Seeing the Stars of Bethlehem

Sometimes ya just gotta write.  There are those times when your heart is either so empty or so full that something has to flow.  This is one of those times.

Friday evening I gave a presentation about human rights abuses in the occupied Palestinian Territory, things I saw and stories I’ve been following since my return home.  It was a wonderful dinner presentation at the home of dear friends, and I came home tired but with my head and heart full from the event.  Something happens to you when you keep looking at videos of checkpoints and demolitions, something oppressive and sad.  Hope comes when others begin to think about becoming actors to make change in whatever they can change, which means spreading the word as far as possible.

For me, then, Saturday I got up and drove 3 hours north to St. Olaf College to meet a group of touring dancers from Bethlehem, West Bank.  This group of young men and women (13-17 years approximately) have been learning expressionistic dance through a ministry of Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem, and put on a presentation worthy of a world theater.  To begin with I was hoping to record the dancing.  But after the first four minutes I turned off my technology and just allowed myself to experience the jewel-like performance, as the young “bright stars of Bethlehem” told the story of the grief and hope of their lives through music and movement.

One thinks of “Palestinian” and one often thinks of the sadness of life behind a concrete wall, limited opportunities, broken dreams.  My human rights presentations, because they must show the world what I have seen, contain a lot of sadness of this kind.  The Occupation is not pretty.

But I also try to show the resiliency of a people who continue to rebuild when things are demolished, who embrace life and love deeply despite the challenges before them.   You can see hope in the faces of the young dancers of Bethlehem,  in the artwork of painters and calligraphers and photographers who have filled Westminster Presbyterian Church with a beautiful exhibition, in the music of the diaspora musicians who graced our morning liturgy, in the films of the Dar al Kalima film makers, the poetry of the poets, the hymns of the hymn-writers who have brought us into the heart of the culture of Palestine this weekend.  To a great extent this hope is nurtured and made fruitful by the ministries of Christmas Lutheran Church in providing education and opportunity to the young people of Palestine.

Diyar Consortium, offering cultural education and support in Bethlehem and now reaching out through satellite programs into other locations in the West Bank, has a vision for bringing hope to people living under occupation “from womb to tomb” . In his preaching this morning, Rev. Mitri Raheb, pastor of Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem spoke of Jesus, who brought a new concept of human liberation.  This vision was much larger than the Roman empire which ran the occupation of Palestine in Jesus’ day.  Jesus’ vision gives the freedom that comes to hearts and minds so that human beings come to see themselves differently.  Refusing to be defined as objects bent down under an oppressive regime, such people, instead, receive new dignity, stand upright, and become renewed people who act as ambassadors of God’s hope.

For those reading this who would like to learn more about this ministry in Bethlehem, or to provide support, I encourage you to check out Bright Stars of Bethlehem.

To my friends who have this weekend shared so much with us: once again you have brought me hope, brothers and sisters of Bethlehem.  Godspeed in your ministry.  You do far more good than you know.  To you Christians, Alleluia.  To you Moslems, Hamdullillah.  To all of you, God’s salaam and Shukran.

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