Sunday, March 30, 2014

Lent 5, Ezekiel—Hope for the Exiles

Lent 5, Ezekiel

‘I will put my spirit with in you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil…’
Ez 37.14

It is likely that Ezekiel was one of the elite of Jerusalem, brought captive to Babylon in 597, BCE, King Nebuchadrezzar II’s attempt to end the rebellion of his vassal state. Ezekiel saw the exile and the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 as God’s judgment on Judah for failing to honor its obligations under its covenant with Yahweh.

Although Ezekiel had harshly warned of Jerusalem’s destruction, his tone changed after the defeat of Judah. In exile in Babylon he preaches comfort—that Israel does have a future. But this future is in God’s hands, not theirs (chapters 33-48). Ezekiel’s message from God in 37.14 assures the exiles that God will redeem them because they are still God’s people.

The exiles I have met in the land today are the Palestinians in the refugee camps and in towns and villages surrounded by Israel’s wall. And the Ezekiel’s words brought to my mind a particular section of the wall in Bethlehem. The wall there is covered with artwork expressing the Palestinians’ sadness and frustration and the sympathy of international visitors. It looks like everyone who visits, leaves a message on the wall.

Like Ezekiel the exiles in Palestine today have not given up on God’s promises. They cling to these promises and put their faith and trust in God.
I invite you to take five minutes to ponder this particular section of the wall, and the prophet God sent to bring hope to the exiles in Babylon.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Lent 4, John—Prophetic Sight

John 9:1-41

‘What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.’ He said, ‘He is a prophet.’ John 9.17

The dialogue between the blind man and the Pharisees reminds me of a Marx brothers’ routine—it is certainly farce. “It is he.” “No it’s not.” With each telling of his story—the mud, the washing, the restored sight—he grows more impatient. Isn’t anyone LISTENING?!?!

The blind man sees, but the rest clearly do not. And the man born blind shows us that “seeing” is not just about the eyes.

The man born blind is the only one in the story who sees—and when he sees, he declares that Jesus is a prophet. His sight involves his eyes, which have been healed; his ears, which have heard Jesus proclaim God’s mercy; and his heart, which recognizes that Jesus has come from God. The blind man is not only the recipient of God’s love and mercy. He is the mystic who discerns God’s presence in this prophet. And the theologian who defines a prophet: one who opens people’s eyes.

In my travels to Palestine and Israel, I have met many prophets in Jesus’ line. Courageous people who dare to proclaim what they have seen, opening my eyes to God’s works.

You see, before I visited the Holy Land, I was blind. I had only paid attention to half the story—the Israeli government’s version of events. In my travels I saw another story—that of the Israeli and Palestinian peacemakers, people of the land, who, like prophets, opened my eyes.

These are some of the prophets I have met who are shining a light in the darkness that surrounds them.

Hannah, a grandmother who volunteers with Machsom Watch, resisting her country’s occupation or Palestine by standing at the checkpoints and recording what happens there. She told us that the occupation is rotting the soul of Israel. She laments that Israel has strayed so far from the ideals expressed in its declaration of independence. She laments the way the army is destroying the humanity of the19-year-old soldiers who stand at the checkpoints and are ordered to treat the Palestinians like animals and to celebrate when one is accidentally shot.

Maya, who, as a high school senior, decided that she could not serve in an army that required such brutalization of the Palestinians. She formed an organization of students, the Shministim, who resisted the draft and served time in Israeli prisons to protest Israel’s occupation. She is now in the US, telling audiences what she has seen.

Jamal, who lives in the West Bank village of Beit Ummar, and meets with Israelis to build bridges of understanding. Because he patiently listens to the voices of the "other" who have also been wounded by the conflict, he has earned their trust and they are able to listen to his experience of the occupation--the arrests, beating and detention of children; the high rate of unemployment because of the isolation of the village behind Israel's wall; and the stress caused by the constant presence of Israeli soldiers in their village. Jamal's eyes have been opened to the suffering and loss of the Israelis; and their eyes are now opened to the suffering caused by the occupation.

Margee and Jamal
I am still blind--there is much I still do not see. But the way these prophets have opened my eyes helps me be awake to injustice and to question other things I think I know.

