cross of Christ, water on the forehead, children of God, children of light.

The sign of the cross at the font --"Who is my family" art project
The times and seasons
One more piece of folk lore:
Count the stars in the space between the moon and its ring
to discover how long until that winter storm hits.

Stars or children of light?

Last Sunday to Tuesday, we participated in the Sahiroon Youth Leadership Development gathering at a retreat center in Nazareth.

Bible Reading: "Put on the breastplate of faith and love. . . the helmet of the hope of salvation."   1 Thess. 5:8
With singing
And study
Sharing with one another
"Therefore, encourage one another             & build each other up."  1 Thess. 5:11
Sahiroon Photo Credits: Elly McHan
Children of Light -- Stars within the ring around the moon.

by Fred &Gloria Strickert

Friday, November 4, 2011

Blessed also are the spat upon
by Fred & Gloria Strickert

"Blessed are the meek. . .
 Blessed are the merciful. . .
 Blessed are the peacemakers. . . ."

The Beatitudes from Matthew 5.
The Gospel for All Saints Sunday.

Blessed also are the spat upon.

Before we moved to Jerusalem fifteen months ago, we had to go on a shopping trip to purchase a black suit and a regular supply of black clergy shirts (The last time I owned a clerical collar was in the late 1970s after graduating from seminary).  In the old city of Jerusalem, religion is evident by the clothes we wear, especially for religious leaders.  Because Christians are such a small minority--less than 2 % of the population-- it is important, that the Christian presence is evident in the landscape of old stone churches and historical sites going back to the New Testament and the early Christian community.

There is no hiding the fact that we are Christians.
  • The reaction by many is one of respect and admiration--Arab shop keepers address me as Abuna, our father.
  • The reaction by others is indifference, as if we are a relic of the past.
  • The reaction of others--only a few--is ridicule (not so much for us personally, but for colleagues in ministry).
Blessed also are the spat upon.

On the first Thursday of every month, I (Fred) meet with an ecumenical colleague group for coffee and discussion of issues facing the local Christian community.  I'm the only American.  There is a French Catholic priest, a Syrian Orthodox restaurant owner, a Greek Catholic priest, and a Greek Orthodox layman, several Armenians, both clergy and lay.  Yesterday we began our discussion with international issues like the status of the Christian communities in Syria and Egypt.  Then the topic turned to the need to get local Christians more involved in ecumenical gatherings.

Then the topic turned to spitting.  That's right, spitting.  Or to be more accurate, the phenomenon of being spat upon.
"It's getting a lot worse," mentioned one of the life-long residents of the old city.
"No, it's always been this way, " countered an 80-year old Greek Orthodox layman.
"We have grown accustomed to it," said the Armenian priest, "but some of our younger teachers have a hard time turning the other cheek.  They want to strike back."
"Maybe we need to retaliate," said another.
"No, let the police handle it."
"They never do anything.  We have complained in the past.  What good has it done?"

Finally, one of the elders in our group reminded us all that we are Christ's representatives in Jerusalem.  Ours must always be a message of peace--both in word and action.  "They will spit at our shoes, and sometimes in our face, but we must always be messengers of peace."

Blessed also are the spat upon.

Spitting on Clergy.  That's probably not a topic that comes up in many American clergy gatherings.  But it does here.  Again, I stress that I haven't often been directly affected.  Perhaps it's my obvious American identity. Perhaps it's my size.  Local clergy are more often targeted. 

Yet we are called to accompany, to listen, to console, to sympathize, to stand alongside when others are humiliated.  Accompaniment also means communicating, not just positive stories, but also such aspects of daily humiliation of the Christian community in Jerusalem. 

Blessed also are the spat upon.

Yesterday's discussion is not an isolated complaint.

We woke up this morning to read the following story in the Israeli Haaretz newspaper.  A quick google search yields other reports as the Jerusalem Post article two years ago.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews spitting attacks on Old City clergymen becoming daily

Clergymen in the Armenian Church in Jerusalem say they are victims of harassment, from senior cardinals to priesthood students; when they do complain, the police don't usually find the perpetrators.

