Monday, December 22, 2008
Oh. Little Town of Bethlehem
O Little Town of Bethlehem cards
About the hymn O Little Town of Bethlehem, the Rev Stephen Coulter, Rector of Pimperne in Blandford Forum, Dorset said
he can no longer bring himself to sing the lyrics of the hymn as he believes they are too far removed from the reality of one of Christianity's holiest sites.
He said: 'At the service I took the opportunity to bring the congregation’s attention to what life is actually like there today. I can’t bring myself to physically sing the words, especially the opening line "how still we see thee lie".'"
He's not the only minister with a conscience, as 2 years ago, parish priest Father Paul Maddison
"A priest from the Diocese of East Anglia, England, has decided to replace a live Nativity scene for a replica of the wall encircling Bethlehem in protest of the Israeli separation barrier."
from People's Geography~Reclaiming Space
"The view of Bethlehem is now obscured by the massive Apartheid Wall which Israel has built in and around the city."
Bethlehem today is very different than the romantised Bethlehem we imagine. Below is a letter I wrote that was published in our local newspaper 3 years ago, that explains my history with the hymn,
Oh, Little Town of Bethlehem
was a song I loved singing as a girl. When December came around, my sisters and
I couldn’t wait for the Christmas carol section of the Port Arthur News Chronicle. The song we all looked for was “Oh, Little Town of Bethlehem.”
We sang it every Christmas Eve, standing in front of the TV.
The first stanza especially resonated in my young mind. The lyrics spoke of a
redeeming hope lying deep in the dark – a dark of which I in my naivete knew nothing about, yet somehow sensed was part of my future.
O little town of Bethlehem
How still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by;
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light;
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight.
For Grade 7 art class, dreams of ‘the little town of Bethlehem’ still echoing, I
made an indigo-blue batik of Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph traveling outside its gates, and a silver star in the night sky. Thirty-six years later, my mom still
hauls it out at Christmastime to pin up on her living room wall.
But never once, during all those years of singing Christmas carols, doing Christmas art at school, or learning about Christmas in church, newspapers, or TV did I hear about the inhabitants of Bethlehem and its surrounding region --
Many Palestinians are Christian, the original Christians, going back to Jesus
Christ and the Apostles, but the word Palestinian was not part of the Bethlehem I had been taught to envision.
The little town of Bethlehem I learned about was idyllic, a dreamy vision of hope, a sanctuary in the desert, a place where Jesus, the savior, was born. A metaphor for the redemption of humankind.
Over the years, I have come to question the ‘kind’ part of the phrase.
What would Jesus say about Apartheid?
Recently, I found out about Dheisheh, located near Bethlehem. Home to 11,000 people who live on less than half a square kilometer of land. Dheisheh, a refugee camp, is home to the residents (and descendents) of 45 villages who were expelled after the state of Israel was created in 1948.
Since 2003, Dheisheh has lost 21 residents to Israeli attacks, 5 of them
children under the age of 17. In addition to invasions by tanks, attacks by Apache helicopters, raids by Israeli soldiers, curfews, barbwire, closures of schools, 70% unemployment rate, severe shortage of water and electricity, the residents now have to deal with the 15 k long, 25’ tall Israeli-built “security” wall that encircles Bethlehem and region.
I wonder, if Mary and Joseph and the 3 wise men had to travel to Bethlehem today, would the soldiers manning the apartheid wall let them through? Would they have had the necessary travel documents from the Israeli government arranged months in advance? Or would they, like their descendants the Palestinians, have resigned themselves that it would be impossible to pass through to Bethlehem because of the Wall? That the degradation wasn’t worth it?
I wonder, what sort of batik would I have made if I had known this human unkindness?