Gracious God, you came among us to be a light in our darkness. Open our eyes; heal our blindness. Help us follow in your way of peacemaking--to shine your light wherever we find ourselves in darkness. Amen.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Lent 4, Ephesians—Living as Children of the Light

Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them….for everything that becomes visible is light.

Many of the people I have traveled with to Palestine and Israel look out the windows of the bus, listen to a Palestinian tell their story or walk the streets of Bethlehem and they express their anguish over what they see - "How can this be happening?" "Why isn't someone (the UN maybe) doing something about this injustice?"

These are moments of light—when the injustices being done to Palestinians are exposed in the glaring light of our first-hand witness. When these same injustices are talked about by governments or in the media, they are clothed in benign-sounding language. Justified in the name of security or reported as accidental and rare aberrations in Israel's efforts to protect itself.

Today's meditation shines a light on some recent events in Palestine. I invite you to read one of the stories below and allow yourself to be exposed. The International Solidarity Movement (ISM) is one of the beacons exposing Israel's actions. Volunteers for ISM put their own bodies in danger as they stand with the non-violent protesters in villages all over the West Bank and Gaza, bearing witness to Israel's violence. Jo Ann Wacker-Farrand and I were in Bi'lin in November, meeting with the non-violent resisters to the wall surrounding their village.

On the Ground in Occupied Palestine

For over ten years, the International Solidarity Movement has supported grassroots
Palestinian communities engaging in nonviolent resistance to the Israeli Occupation.
Read a story from ISM and then share with a friend. Sign up to receive these weekly updates from ISM.

Gracious God, we thank you for all your servants who put their personal safety at risk to stand against injustice. Embolden us to be bearers of your light, to reveal injustice wherever we are. Amen.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Lent 4, 1Samuel - For the Lord does not See as Mortals See

Today Lutheran (ELCA) Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton issued a press release supporting Secretary of State Kerry in his work with negotiations between Israel and Palestine, to encourage him to continue to press for a settlement. When I read it I thought: I don’t really have any faith that the negotiations will give Palestinians a deal that will improve their lives. The settlements continue to be built and every day Israelis are moving to the West Bank to live on land that I always thought would become a Palestinian state. It’s nice of Bishop Eaton to write, but it’s a lost cause.

Then I read the story of Samuel choosing a king for Israel. Or rather, Samuel discovering who it is that God has already chosen to be king. And I was reminded that God does not see as I see. God does not look at the outward appearance; God looks at the heart.

(Now, here I will refrain from a long diatribe on my belief that the leaders of Israel do not have their hearts set on peace.)

And the story continues. Samuel looks at all Jesse’s sons and does not find the one whom God has chosen. All the obvious possibilities are exhausted and still no king.

As you well know, God’s choice for king is none of the obvious choices. God chooses the least likely—David, the youngest, the least experienced, but also the one God infused with God’s spirit.

So, maybe I need to trust that God can do the impossible with the least likely resources and join Bishop Eaton in her hopeful encouragement of Secretary Kerry.

I won’t go into all the ways David disappointed God and failed to be the wise and good king wanted for Israel. God is stuck working with us humans and none of us ever meet God’s desires for us, for a world ruled with justice and mercy.

So I will give the negotiators a chance and trust that God has plans for the Palestinians, even when I cannot see them.

O God, you have more faith in us that we deserve. We repeatedly disappoint you; we fail to live out your hopes and dreams for us. But you do not give up on us. In these days, be with the leaders who are working for peace in so many corners of the world. Give them strength and the vision to see the world that you desire for all your people. And give them the courage to act on this vision. Amen.

If you want to take action, write an email thanking Bishop Eaton for her support of the negotiations. Click on "contact us" at the bottom of the page and fill in the email form.

To read the letter: Text of the February letter to Kerry is available at Resource Repository/Letter_to_Kerry_Feb2014.pdf  and text of the March letter is at

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Lent 3, John—A woman came to draw water...

John 4.5-42

In the first lesson and the gospel for this coming Sunday, we follow a theme of water, and even in the text from Romans, we hear that God’s love is “poured” into our hearts. It’s not surprising that water appears often in the Bible. When you walk on the land and gaze out over the hills, you can see that finding water to drink and bathe is a daily challenge, even in the best of times. It’s a lot like Colorado.

