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EPPN Lenten Series Pt. 5: Supporting peace in the land of the holy one

ENS Headlines - Thursday, April 3, 2014


Alexander D. Baumgarten
Director of Justice and Advocacy Ministries for The Episcopal Church

Be present, O merciful God, and protect us…so that we who are wearied by the changes and chances of this fleeting world, may repose upon thy eternal changelessness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. – Concluding Collect for Compline, Proposed Book of Common Prayer of 1928, Church of England

Dear Fellow Advocate,

The preceding collect, which appears in our present Prayer Book in a slightly different form, is one of the great treasures of the Anglican liturgical tradition. The older version, in particular, reminds us that everything about this life – indeed everything about the world in which we live – is fleeting, and that the changes and chances that define the world are deeply wearying to the human soul. The presence of God, and the various ways that God’s “eternal changelessness” breaks into our lives, are the only constants that redeem us from our weary hopelessness and press us to labor on in the work of reconciliation that is God’s defining work.

This week’s news has brought a new measure of change, chance, and uncertainty to Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.In some ways, the fresh modicum of uncertainty is deeply wearying. It might seem to us that we’ve seen this sequence of events before: last-minute complications that throw the foundations of an emerging progress into confusion and doubt. Perhaps this is true.

But, in these moments, the eternally changeless God directs us gently but firmly to keep our gaze trained squarely on the end result to which he calls us; to remember that no one ever said that this would be easy (if it were it would have been solved seven decades ago); to remember that peace is not transacted among friends but among enemies; and to remind us again – as we discussed last week – that the nature of peacemaking through negotiation is that it always looks like it will yield failure until finally it doesn’t.

At this moment, let us draw hope from the fact that, by the end of the day yesterday, Israeli, Palestinian, and American representatives were back at the table in spite of new tensions. That table is the only place peace can happen. This week gave us some change and chance, and all remains fleeting. Indeed, there likely will be many more weeks like this one, and this is indeed wearying. But let our ultimate hope and commitment to the process come from remembering that peace is of God, and that God is eternal changelessness.

In that spirit, today we continue our process begun several weeks ago of examining the various facets of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that are normally considered the major pressing issues for final-status negotiations between the parties. Next week, as is appropriate for the penultimate installment in a Lenten series, we will move to Jerusalem and consider some of the difficult issues related to the Holy City where Jesus’s earthly ministry found its climax. First, however, we look this week at the equally complex issue of Palestinian Refugees. Traditionally, this has been one of the issues most vexing to the parties as they have sought to negotiate with one another.

REFUGEESWhat is the central issue and why is it important?

The 1948 Arab-Israeli War that followed the creation of the State of Israel upended numerous historic Palestinian communities and left more than 600,000 displaced Palestinians. Today, these Palestinians (there are estimated to be about 50,000 living) and their descendants live all over the world, from 58 refugee camps in the region (including in the West Bank and Gaza) that have existed for decades, to other countries in the region, to communities in the United States and Europe. Many lack citizenship with any state. International law holds that all people have the right to return to their country of origin after a conflict, should conditions in that country allow for their peaceful return, but global opinion varies on how international law applies to the unique case of the Palestinians and the modern state of Israel. Nevertheless, nearly all parties acknowledge that a negotiated two-state solution must deal in a mutually agreeable way with the issue of Palestinian refugees.

What is the history?

Here again, the two narratives of two people present different stories. The basic history, unadorned by viewpoint, is this: At the end of the British Mandate for Palestine, the UN adopted a plan for the partition of the land into two states, one for Jews and one for Palestinians. Arab nations rejected this UN resolution and, when the new State of Israel declared independence more-or-less along the partition lines adopted by the UN, the Arab States declared war. The 1948 conflict that ensued was extraordinarily bloody and uprooted hundreds of thousands of persons from their homes. At the conclusion, Israel held far more land than it would have under the original partition plan and Declaration of Independence. Additionally, the Palestinian people did not gain sovereignty over their own state, as the Kingdom of Transjordan (now Jordan) occupied and annexed the West Bank and East Jerusalem and Egypt occupied and annexed the Gaza Strip.

