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Before We Give In To Fear … could we at least consider Love?

October 8, 2011

We live in a very large world, but technology and the media have made the world smaller. We are no longer a part of our small communities where we all go to the same church, shop at the same grocery store and attend the same schools or work at the same business.  We live in a global community where our actions, beliefs, philosophies and mores can impact life on the other side of the world.  

Last year, I attended a screening of the documentary film “Little Town of Bethlehem” which was held on the campus of Lee University.  I, along with a small group of students and citizens, was privileged to hear perspectives from three different men regarding the struggles for peace and prosperity in the Holy Land.  The men featured in the film were a Muslim man from Gaza, an Israeli Jew and a Palestinian Christian.  These men each shared their hearts and deep desire for their families, friends and neighbors to live in peace.

As I watched the film, I was reminded of a young man that I met several years ago when I started attending Berea College in Kentucky.  I was in the new student orientation with other students when two young men walked into the room.  I remember thinking, “Oh my … they are from the Middle East. I hope they are not … terrorists.”  I feel quite ashamed for even having such trepidation — forward and critical thinker that I claim to be.

They were quiet and did not mingle with the rest of the group.  One was particularly more reserved than the other.  I observed them both — trying to work out the mixed emotions and thoughts I was having.  I finally decided that I would probably never see them again after this initial orientation … so I seemingly shrugged off my concerns.

However, the next day when class began, both of them were in classes with me.  Yousef, the more reserved of the two, was in my speech communication class. He sat in front of me.  I admit, I was curious — but he was too quiet and a bit withdrawn, so I didn’t really initiate any conversation with him.

Then when assigned to basically do a speech of personal introduction and background, after giving my speech and sharing my perspectives about “knowing people by name” and “looking them in the eye” to understand, share life and develop trusting relationships — I went back to my seat and he was smiling at me, nodding.  He turned around to me and said, “That was very good.”

The next day, instead of sitting in front of me … he moved to the seat beside me.

I knew then, and I know now … that God was “on the wall” and was working a plan.  Perhaps, this very article is a part of His Big Plan.  I don’t have a clue of the end result — but I’m hopeful and grateful to be involved in the process.

You see, Yousef shared his life story too.  I was mesmerized by the tales he told of his life in Gaza.  All I’ve ever known about that area of the world is what I have been taught from pulpits and the media.  Basically —- every other middle eastern country and its inhabitants are out to get the people of Israel. That’s the way it is … the way it has always been … and always will be. Israel = Good … Palestine = Bad.

Yousef shared with me some incredible stories of his family life during the Israeli occupation in the 2002. I had barely even paid attention to the stories in the news … I just knew there was fighting “over there.” Not once had I ever considered that there were so many innocent victims.   They were strangers, and I had nothing in common with them. I didn’t understand them because I had no connection, relationship or need to understand.

Meeting Yousef changed that.  He is a young man who after being held captive with his family for about five years under the oppression of the Israeli commandos, was shot in the back in his own yard. After being treated by Israeli nurses and doctors in Tel Aviv, and encouraged by his father to “forgive” and seek peace, he came to the United States at the age of 16 so go to school and has not returned to Gaza since. (even when his father died last year)

Yousef has attended camps in the US sponsored by an organization called, “Seeds of Peace,” which brings Palestinian and Jewish youth together to “look one another in the eye” and exchange rhetoric and ideas in hopes of being catalyst for change in their country and cultures. 

Meeting Yousef was the first time in my life that I ever stopped to think about how little we know or even want to know about other cultures.  In talking to him, I also began to realize how much our apathy and affluence adversely affect so many other people in the world — that we have no desire to know.

While viewing the film at Lee University, the stories that the three men told were mostly identical to Yousef’s story.  I thought that his story was an exceptional circumstance … but no, it’s the norm.  In the “Little Town of Bethlehem,” people just like you and me: families, children, elderly, workers, homemakers — people of extraordinary faith and people who just try to blend in, and even people who reject religion at all — are doing everything they can to just survive in the midst of constant threat of oppression and fear.

The struggles there in the Holy Land are comparable to the Civil Rights struggles that were experienced in the United States.  People wanting dignity and basic human rights … people wanting to live their lives in peace — even amongst those who don’t follow the same rules, same rituals or same religion. 

Peace is the desired product of their struggles; but POLITICS gets in the way and hinders all hope. Knowing Yousef … and after watching this film, my heart’s notion is confirmed that “it’s not RIGHT to label all Palestinians as terrorists.”  It’s not right to question the validity of one man’s passion when we have not a clue as to what stirs him.   It’s not right to let fear guide your logic.  We are each prone to desperate notions and actions — but desperate people have desperate ways. 

And I wonder … do you truly understand “desperate”???

I was impressed … from the film and from Yousef’s ambition … that people of the Holy Land, out of desperation , are taking a stand and saying, “NO” to the political violence that has oppressed their land for decades.   The Israeli Jew in the film was an Apache fighter pilot and he found the courage to refuse to partake in acts of violence against innocent people of Palestine.  He reiterated that the philosophy of the Israeli army is supposed to be built upon two ideals: 1) human dignity, and 2) purity of arms, meaning that you “don’t kill just to kill.”

This man, along with the Christian Palestinian and the Muslim Palestinian, belong to movements who are working to build relationships with the diverse sects of people who inhabit this Holy Land.  They recognize that their only hope of survival and prosperity is to not allow fear to be the sole motivator of their behavior.  

 When people live in fear, they will accept any mechanism (even violence, unconstitutional laws or practices, and a surrender of basic human rights and freedoms) to deal with that fear. When I realized this from watching the film, my heart and mind turned to my own country and how our societies are devolving out of fear-based motivation.   The political divisiveness of our nation is serving only to undermine the freedoms and democracy that we hold so dear. 

I watch the news … I read the Facebook posts … I see the disdain for diversity … and I am heartsick!

We fear what we do not know and understand. Like the people of Bethlehem, we are defeating ourselves and destroying this great country out of PURE FEAR.  FEAR as a tool of the enemy only serves to debilitate us, paralyze us … hold us in bondage.  Fear leads to anger and hate and blame.

The Palestinians blame the Israelis and the Jews blame the Muslims and the Muslims blame the Christians.  Meanwhile, the Republicans blame the Democrats, the liberals blame the conservatives , the unemployed or underemployed blame the Mexicans, and Tea-baggers blame the government and the Gays/Lesbians blame the right, and the power-mongers blame the left, and finally, the Christians blame the Muslims and President Obama.   And the world goes round and round and round … and nothing, NOTHING ever gets accomplished … especially human dignity, peace and prosperity.

We know that God’s Word says in Matthew 5: 43-48, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,  that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?  And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?  Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

AND, 1 John 4:18 says …

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”

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