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Refelctions from Mythic Palestine – Part 2 September 30, 2010

Posted by dan snyder in art, Christianity, Devotional Journal.
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I asked a jailor on the western shore: are you the son of my old jailor?
Yes indeed
Where’s your father?
He replied: Father died years ago laid low with the boredom or guarding
He left me his profession and told me to guard the town against your songs
I said: how long have you been surveying me and imprisoning yourself?
He replied: since you wrote your first one
I said: but you weren’t born yet!
He said: I have time and eternity I want to live to
the rhythm of America within the walls of Jerusalem
I said: whoever you are – I’m leaving
and the me you see now isn’t me I’m just a ghost
He said: you’re an echo in a stone nothing more
that’s why you never left or stayed
that’s why you’re still in your yellowed cell
so let me get on with my work!

-excerpt from Mural by Mahmoud Darwish

A Myth at Work
Many Palestinian Christians are being held captive as custodians of Christianity’s most sacred theme park (I am indebted to Rev. Mitri Raheb, a Lutheran pastor in Bethlehem for this metaphor). If the people left or the churches went into disuse, enemies of the church would quickly claim the property and establish rituals commemorating their own histories. Since the land is holy to three faith traditions, the same piece of real estate can stand for more than one story. Christians from around the world want to commemorate “our” story at our sites. I took for granted the people who clean the toilets and keep the sites active so the site remains “ours.”


Hope for Return

Graffiti art in UN Camp - Aida

Streets of Aida Camp

UN Refugee Camp - Aida

Refugee children are being held captive in UN Camps around Bethlehem. They are prisoners to the hopes of their grandparents. The myth is that one day they will return to their family estates from which their parents and grandparents were evicted over 60 years ago. Many of them keep keys to door-locks of homes they have never seen as signs of a promise. Some homes have even been torn down or are now covered by shopping malls. Yet the myth exerts a holding power over them.

There is a myth that circulates in Bethlehem that Christians are leaving and soon there will be only Jews and Muslims in Palestine-Israel. The myth makes people think what it might be like to be the last Christian in Palestine. Mr. Kattan owns a jewelry shop and is a silversmith in Bethlehem. He weeps when asked what hope he has for the future of his teenage son, Samer. He wants his children to have a good life and to grow up in peace without becoming bitter and angry. Samer wants to attend Bethlehem University, but cannot think much beyond attending college because graduating will mean having to find employment in a village with a 60% unemployment rate. He sadly mentions the possibility of leaving his homeland for Brazil like his Aunt and Uncle.

Mr. Katan and son Samer

Jewlerly Store in Bethlehem, Palestine

Reflections from Mythic Palestine April 29, 2010

Posted by dan snyder in art, Devotional Journal.
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There is no nation smaller than its poem
But weapons make words too big for the living
and the dead who inhabit the living
And letters make the sword on the dawn’s belt glitter
Til the desert becomes parched for songs or drowns in them
[poem exerpts from Mural by Mahmoud Darwish (1942-2008)]

book cover

I thought reading a poem by Mahmoud Darwish would be a wonderful way to prepare for living in Palestine-Israel for three weeks. His words portrayed hopelessness to me. So I arrived assuming I would bring hope to the people I would meet. This assumption was fueled by a myth. Perhaps I did bring hope. But I found a deeper hope that will linger with me for the rest of my life.

A Myth Described
Palestine-Israel is a mythic land. And so it is impossible to discuss the life of the land, the theology of the land or the people of the land without tripping over mystique and legend.
I was recently browsing through the 1905 edition of the reports of the International Sunday-school Convention for some research I’m doing on that movement. Scattered throughout the pages were photos of Palestine. The people in the photos looked like characters from a Cecil B. DeMille film complete with turbans and shepherds.

Old Palestine

Old Palestine

More interesting to me was the impetus behind the photos. The Sunday-school Convention had been held in Jerusalem in 1904 and these were pictures commemorating the occasion. When the Convention was held in Toronto or London, no one thought to put pictures of Canadians or early 20th century Britain in the report the following year. When it was held in London or Chicago, large and new church buildings showcased as venues for the nearly 2,000 participants. But in 1904 there was not a venue large enough in Jerusalem and a three-section tent needed to be shipped from France to house the Convention. Typically speakers from around the world would report at the conventions, but usually the host city would have special delegations. The only Middle Eastern delegation I could find was a Rev. Archibald Forder, thirteen year Missionary among the “Ishmaelites.”

Mosaic Wall in Holy Seplucher Church - Jerusalem

Mosaic Wall in Holy Seplucher Church - Jerusalem

These were some of the photos that inspired philanthropists from the U.S.A. and Great Britain the likes of John Rockefeller to begin claiming Palestine for the “Jews.” These Palestinians looked so “backward,” their land was so “barren,” and their religion so “non-biblical” that the notion of God’s people “returning” to make the land holy again spilled off the pages. It would take real imagination to believe that this land “was smaller than its poem.” The myth of the Holy Land is overpowering.