During the fighting, at least 600,000 Palestinians left their land and in many cases abandoned property that had been in their families for generations. Israelis and Palestinians today disagree as to why these people were displaced, and historians continue to debate the matter. Palestinians traditionally have contended that Israeli soldiers, following an orchestrated plan from Israeli leaders, forced Palestinian families from their homes. Israelis traditionally have pointed to Arab leaders as a cause of the exodus, urging Palestinians to leave their homes until such time as Arab armies overtook the Israelis. Modern scholarship continues to evolve, but increasingly sees multiple causes (perhaps up to a dozen) for the exodus and recognizes some validity, as well as some critique, in both of the traditional absolutist views.

What is the Palestinian position on how to move forward?

Palestinians contend that, as Israelis are responsible for the refugee problem, Palestinian refugees and their descendants today (approximately seven million people around the world) have the right to return to their ancestral homes in the present-day state of Israel. In spite of this baseline position, Palestinians in past negotiations have been willing to entertain significant adaptations to this “right of return,” including financial compensation for the vast majority of present-day refugees and descendants of refugees as opposed to actual resettlement in the State of Israel. A 2003 poll of Palestinian public opinion conducted by a respected Palestinian public-opinion firm whose director is himself a refugee found that “the overwhelming majority [of Palestinian refugees] wanted to live in a Palestinian state; only a small minority [ten percent] wanted to live in the state of Israel….but, even in those ten percent, only ten percent wanted to have Israeli citizenship or passports; ninety percent of those who wanted to have Israel as a permanent place of residence said that they would rather have a Palestinian citizenship and a Palestinian passport.” The same survey found that 54% would accept financial compensation in lieu of the right of return.

What is the Israeli position on how to move forward?

Israelis deny responsibility for the Palestinian refugee problem and thus reject the notion of a right of return. They see the wholesale return of Palestinian refugees and their descendent as a de-facto one-state solution since Palestinians would then outnumber Israeli Jews. Moreover, Israelis point out that the State of Israel, at the time of its inception and following, already absorbed hundreds of thousands of refugees in the form of Holocaust survivors and Jews fleeing persecution from Arab states and other countries around the world. As complement to this, Israelis expect a future Palestinian state to take the same responsibility for absorbing the seven million Palestinian refugees worldwide. Nevertheless, Israelis in past negotiations have been willing to entertain offers of significant financial compensation for refugees and their descendants who may choose not to live in a future Palestinian state, as well as the resettlement of a limited number of refugees in the present State of Israel.

What is The Episcopal Church’s position on this issue?

The Episcopal Church has spoken about this issue and its various facets several times over the past three decades. It has said that Palestinian refugees have a right of return. It has also acknowledged the possibility of financial compensation for those who lost (or whose ancestors lost) their homes and property during the 1948 War. The Church also has said that the present-day state of Israel is the homeland of the Jewish people (and, in saying so, specifically has pointed out that the Jewish people are, themselves, a displaced people), and has urged that the resolution of this issue be handled by negotiation between the parties. Moreover, it has said clearly that current “facts on the ground” like the presence of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem should not prejudice the result that negotiations must bring about.

What might a possible solution look like?

First, it must be stressed that only the parties themselves can determine what a negotiated solution will entail for this or any other issue in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. That is why Secretary Kerry is working so hard for a negotiations framework that will support the two parties in trying to come to agreement.

Nevertheless, if past negotiations – such as those in 2000 and 2006-8 – tell us anything, it’s that the following components might be considered as parts of a negotiated solution:

  • The acceptance of a limited number of Palestinian refugees into the present State of Israel. (In the 2006-8 negotiations, for example, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert reportedly offered to accept 5,000 refugees, while Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas reportedly pressed for as many as 60,000).
  • The acceptance of any Palestinian refugee or descendent into a future state of Palestine.
  • Monetary compensation for those who choose not to return to a Palestinian state, possibly to be financed both by Israelis and Americans, as well as other international sponsors.
  • An international effort to resettle into permanent homes – in a variety of countries – all Palestinians still living in refugee camps.