By Oz Rosenberg

Ha'aretz -- Friday - November 4, 2011
Ultra-Orthodox Jewish young men curse and spit at Christian clergymen in the streets of Jerusalem's Old City as a matter of routine. In most cases the clergymen ignore the attacks, but sometimes they strike back. Last week the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court quashed the indictment against an Armenian priesthood student who had punched the man who spat at him.
Johannes Martarsian was walking in the Old City in May 2008 when an young ultra-Orthodox Jew spat at him. Maratersian punched the spitter in the face, making him bleed, and was charged for assault. But Judge Dov Pollock, who unexpectedly annulled the indictment, wrote in his verdict that "putting the defendant on trial for a single blow at a man who spat at his face, after suffering the degradation of being spat on for years while walking around in his church robes is a fundamental contravention of the principles of justice and decency."
"Needless to say, spitting toward the defendant when he was wearing the robe is a criminal offense," the judge said.
When Narek Garabedian came to Israel to study in the Armenian Seminary in Jerusalem half a year ago, he did not expect the insults, curses and spitting he would be subjected to daily by ultra-Orthodox Jews in the streets of the Old City.
"When I see an ultra-Orthodox Jewish man coming toward me in the street, I always ask myself if he will spit at me," says Narek, a Canadian Armenian, this week. About a month ago, on his way to buy groceries in the Old City, two ultra-Orthodox men spat at him. The spittle did not fall at his feet but on his person. Narek, a former football player, decided this time not to turn the other cheek.
"I was very angry. I pushed them both to the wall and asked, 'why are you doing this?' They were frightened and said 'we're sorry, we're sorry,' so I let them go. But it isn't always like that. Sometimes the spitter attacks you back," he says.
Other clergymen in the Armenian Church in Jerusalem say they are all victims of harassment, from the senior cardinals to the priesthood students. Mostly they ignore these incidents. When they do complain, the police don't usually find the perpetrators.
Martarsian left Israel about a year ago. He was sent back home by the church, as were two other Armenian priesthood students who were charged after attacking an ultra-Orthodox man who spat at them.
The Greek Patriarchy's clergymen have been cursed and spat on by ultra-Orthodox men in the street for many years. "They walk past me and spit," says Father Gabriel Bador, 78, a senior priest in the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate. "Mostly I ignore it, but it's difficult.
Sometimes I stop and ask the spitter 'why are you doing this? What have I done to you?' Once I even shouted at a few of them who spat at my feet together. They ran away," he says.
"It happens a lot," says Archbishop Aristarchos, the chief secretary of the patriarchate. "You walk down the street and suddenly they spit at you for no reason. I admit sometimes it makes me furious, but we have been taught to restrain ourselves, so I do so."
Father Goosan Aljanian, Chief Dragoman of the Armenian Patriarchate in Jerusalem, says it is often difficult for temperamental young priesthood students to swallow the offense.
About a month ago two students marching to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre beat up an ultra-Orthodox man who spat at them. They were sent away from the Old City for two weeks.
"I tell my students that if they are spat at, to go to the police rather than strike back" says Goosan. "But these are young kids who sometimes lose their cool."
A few weeks ago four ultra-Orthodox men spat at clergymen in the funeral procession of Father Alberto of the Armenian Church. "They came in a pack, out of nowhere," said Father Goosan. "I know there are fanatical Haredi groups that don't represent the general public but it's still enraging. It all begins with education. It's the responsibility of these men's yeshiva heads to teach them not to behave this way," he says.
Father Goosan and other Patriarchy members are trying to walk as little as possible in the Old City streets. "Once we walked from the [Armenian] church to the Jaffa Gate and on that short section four different people spat at us," he says.

And a similar story two years ago. . .
 Mouths filled with hatred

Nov. 26, 2009


Father Samuel Aghoyan, a senior Armenian Orthodox cleric in Jerusalem's Old City, says he's been spat at by young haredi and national Orthodox Jews "about 15 to 20 times" in the past decade. The last time it happened, he said, was earlier this month. "I was walking back from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and I saw this boy in a yarmulke and ritual fringes coming back from the Western Wall, and he spat at me two or three times."
Wearing a dark-blue robe, sitting in St. James's Church, the main Armenian church in the Old City, Aghoyan said, "Every single priest in this church has been spat on. It happens day and night."
Father Athanasius, a Texas-born Franciscan monk who heads the Christian Information Center inside the Jaffa Gate, said he's been spat at by haredi and national Orthodox Jews "about 15 times in the last six months" - not only in the Old City, but also on Rehov Agron near the Franciscan friary. "One time a bunch of kids spat at me, another time a little girl spat at me," said the brown-robed monk near the Jaffa Gate.
"All 15 monks at our friary have been spat at," he said. "Every [Christian cleric in the Old City] who's been here for awhile, who dresses in robes in public, has a story to tell about being spat at. The more you get around, the more it happens."
A nun in her 60s who's lived in an east Jerusalem convent for decades says she was spat at for the first time by a haredi man on Rehov Agron about 25 years ago. "As I was walking past, he spat on the ground right next to my shoes and he gave me a look of contempt," said the black-robed nun, sitting inside the convent. "It took me a moment, but then I understood."
Since then, the nun, who didn't want to be identified, recalls being spat at three different times by young national Orthodox Jews on Jaffa Road, three different times by haredi youth near Mea She'arim and once by a young Jewish woman from her second-story window in the Old City's Jewish Quarter.
But the spitting incidents weren't the worst, she said - the worst was the time she was walking down Jaffa Road and a group of middle-aged haredi men coming her way pointed wordlessly to the curb, motioning her to move off the sidewalk to let them pass, which she did.
"That made me terribly sad," said the nun, speaking in ulpan-trained Hebrew. Taking personal responsibility for the history of Christian anti-Semitism, she said that in her native European country, such behavior "was the kind of thing that they - no, that we used to do to Jews."
News stories about young Jewish bigots in the Old City spitting on Christian clergy - who make conspicuous targets in their long dark robes and crucifix symbols around their necks - surface in the media every few years or so. It's natural, then, to conclude that such incidents are rare, but in fact they are habitual. Anti-Christian Orthodox Jews, overwhelmingly boys and young men, have been spitting with regularity on priests and nuns in the Old City for about 20 years, and the problem is only getting worse.

"My impression is that Christian clergymen are being spat at in the Old City virtually every day. This has been constantly increasing over the last decade," said Daniel Rossing. An observant, kippa-wearing Jew, Rossing heads the Jerusalem Center for Jewish-Christian Relations and was liaison to Israel's Christian communities for the Ministry of Religious Affairs in the '70s and '80s.
For Christian clergy in the Old City, being spat at by Jewish fanatics "is a part of life," said the American Jewish Committee's Rabbi David Rosen, Israel's most prominent Jewish interfaith activist.

"I hate to say it, but we've grown accustomed to this. Jewish religious fanatics spitting at Christian priests and nuns has become a tradition," said Roman Catholic Father Massimo Pazzini, sitting inside the Church of the Flagellation on the Via Dolorosa.

These are the very opposite of isolated incidents. Father Athanasius of the Christian Information Center called them a "phenomenon." George Hintlian, the unofficial spokesman for the local Armenian community and former secretary of the Armenian Patriarchate, said it was "like a campaign."

 (The Jerusalem Post)
Blessed also are the spat upon.
by Fred & Gloria Strickert