I just returned from Bethlehem, and brought this nativity scene back as a gift. It’s a beautifully hand-carved nativity made from the olive wood distinct to the region. But you can also see something else special about it – there is a wall separating the Magi wise men from Jesus.
It was made by a Palestinian woman, who lives only a few feet from the Separation Wall in Bethlehem. She and other Palestinian Christians began making these nativities as a source of income and as a symbol of the reality they live in today, where the wise men would not have been able to complete their journey from Persia to the West Bank because of the wall.
And in it you can imagine how much more beautiful things would be without that big ugly wall.
I am reminded of one of the talks at the Christ at the Checkpoint conference there in Bethlehem last week. Sami Awad, one of the Palestinian Christian leaders and one of the conveners of the conference, shared his dream for an end to the Separation Wall. And he said that it may seem impossible, but God is a master of the impossible. The image that came to mind was the fall of the Jericho wall (Joshua 6 in the Bible), which crumbled without a single weapon being raised – it fell from the prayers, celebration, dancing and music, and nonviolent marching of God’s people… chanting down the walls.
Then Sami shared something deeply personal. He felt God calling him to a pilgrimage to the land and sites of the Holocaust. So he went – to Auschwitz and the concentration camps, to the museums and memorials. Sami shared about what happened in him as a Palestinian, as he learned the history and felt the pain of the Jewish people. It was deep, moving. Then he said something I will never forget. There came a moment when he realized that the wall was not built out of hatred but out of fear, and that made all the difference in the world.
It certainly doesn’t make the wall any less ugly or justify any of the terrible things being done to Palestinians… but knowing that the wall is driven more from fear than by hatred humanizes those on the other side. And it also gives us hope that someday the wall can come down because love can overcome fear. There’s a great verse in the Bible that says: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear.” (1 John 4:18).
I am grateful for my time in Israel/Palestine and the dreams ignited there for a world with fewer walls.
The organizers of Christ at the Checkpoint took some notes and listed a dozen or so dreams for the future that emerged out of this historic gathering. Here they are. May we continue to pray for, and live into, these dreams. And may we hold onto the promise that love drives out fear.
The Christ at the Checkpoint Manifesto:
1. The Kingdom of God has come. Evangelicals must reclaim the prophetic role in bringing peace, justice and reconciliation in Palestine and Israel.
2. Reconciliation recognizes God’s image in one another.
3. Racial ethnicity alone does not guarantee the benefits of the Abrahamic Covenant.
4. The Church in the land of the Holy One, has born witness to Christ since the days of Pentecost. It must be empowered to continue to be light and salt in the region, if there is to be hope in the midst of conflict.
5. Any exclusive claim to land of the Bible in the name of God is not in line with the teaching of Scripture.
6. All forms of violence must be refuted unequivocally.
7. Palestinian Christians must not lose the capacity to self-criticism if they wish to remain prophetic.
8. There are real injustices taking place in the Palestinian territories and the suffering of the Palestinian people can no longer be ignored. Any solution must respect the equity and rights of Israel and Palestinian communities.
9. For Palestinian Christians, the occupation is the core issue of the conflict.
10. Any challenge of the injustices taking place in the Holy Land must be done in Christian love. Criticism of Israel and the occupation cannot be confused with anti-Semitism and the delegitimization of the State of Israel.
11. Respectful dialogue between Palestinian and Messianic believers must continue. Though we may disagree on secondary matters of theology, the Gospel of Jesus and his ethical teaching take precedence.
12. Christians must understand the global context for the rise of extremist Islam. We challenge stereotyping of all faith forms that betray God’s commandment to love our neighbors and enemies.
Shane Claiborne is a prominent author, speaker, activist, and founding member of the Simple Way. He is one of the compilers of Common Prayer, a new resource to unite people in prayer and action. Shane is also helping develop a network called Friends Without Borders which creates opportunities for folks to come together and work together for justice from around the world.