Once again, it is vital to emphasize that – while it seems clear that some level of creative compromise will be necessary for the parties to agree on a solution to the Palestinian refugee issue – it is the parties themselves that must ultimately determine how that looks. Our role must be to support the efforts of Secretary Kerry and others who are working to support negotiations on this and other critical issues.

Bishop of Texas responds to Ft. Hood shooting

ENS Headlines - Thursday, April 3, 2014

[Episcopal Diocese of Texas] The Rt. Rev. C. Andrew Doyle, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Texas, issued the following response to the shooting at Ft. Hood.

“To serve and protect our country is a sacrifice and an honor. The women and men who offer themselves to this high calling should be safe at home at least. The shootings at Fort Hood are a tragic reminder that we must redouble our efforts to tend to our wounded in body, mind and spirit. There is a clear need for mental health support for our troops and it is our responsibility to help provide this care as people who benefit from their service,” said the Rt. Rev. C. Andrew Doyle, Episcopal Bishop of Texas. “Our Episcopal congregations in Copperas Cove and Killeen stand ready to help their community respond to this recent tragedy. The souls of the dead, the healing of the wounded and all their families are in the prayers of Episcopalians in Texas and across the country, as are all those who serve.”

The Episcopal Diocese of Texas represents 30,000 families in 150 churches in 57 counties across Texas, including the area surrounding Fort Hood.

Texas: Houston church uses pottery to engage spirituality

ENS Headlines - Thursday, April 3, 2014

[Episcopal Diocese of Texas] At a Lenten Pottery and Spirituality Workshop, the Rev. Eric Hungerford encouraged participants to be “co-creators with God.” The event at St. Mark’s Between the Bayous, Houston, on March 29 was an opportunity for community members to learn pottery and engage on a deeper level of understanding of the creative process.

“God is the great creator, and we are also made to be creators.” Hungerford told participants before reading a prayer for artists. “There is the great image from Isaiah that God is the potter, and we are the clay. Over time, we are made into the masterpiece that God wants us to be. I think that this is a really cool way for us to get creative and explore our inner selves.”

More images are available here.

Community member and potter, Sally Kirk, led the workshop. Kirk, a middle school orchestra teacher, has been working with pottery and sculpture for about three years. Her pottery studio is located across the street from the middle school, and often times she will leave work and immediately begin work on her pottery. She says that working with the potter’s wheel is an especially spiritual process.

“I think there is something about the wheel spinning that is really hypnotic, and it just takes me away from reality,” she said. “It is like meditation; I just go away.”

During the workshop, participants were encouraged to strike the “gong,” a Tibetan singing bowl, for a moment of silence. Then, they could read a one of several prayers about art or creation that were provided on slips of paper.

Kirk believes that the act of working with clay parallels the human experience. “Clay is a model of us being molded,” she explained. Much like clay and pottery, “we have bumps and bruises and none of us are perfect. When something doesn’t work out, you can just smash it up and start over again with the same clay. It’s limitless.”

Sitting around the potter’s wheel or slowly working on a sculpture gives us a glimpse into God, said Kirk. “I get the snapshot of God working on our hearts and continually growing us and shaping us. We get to take part in that in some earthly way: growing something from a piece of mud. It is a really holy experience.”

Kirk joined St. Mark’s Between the Bayous community less than a year ago, but has already taken an active role. As a satellite campus of St. Mark’s in Bellaire, the church describes itself as a “sustainable, organic, and local Episcopal community” located just outside of downtown Houston between White Oak Bayou and Buffalo Bayou. Services are offered on Sunday and Tuesday nights. Sometimes the group meets in their church building, which doubles as a comedy club (Station Theater), and other times they meet at a local bar.