For the Samaritan community in Sychar, the well is the center of daily life. While the well is a necessity, it is also a venue with strict protocols—who may come to the well when and who may meet, speak or touch at the well. Jesus violates all the protocols. He speaks to a woman; he speaks to a Samaritan, an outcast; and he challenges the theology of the leaders in Jerusalem, who insist that the only true worship takes place in the temple in Jerusalem.

The site of Jacob’s well today is near the Balata refugee camp in Nablus. It is a holy shrine where pilgrims come to visit.

And water is still at the center of politics in Israel and the West Bank.

In October I visited an permaculture project in Beit Sahour, in the West Bank, next to Bethlehem. The young people from all over the world who come to work on the farm, Bustan Quaraaqua, are developing farming techniques and living arrangements for this harsh environment, where water is scarce, six inches per year.

What they told us, however, is that finding water is not simply a matter of collection and conservation, as it is in Colorado. Even though this is in the heart of the West Bank, Israel controls all the water—groundwater, aquifers, cisterns, even the rainwater.

And because Israel has claimed ALL the water in the lands it occupies, including the West Bank, it is illegal for Palestinians to collect the rainwater.

The farmers told us that six inches of water is enough for growing food. In the winter when it rains, the land is replenished and you can collect the water that runs off in pools and cisterns. But pools and cisterns are illegal. Israel’s army routinely destroys Palestinian cisterns—using explosives and bombs.

Israel gets 70% of its water from Syrian land it still occupies in the Golan Heights and 30% from aquifers, many of them under Palestinian land in the West Bank.

Because Israel “owns” all the water, they sell it back to the Palestinians—at higher rates than they charge the settlers living nearby (on Palestinian land).

Water is a real crisis in Gaza, where Israeli towns north of Gaza have drained the aquifer and Gaza’s water table is now so low that saltwater from the sea has contaminated their water supply. Israel also destroyed Gaza’s sewage treatment system, so now its sewage flows into the Mediterranean. Israel also dumps sewage in the Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea.

Gracious God, you provided water to the Israelites in the desert and you send the rains to quench our thirst. Forgive our wastefulness and our inattention to your good and abundant creation. Help us to share our resources with your same generosity. Amen.

More information:
  • Amnesty International's report on the water situation in Palestine, “Troubled Waters.”
  •’s 5 min video report on the water situation in Israel and Palestine
  • Amnesty International’s video report of Nabi Saleh villagers protesting the theft of their spring by a nearby Israeli settlement (below)

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Lent 3, Romans—Since We are Justified by Faith

Since we are justified by faith,
we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ…

Romans 5.1-11

So, as Martin Luther once said (or is believed to have said), "sin boldly!"

I have used this blog to help North Americans read the Bible through a lens of the Palestinian experience. This necessarily entails examining Israel's occupation and confiscation of their lands, since this is at the heart of the Palestinian experience. This critical look at Israel's policies and treatment of Palestinians always provokes resistance, even in me, because I was raised in an America that deeply regretted the holocaust—I, like many Americans vow, "Never again."

But support for Palestinians and criticism of Israel does not equal hatred of Israel or Jews. Support for Palestinians is not anti-Semitism. In fact, while criticizing Israel is NOT anti-Semitic, labeling all Jews as supporters of Israel's policies, IS racist. It is no different than labeling all Jews as money-grubbers. It is a racial/ethnic stereotype that harms people. Jewish Voice for Peace and other Jewish peace groups are adamant about this.

Recently, campus groups of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) have been targeted on their campuses for actions they have taken, speakers they have invited, etc. This clamping down on free speech on several college campuses is an orchestrated effort to silence those who hold a critical view of Israel. Their speech is NOT anti-Semitic. (An aside: "anti-Semitic" is misleading anyway, since Palestinians are also Semitic people.)

There is an active SJP group at DU, but I have not heard of any problems they have encountered.

Christ Hedges wrote a comprehensive article in TruthDig on Monday, explaining what is happening on college campuses, "Israel's War on American Universities." I commend it for your reading today:

The article begins….

The banning of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) at Northeastern University in Boston on March 7, along with a university threat of disciplinary measures against some of its members, replicates sanctions being imposed against numerous student Palestinian rights groups across the country. The attacks, and the disturbingly similar forms of punishment, appear to be part of a coordinated effort by the Israeli government and the Israel lobby to blacklist all student groups that challenge the official Israeli narrative.