Mosaic Detail

Mosaic Detail

I experienced the power of the myth at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Walking through the entrance one eventually sees a mosaic depicting the death and burial of Jesus. It is well photographed as Christians travel from around the world to get a glimpse. The mosaic is on a wall the once divided the Church in two sections – one side for Catholics, one for Orthodox Christians. When I heard about the divide I assumed we would only visit one of the sides. But soon I realized that people are permitted to freely wander in the spaces on both sides of the wall. The original purpose of the wall is irrelevant now. But the wall will remain as a reminder of the rift in the unity of Christ’s church. It must remain because pilgrims from around the world come expecting to photograph the mosaic on the wall. There are hundreds of such pilgrim sites with this “holy permanence.” The mythic power of Palestine holds the land and its people hostage.

Songs of Bethlehem January 29, 2010

Posted by dan snyder in art.
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Songs of Bethlehem

there’s a little town next to Bethlehem
where the houses come down at the stroke of a pen
still the singers sing and the children dance
in the streets with joy
and when rockets glare where the angels sang
that the hope of the world was coming to reign
there’s a bell that rings with a hope that sings
shouting “build again!”

so sing me the songs of the poor and the weak
feed me their bread, wake me up from my sleep
teach me the words, sing me the songs of Bethlehem
paint me a picture of courage reborn
shape stained-glass windows from the rubble of war
teach me the words, sing me the songs of Bethlehem

although Hebron’s hills with its cliffs and crags
are all peppered with watchtowers and blue and white flags
there’s an angel there who puts her gray hair in harms way
while in Bethlehem many mothers weep
yet this Arabic pastor refuses to leave
he says “have no fear, there is treasure here
in these jars of clay.”

so sing me the songs of the poor and the weak
feed me their bread, wake me up from my sleep
teach me the words, sing me the songs of Bethlehem
paint me a picture of courage reborn
shape stained-glass windows from the rubble of war
teach me the words, sing me the songs of Bethlehem

no myth they tell can push our hope away
we long for words that pull us from our graves

so sing me the songs of the poor and the weak
feed me their bread, wake me up from my sleep
teach me the words, sing me the songs of Bethlehem
hand me a trumpet, teach me to play
we’ll march ‘round this city till the wall falls away
teach me the words, sing me the songs of Bethlehem

so sing me the songs of the poor and the weak
tell me their stories, let me laugh till I weep
teach me the words, sing me the songs of Bethlehem
paint me a picture of courage reborn
shape stained-glass windows from the rubble of war
teach me the words, sing me the songs of Bethlehem
teach me the words, sing me the songs of Bethlehem

words and music by dan snyder
northstar mcp 2010

Mr. Kattan and his son, Samer

Mr. Kattan and son, Samer; Bethlehem, Palestine

Wonder Beyond Fear April 18, 2009

Posted by dan snyder in Christianity, Devotional Journal, God.

‘Wonder’ is critical to the life of the church. In our postmodern crisis ‘wonder’ reigns among issues like ‘truth’ and ‘love’; but modern concepts like technocratic thinking, industrialism and capitalism have rendered ‘wonder’ irrelevant. ‘Wonder’ and ‘play’ (the soil in which wonder grows) do not contribute well to the gross national product. Even in church, this matters more than some would be willing to admit.

Scientific Discovery Through Visualization

Scientific Discovery Through Visualization

When wonder is missing from a church – and by ‘church’ I include those people within who participate in the life of faith – there are at least three consequences I have observed.

First, the loss of wonder reduces life to what can be measured and understood scientifically. There is no longer the sense that the universe – which does not only include undiscovered planets, but family members and grass – is full of mystery. People stop looking for golden apples on trees, because they have been told this is scientifically impossible. Liturgy and people made in God’s image become familiar and boring. Bible study becomes about filling in blanks with right answers ad infinitum. When the notion that the mysterious cannot be found in one church, people shop around seeking the extraordinary elsewhere because their hearts long to be amazed. Extreme missions trips or sensationalized worship experiences are popular ways to fill the void.

The second consequence of the loss of wonder in the church is ungratefulness. People who are no longer astonished that they breathe, that the sun rises, that they make it home safely from work, stop being thankful for such wonders. The practice of ‘un-thanksgiving’ nurtures self-aggrandizement giving way to a sense of entitlement leading to voracious greed. With so much ‘stuff’ to protect, these people feel out of control and that the world is no longer a safe place in which to live. Fear breeds obsessive control in the form of laws that cannot possibly be kept. People who cannot keep the law (especially those established to burgeon the church) eventually despise the frailty of humanity in themselves and others. Rather than developing loving character, an ungrateful church produces mean and hateful people with an urgency that leaves them no time to play.

