UPDATE  on Gaza Jan. 6, 2023:  David Cooley, a local member of Veterans for Peace in the Twin Cities wrote a commentary on Gaza on the Winter 2023 VFP Newsletter.  It speaks for itself: Vet for Peace comments on Gaza Winter 2023.


All Blessings on this most most contradictory of days: Christmas.  Virtually everyone knows some version of the story of the birth of Jesus and for 1,700 years infinite observations, from sermons to commentaries have endeavored to bring meaning to the birth of the child in Bethlehem.

Apparently, the annual events in Bethlehem have been cancelled this Christmas.  This day we’ll participate by livestream at Basilica of St. Mary Minneapolis 9:30 a.m. CST.

This year, I’ve decided to share a few words about my singular visit to Bethlehem, Thursday Jan 12, 1996.  The photo below is from the nativity scene purchased at a Palestinian shop in Jerusalem on Jan. 14.  That story is in my post for December 10, 2023.  The second picture, at the Manger,  is from Grandma Bernard’s 1911 Bible.  I was there, in person in January, 1996 (more below). Here is a UNESCO article about the holy site.  This article includes much background information and 18 photographs.  The Bible text we read at the site when I was among the visitors was Luke 2:1-20.

Nativity 1996. Some of the 18 Olive Wood figurines, purchased in Jerusalem January, 1996.

Briefly, an afternoon in Bethlehem, Thursday Jan. 11, 1996:  Bethlehem is only six miles from Jerusalem.  I was there 6 years before construction of the Separation Barrier began in 2002.  The wiki article about Bethlehem is linked above.

Like so many other Biblical sites in the Holy Land, Church of the Nativity has a divided jurisdiction.  In its case, it is jointly administered by Greek Orthodox churches, the Custody of the Holy Land, and the Armenian church.

The Christian group I traveled with appeared to have a substantial number of  Orthodox from places like Pennsylvania.  As I witnessed personally, many of them were church choir members with wonderful singing voices.

We arrived at the Church of the Nativity coincident with an Orthodox funeral beginning in the upper church.  We watched from the side.  This was like a funeral you’d attend anywhere, with only the liturgical differences.  The deceased seemed to be an elder in a family.

The church itself is very ancient, and at the time of our visit there was some reconstruction/repair work in process.

The Manger site itself is below ground level, and we could approach the site.  (More on all of this can be seen in the UNESCO photos and text linked above).  This was a place of reverence, and closely supervised.  We were there only a short time.

In the town square, at the edge of which is the Church, was a very large banner supporting Yasser Arafat in an upcoming election.  It was the sole political indicator that I can recall seeing.

“The little town of Bethlehem” is larger than 2,000 years ago, but still a tiny place in comparison to nearby Jerusalem (perhaps 30,000 against about 900,000).

These days I wonder if there are many groups like the one I was part of who can come to Bethlehem.

There is more that I could offer, but leave this suffice for today.  All blessings.

POSTNOTE: In a couple of weeks, at this space, I’ll share some personal comments about how I see this time in history.  Check back.


from Brian: From a Colombian friend in Berlin–Merry Christmas!

from Michelle:

“Christ in the Rubble” 2023 image by artist/iconographer Kelly Latimore @KLICONS is inspired by those in nearby Bethlehem.
“Churches in the Holy Land have canceled big Christmas celebrations in favor of quieter, somber worship services. The move is meant to draw attention to the violence in Gaza and the West Bank.” LISTEN TO NPR STORY

from Judy: My singular visit to Bethlehem and the gift shop was in January 1988 right after the first Intifada began.  I feel fortunate I was able to go because it is much harder today for tour groups to have this experience.  I of course am so saddened to see how Netanyahu is handling this crisis..

from Larry: Thank you Dick.  I don’t know how I feel now, but I have often in the past wanted to visit what is called THE HOLY LAND.  Mary Lerman and family moved back from Jerusalem where they had moved to in retirement.  Mary is a friend, the Mpls Park Horticulturalist, who engineered turning an abandoned magnificent rock garden (built by one of the park system founders) into the Lake Harriet Peace Garden.  I am done at Plymouth church Drop In end of the year, so just organized my last Christmas chapel where Drop in Folks do all the talks, Bible readings, and special music.  I normally have not been on the program, but this one I told Tolstoy’s magnificent story, WHERE LOVE IS, THERE IS GOD ALSO.  These days often reminded of the story of someone asking Gandhi what he thought of Christianity.  “It would be a good idea,” he said

from Fred:  Thanks for this interesting memoir. We’ve made lots of journeys but never to Israel.

Closest we got was Constantinople another place, as you know, we a substantial place in both Christian and Moslem tradition.  Merry Christmas,

from Kathy:

from Carol:
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