This is my first Advent season living in Palestine, more specifically the West Bank, Bethlehem in particular. Experiencing Christmas in Bethlehem this year may be the best Christmas yet for me. During this week of Advent, making my own preparations for Christmas, I visited the community of Ein Karem, situated to the west, but near, in the hills between Bethlehem and Jerusalem. Ein Karem is where Mary came to visit and stay with her cousin Elizabeth while both were pregnant. Here, John the Baptist was born and subsequently hid while Herod's soldiers were killing all males under the age of two. Also, this week in Bethlehem, I visited the Milk Grotto Church. Only a five-minute walk from Nativity Church, site of Christ's birth, the Milk Grotto Church sits over the location (grotto, cave) where the Holy Family took refuge (also hiding from Herod's soldiers) prior to their flight to Egypt. This church gets its name from the tradition that Mary breastfed Jesus while here and when her milk fell onto the rock, the rock became white in color. During this Advent, it is noteworthy to me that even before John or Jesus could live into and fulfill their ministries, their families were experiencing life under oppressors, occupiers and the powerful.
On this second Sunday in Advent our scripture, Malachi 3:1-4, brings focus to John the Baptist. In the Hebrew, Malachi simply means "my messenger". John the Baptist is a messenger of Jesus' coming, whose ministry reminds us that we are to prepare the way for the gospel to be received by others and to live it out in our social contexts. Like John, in the face of policies, practices, and projects enacted by the church or government that are in direct opposition to God's vision for humanity and the whole of creation, we cannot keep silent but must urgently and boldly be that prophetic voice and messenger. The Advent season brings transforming hope in Christ. In Malachi 3:3, the author uses the transformational words refiner and purifier as a promise of change, of new beginnings.
This Advent, where do you see the need for transforming change, for new beginnings? Where are you called to be the prophetic voice, the urgently needed messenger? I will share with you two of the needs I see requiring transforming change and new beginnings.
I have called myself and strived to live as a Christian since 1991, and in February, I will have been United Methodist for the last ten years. God loves me and I love God. Just like you, I am a child of God. I am blessed by God to be born into the LGBTQI+ community and blessed by God to be born into the transgender community. I am a transgender woman and I am attracted to other women.
I believe transformational change and new beginnings are needed within the United Methodist Church (UMC). In Christ we are one. Drawing distinction to and policies against the LGBTQ+ community is wrong. It is wrong in the UMC, it is wrong in the United States, and it is wrong in the world. We are all created in the image of God and our diversity and our spiritual gifts should be celebrated and eagerly used in collaboration by the UMC to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. All distinction to and policies against the LGBTQ+ community should be removed by the UMC in the upcoming February 2019, General Conference (GC) vote in St. Louis. Regardless of the GC outcome, the Refiner and Purifier of Malachi will have much transformational work for me, for (us) to do. My (our) role as messenger and prophetic voice will still be needed. This Advent we can look forward, knowing God will be with us and the UMC on the journey.
One of my life mottos is; "I do not know where this life journey will lead but I trust God to lead". It was during my second visit to Palestine in 2015 that God began to create in me a heart and passion for the people of the West Bank in Palestine. From January through June of 2018, during my third visit, I served in a church program to monitor human rights and humanitarian law violations in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. During this time I lived in East Jerusalem and the Palestinian West Bank city of Bethlehem. I have recently returned to Bethlehem for three months to begin my study of the Arabic language at Bethlehem University knowing my future ability to engage in conversation with community will be important. The vast majority of people I meet here in the West Bank are not conversational in English.
As we monitored human rights, racial profiling of young male Palestinians became glaringly obvious. Males aged 13-25, are susceptible to being stopped, identified, interrogated, backpack and body searched for no apparent reason seemingly at the whim of the Israeli soldiers. The young Palestinian male simply walking down the street or sidewalk; entering a gate into the Old City of Jerusalem; passing through a checkpoint of the separation wall between Israel and Palestine (between Jerusalem and Bethlehem for instance); or driving a vehicle knows everything must be in order just in case today is the day he is stopped by an Israeli soldier in their full military gear equipped with machine gun, tear gas and more. I see how intimidating the soldiers are, I see how powerless the young Palestinian males are. I see the privilege given to young Israeli white males.
Throughout my life in the United States, I have been given white privilege, even here in the West Bank I am given white privilege. White privilege was all I knew much of my life, living in predominantly white communities, working for a predominantly white corporation during my working career, even attending predominantly white churches most of my life. My past provides no excuse for apathy or silence. I am blessed to know more persons of color at this time of my life, some of whom have boldly helped me to see and wrestle with the privilege I was previously blind to.
I believe transformational change and new beginnings are needed to end racial profiling. A young male person of color walking or driving to their destination in the United States; in Israel/Palestine; or elsewhere should not do so in fear and intimidation of local authorities. Again, I say we are one in Christ. Every color of person is created in the image of God and loved by God. Our diversity should be celebrated not profiled. Racial profiling and drawing distinction to, and policy or procedures against persons of color is wrong. It is wrong in the United States and it is wrong in Israel/Palestine. This Advent and beyond, I (we) can be that messenger for change knowing God will be with us on the journey.
This Advent, where do you see the need for transformational change and/or new beginnings? Where are you called to be the prophetic voice and urgently needed messenger? Be bold and know Christ will be with you on the journey. Our ability to make transformational change multiplies greatly when we pool our resources together. Join your fellow justice seekers in making a gift to MFSA this advent season.