Palestine and Israel: A Fresh Look

An Insider Speaks Truth

Yesterday morning my wife and I went to church. That's not unusual for us, although we are what you might call 'dis-enchanted' believers. Churches in this country have become unfamiliar to us, straying far from the principles and experiences of our early years as believers. To make this point crystal-clear, I'm not advocating a return to the good-old days or lobbying for more conservative religion. Just the opposite.

Churches have sold out the gospel to common denominator, mass-produced and politically extreme views - all in the name of gaining and keeping attendance - and for some congregations/denominations it seems to be working. Yet, they've thrown out the "baby with the bathwater" - i.e. the true Jesus and his message - leaving people like us empty-handed, wanting more.

All this hit home yesterday as we sat in worship and heard a guest preacher, the Rev. Dr. Metri Raheb, pastor of Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem, Palestine. His voice and accent were refreshing, but his thoughts were even more redemptive. Here's a brief summary of what he had to say.

1# - Palestine is the home and birthplace of Jesus. In fact, Dr. Raheb was born across the street from the very spot where Jesus is reported to have been born. Palestine is a real place with real inhabitants, not an "invented people" as one current U.S. politician falsely and egregiously claims.

#2 - Jesus was Palestinian, part of the local culture, not born in Bethlehem, PA, or in Texas - as one might conclude from hearing politicians and preachers in the U.S. assert that the framers of our Constitution based their vision of this nation on a westernized, Caucasian version of Jesus, the Bible and religion.

#3 - Christianity has a long history in the near East, in Palestine and Syria and Egypt to name only a few places, yet we in the U.S. hold and promote a version of that faith which is myopic and America-centric. As Dr. Raheb told us, he himself was born in Bethlehem and is a Palestinian Arab and a Christian - not a muslim or a convert to Christianity.

#4 - Currently, only 2% of the 350 million Arabs in that region are Christian, far fewer than was true historically. Still, Christmas Lutheran Church works to represent love and caring in the area, as witnessed by the services of Dar al-Kalima Health and Wellness Center that it operates, opening its doors to all who have needs.

Dr. Raheb will receive the German Media Prize on February 24, 2012, that nation's version of the Nobel Peace Prize. It's time we broadened our views in U.S. churches and saw the gospel in wider, more inclusive and accurate ways. Listening to people with insightful, solid messages is well worth the time and effort, as is putting aside distorted and limited understandings of the religion and faith many of us hold.

My wife and I read a different book during Advent and Lent each year, to counter the superficial dribble so often marketed by churches and bookstores as devotional material. In late 2011 we read through a collection of Dietrich Bonhoeffers' letters from prison. Now we're half-way through Thou Art That, a posthumous volume of Joseph Campbell's lectures and statements interpreting biblical stories/events in the light of the broader world of religion and mythology.

Let this small article be an incentive for you, the reader, to move beyond ideological dogma and narrow thinking in order to explore the deeper, timeless truth of faith as it relates to modern informed living.

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