Northeastern banned the SJP chapter after it posted on campus replicas of eviction notices that are routinely put up on Palestinian homes set for Israeli demolition. The university notice of suspension says that if the SJP petitions for reinstatement next year, “No current member of the Students for Justice in Palestine executive board may serve on the inaugural board of the new organization” and that representatives from the organization must attend university-sanctioned “trainings.”

In 2011 in California, 10 students who had disrupted a speech at UC Irvine by Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren were found guilty, put on informal probation and sentenced to perform community service….continue reading

Gracious God, we are freed by your son, to act boldly in using our wealth and power to defend those who are poor and powerless. Help us see where we have this opportunity in our lives this Lent and embolden us to act. Amen.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Lent 3, Exodus—Remembering Rachel Corrie

Exodus 17.1-7

"Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink."
Exodus 17.6

Today is a good day to remember Rachel Corrie. Eleven years ago, on March 16, Rachel, a US citizen, was killed by an Israeli bulldozer as she was protesting to prevent the demolition of a Palestinian home in Gaza. To honor her memory and her willingness to put herself in danger for a cause she strongly believed in, read one of her emails home shortly before her death:

It would be wonderful to report that things have changed in Gaza, but Gaza is worse off today than it was in 2003, with severe malnutrition, damaged infrastructure, intermittent electricity—all under Israel's blockade. Gaza's water supply has been tapped for Israeli use; in fact, Israel claims to own all the water in areas it occupies—even the rainwater.

Gracious God, we are grateful for your servants who stand against injustice. Open our eyes to the suffering around us. Touch our hearts with your mercy, compassion and generosity. Bless Prime Minister Abbas's meeting with President Obama today with your wisdom and courage. Amen.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Lent 2, John—Testifying to What We Have Seen and Heard

We speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen...John 3.1-17

I heard it again last week—"I needed to tell everyone what is happening. I was convinced that if they knew, the situation will change."

The first time I heard these words I was at the coffee hour at Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem and it was a personal plea to me—the young man wanted to make sure I would tell the people in the US what was happening to the Palestinians in the West Bank. He earnestly said to me, "Surely if people knew what is happening here, things would change for us."

Since then I have heard this from so many Israelis and Palestinians that I have lost count—almost everyone I meet expects us to come back and tell our government. They are fully convinced that if people in the US knew what is going on, the US will stop funding Israel's occupation and their lives will change.

Then last week I heard it again—from a young Israeli, a former IDF soldier, Eran Efrati. This time he was talking about his own witness.

As a 19-year-old, he served in the IDF, stationed in Hebron, where 800 settlers have forced their way into the heart of the old city, at first occupying rooms in a hotel, then claiming property above the market. The settlers create conflict with the Palestinians, by occupying their property illegally. Then the Israeli military is called in to protect the settlers.

In Hebron, there are 800 settlers—with 500 Israeli soldiers and 300 Israeli police to protect them.

Israel has divided Hebron into two zones, H1 and H2—one zone for Israelis and one for Palestinians. Then the soldiers moved the Palestinians out of the Israeli zone. Today the once-busy market street, Shuhada Street, is empty, stores closed and shuttered—only Israeli settlers, American tourists and the patrolling soldiers are on the street.

Eran was one of these soldiers—raiding Palestinian homes in the middle of the night, asserting Israel's authority, terrorizing adults and children. He tells about testing new Israeli weapons—on these very real live people—and being praised for combatting terrorism when his unit accidentally killed a boy.

At the beginning, Eran had been so very sure that if he told his family and friends and other Israelis about what their army is really doing in the West Bank, it would change. Like me, he learned that telling what we have seen may change some hearts, but it does not change government policy.

Eran Efrati is traveling the US with Maya Wind, telling their stories—"The Soldier and the Refusenik," telling stories about their dawning realization that Israel's military occupation of the Palestinians is rotting the core of Israeli society.

Eran and Maya's story is our story too—when, after years of assuming that Israelis and Palestinians would eventually agree to terms and there would be peace, we are confronted with a different reality, one that is not so popular in the news we follow or with our friends.

It's painful to realize that my country is supporting this violence against an indigenous people.