At the center of the church’s mission is the idea that everyone is welcome and all perspectives respected. Art, music, and open discussion play particularly important roles in the community.

Kirk’s husband, John, is an organist currently working for Holy Trinity, Dickinson, but before their marriage she had little experience with the Episcopal Church. As a native Houstonian of Egyptian heritage, Kirk spent much of her formative years in the youth group of the Arabic Church of Houston, a non-denominational Christian church serving a variety of immigrants from Middle Eastern countries and beyond. Kirk said she loved the emotional and artistic aspects of that church, but was drawn to the liturgical worship of the Episcopal Church. Still, she had trouble finding an Episcopal Church that met all of her needs.

When she heard about Between the Bayous, she sought out Hungerford to find out more. “It was a hard balance to find this place that had it all, but it was all here,” she said. “The first time I came, I was very impressed that Eric would do a sermon and then open it up for discussion. It is a very welcoming community. Afterwards, we will have a beer and talk, and it’s just like hanging out with your best buds.”

About 15 people attended the pottery workshop, but the demographic representation could not have been more diverse. Many of Kirk’s friends from the Arabic Church participated in addition to regular members of Between the Bayous. English, French, Spanish, and at least two different Arabic dialects were heard at some point during the event.

The novice artists created a variety of pieces including several cups and bowls in addition to more inventive items like sculptured pizza slices and a plate in the shape of a leaf. As part of a larger project, everyone was invited to help build a sculpture of St. Francis that would be placed in the church’s garden. In the true independent spirit of the community, St. Francis was given a thick Mohawk.

As the artists debated whether to risk placing the sculpture in a kiln, where the piece may have cracked or even exploded, one participant suggested letting St. Francis dry naturally. They could place the sculpture in the garden, where it would slowly fade with the rain. “Ashes to ashes,” he said. “We can create a new one next year.”

Learn more about Between the Bayous here.

‘Campaign responsibly,’ Malawi Anglican Church tells political parties

ENS Headlines - Wednesday, April 2, 2014

[Anglican Communion News Service] The Anglican Church in Malawi has called on all political parties in that country to campaign responsibly and avoid violence before, during and after the election time.

This follows the violence that erupted at a recent rally held by the Republican President Joyce Banda in Malawi’s Thyolo district where it was reported that two people died and many others were injured.

In a recent media statement, Bishop Brighton Vita Malasa, chairman of the Anglican Church in Malawi, condemned the violence saying it was “very unacceptable and uncalled for.”

“The incident remains traumatic to the families of the deceased and those who witnessed it,” he said. “It is very inhuman to have someone brutally killed with an axe…and by a gun. Death by whichever means is not acceptable as no one is mandated to take somebody’s life.”

Malasa also called on the government and all the relevant authorities to make sure that the perpetrators of the violence are held accountable and “brought to book making sure that no one is shielded.”

“Let the law take its course on all those found to have supported and perpetrated the political violence as this should not happen again in our country,” he said. “Violence will just bring fear among citizens and they will shun the campaign rallies and we will end up having people voting without being well informed.”

He added: “Now that the official campaign period has started, we are calling on all political parties to conduct their campaign in responsible manner. Political parties should advise their members to refrain from violence before, during and after the campaign and election time.”

The bishop reminded all political parties that supporters of all parties in Malawi are Malawians who are entitled to the democratic freedom of association. He told political parties to refrain from growing “party zealots and over-zealous irresponsible groups in their respective political parties.”

“Malawians should be free to attend any political campaign rally without fear of being killed or assaulted,” he said. “We urge all political party leaders to avoid derogatory and provocative language and remarks during the campaign rallies.”

“We are calling on all political leaders to concentrate on issue-based campaigns and not on insults and belittling of others. Respecting each other should be the order of the day. It is the points in manifestos that will help and guide Malawians to decide who they want to vote for and not the insults against others,” he said.

Malasa further said that Malawians want to hear of the strategies that have been put in place to develop their country, which has remained in “dire poverty even after 50 years of independence.”

