Greetings, Friends –
I was thinking about the freshmen on campus this week. Recently it occurred to me that most of them were born in the year 2000 – a very different century than the majority of my Nuts and Bolts audience. And, this week with the remembrance of 9/11, I am reminded that most of the students here have no memory of that event at all yet so much of our political discourse and many of our policies were drastically affected by that tragedy. Before I go further with this week’s topic for this blog, I want to take a moment to offer a prayer as we come to this anniversary:
O God, our hope and refuge,
in our distress we come quickly to you.
Shock and horror of that tragic day have subsided,
replaced now with an emptiness,
a longing for an innocence lost.
We come remembering those who lost their lives
in New York, Washington D.C., and Pennsylvania.
We are mindful of the sacrifice of public servants
who demonstrated the greatest love of all
by laying down their lives for friends.
We commit their souls to your eternal care
and celebrate their gifts to a fallen humanity.
We come remembering
and we come in hope,
not in ourselves, but in you.
As foundations we once thought secure have been shaken,
we are reminded of the illusion of security.
In commemorating this tragedy,
we give you thanks for your presence
in our time of need
and we seek to worship you in Spirit and in truth,
our guide and our guardian. Amen.
(Rev. Jeremy Pridgeon)
Instability and tension has been the dominant feature of relations in the Middle East throughout history. How many of us have wondered rather naïvely, “why can’t we just all get along?” Actually, it’s not only the Middle East that raises this question these days; our own nation seems more divided and polarized than ever before. At St Michael and All Angels last Sunday (September 9), our Prayers of the People, which were adapted from Feasting on the Word Worship Companion – Year B, acknowledged our struggles and our need for healing:
Liberator of the captive,
you know the failings of the nations
when we turn our friends and neighbors into enemies.
Free our lands from despotic rulers, tricksters,
people who lie for personal gain, and those who wield hate speech.
Give courage and perseverance to those
who are weary of the struggles for justice
so that new life and strength will infuse their tired bones.
Hear us, O God, for your mercy is great.
I’ve often wondered how we arrived at this place of incivility and hatred of “the other” but then all I have to do is look around and remember the history of our planet to recall that this is not new. Nations have risen against nation, people have attacked those with whom they disagree since the beginning of time. We read about it in the Hebrew Scriptures and we still read it in the news of relations between Israel and Palestine. I won’t pretend to be a Middle East scholar, and I have heard convincing discussions from both supporters of the Palestinian cause and that of the Israelis about who’s at fault and what needs to change to bring peace to the region. What I do believe is that as Christians, we have a responsibility to care for the oppressed and to look beyond the divisions to meet the needs of the victims on both sides.
The Episcopal Public Policy Network (EPPN) has requested that we respond to the humanitarian crisis happening in the West Bank and Gaza: “The Trump Administration’s recent freeze on all aid to Palestinians, combined with the threats of serious cuts to future economic assistance, puts the millions who rely on U.S. and UN assistance to meet their daily needs at immediate risk. There have been bipartisan calls to reinstate this funding from former senior government officials, and we urge you to raise up your voice as well.” In July at General Convention, we passed Resolution B021 Support Aid to Palestinian Refugees which reads:
Resolved, That the 79th General Convention strongly call upon the United States Government to maintain its historic commitment to alleviating the poverty of Palestinians and restore its full planned 2018 funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) so that it can continue to serve the over 5 million Palestinian refugees in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria; and be if further
Resolved, That the 79th General Convention also strongly call upon the United States Government to lift its funding freeze on United States Agency for International Development (USAID) programs which aid Palestinians.
As this Congressional Research Service report indicates, aid has declined in recent years, and, “the Administration has not obligated any FY2017- or FY2018-appropriated bilateral economic assistance for the Palestinians to date,” meaning that the Administration is withholding two years’ worth of funding for aid that has already been approved by Congress. Without this Congressionally approved financial assistance, USAID and the non-governmental organizations it supports will be unable to provide economic and humanitarian aid in Gaza and the West Bank, aid which is helping keep people alive.
As usual, EPPN has made it easy for us to makes our voices heard in support of those suffering in Palestine. Just go to this page and insert your information. They will then send it out to the appropriate legislators for your geographic area. Here is the letter that will go out in your name:
As an Episcopalian and your constituent, I am deeply concerned by the Administration’s indefinite freeze on all humanitarian aid for the West Bank and Gaza. Not only is current funding being withheld, but Congressionally-approved funding for FY17 has not yet been fully released. Through the State Department and USAID, this aid funds relief services that are crucial for the development of stability and safety in the region.
Freezing or diminishing these funds would mark a major departure from the long-standing U.S. policy of providing financial assistance to the West Bank and Gaza. By withholding much-needed economic and humanitarian aid, the Administration risks further destabilization in the region and an exacerbation of the security threats for both Israelis and Palestinians. Reducing access to food, education, or medical services will greatly diminish the prospect for a just, lasting, and comprehensive solution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.
Please call upon the President and the Administration to lift its administrative review, release FY17- and FY18-appropriated funds, and continue to deliver funding for humanitarian aid to Palestine.
The Episcopal Church has also joined with other communities of faith in Churches for Middle East Peace. Their byline is: “Working Together: Justice Can Prevail. Peace Is Possible.” Their website defines their vision and mission as:
Our Vision: Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) works to encourage US policies that actively promote a comprehensive resolution to conflicts in the Middle East with a focus on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.
Our Mission: CMEP works to mobilize US Christians to embrace a holistic perspective and to be advocates of equality, human rights, security, and justice for Israelis, Palestinians, and all people of the Middle East.
While this particular resolution addresses the need for support for Palestinians, we all know that any conflict has at least two sides – and neither have the corner on the market of either right or wrong. There are also those in Israel who have suffered greatly from the hands of the Palestinians. The group American Friends of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem (AFEDJ) works to provide adequate healthcare and education to all in the Holy Land. After you log on to EPPN to send your letter to your legislators in response to Resolution B021, check out AFEDJ’s website to see how you might help their initiative, too.
Let us pray –
God of mercy and compassion, of grace and reconciliation,
pour your power upon all your children in the Middle East:
Jews, Muslims and Christians, Palestinians and Israelis.
Let hatred be turned into love,
fear to trust, despair to hope,
oppression to freedom,
occupation to liberation,
that violent encounters may be replaced by loving embraces,
and peace and justice could be experienced by all.
The Reverend Said Ailabouni, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Chicago, IL
~ The Rev. Judith Schellhammer, Resolution Review Committee, Diocesan Council