Gracious God, we are so grateful for the good news your son Jesus preached on the hillsides of Palestine. We know that evil does not have the last word, but it is so painful to watch—in Palestine and in so many places on our nightly news. Forgive us our complicity in the oppression we see and empower us to speak out as the victims implore us. Amen.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Lent 2, Romans—Wandering Children of Abraham

For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith.
Romans 4.1-5, 13-17

A Tale of Two Peoples and Two Realities
Jeff Halper is the founder and director of the Israeli non-profit, Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD). Salim Shawamreh is a Palestinian whose home has been destroyed more than five times and rebuilt by Jeff Halper and ICAHD volunteers. Dalia Landau is an Israeli who opened the door of her home one afternoon and met the Palestinians who had been forced from the home in 1948.

Click on the "Steadfast Hope" study guide below and listen to these Israelis and Palestinians, children of Abraham, talk about living together in a land shared by two peoples.

Watch a video about the rebuilding of Salim's house last summer, July 2013.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Lent 2, Genesis—…so that You will be a Blessing

“Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” Gen 12.1-2

God’s blessing to Abram is difficult to imagine today, as we listen to the news from the land where Abram journeyed. Abram and Sarai traveled from Ur near the Euphrates, north along the river through present-day Iraq, into Syria and then south. His journey took him near places whose names are now familiar to us: An Najaf, Karbala, Fallujah, Ramadi, Aleppo, Homs, Damascus, Amman, Jerusalem, and Hebron, where he received a gift of land from Ephron the Hittite for a burial place for Sarah. Because Abraham was a sojourner in the land. He did not own any land; he was a nomad, a guest.

Does God’s blessing endure? Is God’s blessing being shared by the descendants of Abraham, the people of the land today? How are they reflecting God’s desire for the land?

I think of Eran Efrati, who was in Colorado last week, telling us the story of his own journey—a Jewish Israeli who served in the Israeli Defense Force (IDF), and is now speaking out about the harm being done to Israeli society by the practices of Israel’s military. Like Abraham, Eran’s family also journeyed to the land that is now Israel. They came from Iran, from Iraq, from Hungary. Eran, who is in his late 20s, is a seventh generation Jerusalemite.

Eran began his story by telling us about his grandmother, a holocaust survivor who lived with his family. When she was a small child, her father had been taken away by Nazi soldiers, and she was eventually imprisoned at Auschwitz. He tells how she would awaken in the middle of the night, screaming. From a young age, Eran had a strong desire to make sure the horrors of the holocaust would never happen again and he vowed to guard against such violence.

After high school, like all Israeli teenagers, he served his term in the IDF. His unit patrolled the West Bank city of Hebron—if you’ve been there, you have seen how the city is literally a military zone—500 Israeli soldiers and 300 Israeli police protecting 800 ideological settlers intent on claiming the Palestinian city for Israel.

Hebron is where Abraham received the gift of the land from the Hittites. He buried his wife Sarah here. The Ibrahimi mosque also houses the tombs of Abraham, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Leah.

Eran tells that during a night raid on the home of a Palestinian family, soldiers in his unit overreact and shoot a small boy. In the confusion, the boy’s father is arrested because he is screaming at the soldiers. Eran hears the boy’s grandmother screaming her grief, and it is the scream of his own grandmother in the night.

Her scream was a turning point for the uneasy soldier, who sought out people who were opposing Israel’s occupation and soon found himself on the other end of the IDF weapons in a protest against Israel’s wall.

Eran joined a group called Breaking the Silence, which records testimony of Israeli soldiers who question what they were ordered to do in enforcing the occupation. He is now touring the US, with  Maya Wind (“TheSoldier and the Refusenik”), telling their stories.

See Eran and Maya tell about their journeys in their own words:

Gracious God, we have not lived up to your promises for us. Strengthen us in our desires to be a blessing to those we live among. Amen.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Lent 1, Genesis—Tilling and Keeping

Genesis 2.15-17; 3.1-7

Dear God,

It’s me, Eve. Again.

It sounded like such a good idea, especially when the snake put it the way he did. Knowledge is a good thing, right? What could be the harm? And the snake….he was so good-looking and his words made me feel powerful. Tilling and keeping….it’s all so boring, and the snake was offering me something more—to really make something of my life.
But it hasn’t turned out so well, has it?—thinking I had the wisdom to rule the world has only brought us starvation, enslavement, pollution and war exploding all over the planet.

Look at what is happening in your part of the world today—we have made a mess of your good creation. Marchers in the square, guns and tanks on every corner.