The Bishop called upon all stakeholders including the Malawi Electoral Commission, chiefs, faith leaders, the state police, political parties, civil society and voters to create a conducive environment and peaceful campaign atmosphere.

“The police should tighten the security for all political parties during campaign regardless of whether they are ruling or in opposition,” said the Bishop. “The District Commissioners and chiefs who are responsible for political rally venues are called upon to perform their duties fairly and without favor for a particular political party.”

“We are calling upon all political parties not to treat some areas within Malawi as their bedrooms and no go zones,” he said. “Malawi as a country is for all Malawians and surely all political parties should have the freedom to conduct their campaign rallies anywhere and everywhere within the boundaries of Malawi.”

He also urged political parties to use the right bodies for security like the police which “we believe do exist for all Malawians regardless of their political affiliation.” Malasa also discouraged the abuse of the youth before and during election times.

“They are supposed to be the productive citizens of our country and not for disorder in the country. What we are sowing today is what we shall reap tomorrow–we want a violence-free and orderly Malawi,” he said. “We need a peaceful co-existence among the general populace.”

“Before we are members of different political parties, we are Malawians first and that must always be remembered and upheld,” said the bishop. “Political violence is retrogression and a threat to our democracy which we all chose through a referendum in 1993.”

The bishop also reminded Malawians that “we have only one Malawi which is our home and hence the need to keep Malawi a land of peace.” He added, “Peace is easy to destroy and yet it can take years to build back. We have seen countries like Libya and Egypt destroying peace within a short period of time. See how they are struggling to bring it back!”

Archbishop of Canterbury meets Noah actor Russell Crowe

ENS Headlines - Wednesday, April 2, 2014

[Lambeth Palace] Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby met with actor Russell Crowe to discuss faith and spirituality.

The short private meeting was held at Lambeth Palace on April 1. Crowe, who plays Noah in the forthcoming film based on the biblical story, was in London promoting the motion picture.

A news article from the BBC is available here.


ENS Headlines - Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Observadores de la situación de Venezuela afirman que la escasez de alimentos, ropa y calzado amenazan radicalizar las protestas. En muchos artículos los precios han aumentado un 200 por ciento. Las protestas comenzaron hace mes y medio. El número de muertos ya llega a 41. La posibilidad de diálogo, aunque difícil, a ratos parece posible. Ambas partes están de acuerdo en pedir la mediación del Vaticano. Nicolás Maduro hace las cosas más difíciles. Ha afirmado que para iría al diálogo pero sin condición alguna. Las fuerzas militares como los estudiantes están experimentando agotamiento físico y emocional. “El que se cansa pierde” se ha convertido en un popular dicho en las filas opositoras. Los esfuerzos para liberar a los presos políticos han fracasado hasta el momento. María Corina Machado no fue permitida entrar en el recinto de la Asamblea Nacional. Iba acompañada de miles de seguidores. Diosdado Cabello, presidente de la Asamblea la expulsó del cuerpo legislativo pero ella insiste que sólo el pueblo puede tomar esa decisión después de un proceso constitucional.

La Corte de Apelaciones del Circuito Judicial Penal de Caracas, declaró sin lugar el recurso de apelación interpuesto por los abogados de Leopoldo López, líder de la oposición quien se entregó a la policía como símbolo de paz. Se le acusa de delitos de incendio intencional, instigación pública, daños y asociación para delinquir durante las demostraciones.

Kim Jong-Un, dictador comunista de Corea del Norte, ha decretado que todos los hombres del país tendrán que tener un corte de pelo similar al que él usa. Los 18 diferentes cortes de pelo que se usan actualmente tendrán que ser reducidos a uno. “El corte de pelo obligatorio no es de buen gusto”, dijo un peluquero que no quiso dar su nombre.  Añadió que el “corte de tasa” como se le conoce el nuevo estilo tendrá que usarse por toda la población masculina “les guste o no”. ¡Que viva la libertad!