In Bil’in, in the Judean hills, the bulldozers are still building the wall, cutting the village off from its farmlands. Tomorrow, after Friday prayers, the people will march from the mosque, out onto the road, past the memorial to Bassem Abu Rahma, killed by Israeli soldiers firing a tear gas canister in 2009. Photo shows Bassem flying a kite in protest against the separation barrier around Bil'in, in July 2008.

The protesters will be joined by Israeli supporters, working to free their country from the tyranny of militarization and occupation, and by peacemakers from all over the world, with a dream to free Palestine from M-16s, the boots of Israeli soldiers hitting the ground and tear gas canisters.

They will march to the wall, singing freedom songs, waving hopeful Palestinian flags—middle-aged men, old women, young mothers carrying babies, young men wearing the traditional Palestinian kuffiyeh and the young boys, who will pick up handfuls of stones from the road and throw them, in a protest of resistance, at the 27-foo-high concrete barrier blocking access to their land.
That sweet-tasting and beautiful-looking fruit Adam and I ate has rotted and turned poisonous. All our knowledge has not made us happy; it’s just given us a false sense of our own power; and now we are ashamed. We build walls to protect ourselves and they end up imprisoning us; we make bigger weapons and they kill our children.

We try to figure out which side to support, but all our knowledge will not end the suffering.

Looking back, I’m sorry I didn’t just stick with the job you gave us—to till and keep the garden, to serve you and protect what you created. It turns out all you wanted was our happiness—if we had only listened.

Maybe that’s why you gave us Lent.


Gracious God, you have given your creatures abundance beyond anything we could dream of. But we have not paid attention to your generous desires for our happiness and have followed our own desires for power instead. Accept our heartfelt remorse and turn our hearts to the tilling and keeping of your beautiful creation. Help us to see you walking with those who continue to seek their freedom; keep them safe today. Amen.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

A Lenten Geography, 2014

Although it has become a message for every age, Jesus’ ministry happened in a specific place and time. As I have walked the streets of Jerusalem, sailed on the Sea of Galilee and traveled the winding roads down to the Jordan, I remember that Jesus walked the same dusty roads and climbed the same dry hills—the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea that the Romans called Judaea and later renamed Palestine. Today we call it Palestine or Israel or sometimes even Israel/Palestine, revealing our own confusion and ambivalence about this land.

In the time of Jesus, the land which was the Roman province of Iudaea or Judaea was the scene of war and violence, bloodshed, torture and displacement. The Roman occupation meant onerous taxes for the Judean peasants; when they objected, their protests were put down violently, with all the protesters killed or crucified and entire towns burned to the ground. Finally the Roman Emperor Hadrian defeated the Judeans for the last time in the third rebellion in 135 CE. By renaming the land Syria Palaestina (and renaming Jerusalem Aelia Capitolina) he hoped to wipe out all trace of the Judeans. Rome brought foreigners to colonize the area.

When Jesus walked these roads, the land was under occupation—the Roman Emperor and his army, his governors and procurators controlled the land and the lives of everyone who lived on the land. The Judeans disputed Rome's control of their lives and their land. Today ownership of the land is once again disputed and the land which was to have become a Palestinian state is under armed occupation.

The gospel writers make us acutely aware of the role of the Roman Empire in the lives of even the most ordinary people in first century Palestine. In Luke’s account, the story of Jesus’ birth opens as Mary and Joseph make their way from Nazareth to Bethlehem for the mandatory counting—required by the Empire for all of the occupied people. The Empire wants to determine the value of that which it possesses. Matthew’s account, too, is specific about Jesus’ birthplace: “in Bethlehem of Judea.” (Matt 2.1).

Jesus was born, not only in a specific place, but in a specific time, with a specific relationship to what was going on in the world. And so it is today. The land of Palestine/Israel is a specific geography and the story of the passion, of God coming to live among us, of God’s work in the world, is ongoing.

Where is God at work today among the people of Palestine and Judea?

The stories of the “living stones,” the people of this holy land, show us God’s work. Each time I visit the Holy Land, the people I meet beg me to tell their stories. They speak with confidence that if the world knew what was happening, their lives would change and the occupation would end. There is a growing movement among Jews within Israel that would end the occupation because of the way the system of checkpoints and walls and permits for Palestinians has damaged the humanity of the Jews themselves.