El joven obispo alemán Franz-Peter Teharts-van Elst de la diócesis de Limburgo ha abandonado su casa después que el papa Francisco le pidió su dimisión por “derrochar millones de euros en la construcción de su sede episcopal”. Para contrarrestar su estilo de vida millonaria llegó a Roma en un asiento económico de un vuelo comercial. “Usted ha traicionado al hombre que predicó la pobreza y el sacrificio”, dijo en un editorial de un periódico local.

A pesar que al principio del triunfo de la revolución cubana se anunció “con bombo y platillo” el fin de la discriminación racial, hoy 56 años más tarde la situación de la comunidad negra o mestiza sigue siendo deplorable. Informes oficiales revelan que en Cuba el 60 por ciento de la población total es negra o mestiza. Sin embargo, sólo el 5 por ciento de los negros trabajan en el turismo, los demás hacen labores de limpieza o trabajos que pagan salarios ínfimos. Hablando a un grupo de policías hace 11 años, Fidel Castro les recordó que el 80 por ciento de la población carcelaria de la isla es negra o mulata. “La situación de hoy en día es igual o peor”, dice un oficial del ejército en voz baja.  Añade que en la cúpula de los cuadros oficiales del gobierno  “los negros se pueden contar con los dedos de una mano”.

El general Rubén Darío Paulino de la República Dominicana informó que durante los dos primeros meses de este año el ejército interceptó a unos 8,500 haitianos que querían entrar en la República Dominicana sin la documentación necesaria. Añadió que en los últimos meses ha habido un aumento significativo de las personas que quieren emigrar de Haití. Hace dos años 20,000 haitianos trataron de ingresar en la República Dominicana. La cifra del año pasado fue de 52,000.

El tabloide National Weekly, producido en Miami para y por la comunidad antillana de la región, se lamenta de que aunque el Día International de la Eliminación de la Discriminación Racial, instituido hace 15 años, estuviera ausente de las noticias nacionales. El día señalado fue el 21 de marzo.

El 5 de marzo la obispa primada de la Iglesia Episcopal, Katharine Jefferts Schori  instaló como obispo provisional de Puerto Rico al obispo jubilado Wilfrido Ramos que anteriormente sirvió en las diócesis de Connecticut y Ecuador Central. La diócesis de Puerto Rico ha pospuesto tres veces la elección regular de su obispo, David Álvarez,  después que éste se jubilara por razones de edad. Por otra parte, se ha sabido que Álvarez se fracturó recientemente un hombro como consecuencia de una caída y ha necesitado cirugía.

Temblor y ras de mar en Chile.

ORACIÓN.  Señor, ten piedad de tu pueblo.

Stafford named as visiting professor of church history at CDSP

ENS Headlines - Wednesday, April 2, 2014

[Church Divinity School of the Pacific press release] The Rev. Dr. William Stafford will be visiting professor of church history at Church Divinity School of the Pacific (CDSP) during the 2014-2015 academic year, CDSP’s Academic Dean Ruth Meyers announced on March 31.

Stafford, who taught a course in the English Reformation at CDSP during the fall of 2013, was a professor of church history at Virginia Theological Seminary (VTS) from 1976-2004, and also served as associate dean for academic affairs there from 1997-2004. He was dean of the School of Theology at University of the South (Sewanee) from 2004 until 2012.

“I am just thrilled to have a chance to be back in the classroom in a concentrated way,” said Stafford. “My first calling, my first vocation as a Christian and as a priest is to be a teacher and a learner. As I prepare new classes for students at CDSP, I’m getting a chance to learn and relearn a lot of things. I’ve missed that badly.”

During the fall semester, Stafford will teach a course on the history of the Western church from the second through the fifteenth centuries. In the spring semester, he will teach western church history from the Reformation through the 20th century and a course he developed at VTS and Sewanee called “Classics of the Christian Journey.” Students will read Christian spiritual classics by authors including Perpetua, Origen, Augustine, Bernard of Clairvaux and Julian of Norwich.

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