A third consequence of the loss of wonder is emptiness. People not only jump from church to church, they become spiritual experience junkies. And like drug addicts, they are never satisfied and forever empty. This is why ‘play’ in and of itself cannot save such people. Boredom eventually characterizes their church experience anywhere they go. For some boredom leads to a ‘neurotic apocalyptic’ – doomsday is just around the corner. For others boredom develops into ‘overconfident wisdom’ – they know the mind of God better than God does.

I agree that the older you get, the more it takes to fill your heart with wonder. And I also believe only God is big enough to fill that void.apple0922

Only when the church exercises disciplined attention toward God as revealed in nature and scripture will character be its pursuit and restful trust its posture. Without this ‘lingering’, the church will be like the person who quickly dips his teabag into hot water and is disappointed because the drink still taste like hot water. He then becomes frustrated because the directions implied that submersing the teabag would result in a rich cup of tea.

Once the God of Wonders becomes the pursuit of the church, deep growth follows. People will understand that, believe it or not, it’s okay to be human – that is our place in God’s universe. And we will once again see that the world is a safe place to be because we know the God who oversees it.

What have you ‘wondered’ over this week?

Conversing with a Dangerous God April 2, 2009

Posted by dan snyder in Bible: Old Testament, God.
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The Raft of the Medusa

The Raft of the Medusa

Even a cursory reading of the Biblical Prophets uncovers some rather bold and stark images for God. My notion is that the degree of this boldness is proportional to the degree of “spiritual blindness” in those first hearers. Flannery O’Connor, when asked why she creates such bizarre images in her stories, replied, “When you can assume that your audience holds the same beliefs as you do, you can relax a little and use more normal means of talking to it; when you have to assume that it does not, then you have to make your vision apparent by shock, to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost-blind, you draw large and startling figures.” If we don’t think like this we can be tempted to sit in judgment of the writers since some of these images seem reckless and negligent.

The prophetic metaphors are presented to Israel in the context of “spiritual blindness” symptomatic of decades of idolatry and missed Sabbaths. Augustine famously stated that humans are restless until we find our rest in God. And G.K. Chesterton continued this train of thought by saying that when we “cease to worship God, we do not worship nothing, we worship anything.” This practice of erecting God substitutes makes a person “blind” to God. The eyes of the heart focus on everything but God. Though stated in the negative, God’s assignment to Isaiah implies that the purpose of the prophetic message is to restore spiritual hearing and seeing:

“Go and tell this people: “‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding;

be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’

Make the heart of this people calloused;

make their ears dull and close their eyes.

Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears,

understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.”

(Isaiah 6:9-10)

challengingpropheticmetaphoDr. Julia O’Brien in the book Challenging Prophetic Metaphor identifies three metaphors for God that are not simply bold, they might be considered “toxic”: God as (Abusing) Husband (Hosea 1-2), God as (Authoritarian) Father (Jeremiah 31, Isaiah 63-64), and God as (Angry) Warrior (Nahum). She writes,

“I believe it is important, even ethically mandatory, to recognize and resist dangerous thinking wherever it occurs, including and perhaps especially in the Bible. To be faithful, I believe, demands recognizing the problems of biblical texts, how they participate in a web of power relations that are toxic. As long as the Bible . . . carries weight in the church and in the culture, I believe it has to be read responsibly, with eyes wide open . . . But I also maintain that these books should be read, that they have value for the life well lived. [W]resting with these books has led me into deep reflection on intimate relationships, parenting, anger violence, politics, the power of language, and the responsibility that Christians have for the way that they think and talk about the divine”

Reading the Bible responsibly includes examining all the images it contains – even the ones we don’t like because they make us uncomfortable or we cannot explain them. Responsible readers do not avoid texts that are difficult to understand. They do not try to soften sayings that shock. Neither do they apologize for things that offend feeling like they need to defend the Bible. Maturity is the result of this kind of responsible reading. Maturity allows readers to doubt with courage and converse with God about what the Bible says.

Many Christians have not matured beyond a “Sunday School” faith. Avoiding honest dialogue about metaphors like the ones O’Brien deals with in her book contributes to this immaturity because people maintain a selective understanding of the Bible and a constricted knowledge of God. The only option these people have in this condition is the idolatry of which the prophets warned hearers in the first place.

“Looking North” – fixing our eyes on Jesus – must mean being informed by every piece of revelation we can get our eyes on. Will you trust the “Good Shepherd” to keep you and lead you as you pursue knowing the fullness of this God?

What images and metaphors are in the Bible that you have struggled with throughout your Christian experience?

Visit Dr. Julia O’Brien’s blog at Amazon.

Where Healing Begins March 8, 2009

Posted by dan snyder in Bible - Meditation, Bible: New Testament, Jesus Christ.
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Some people wish they could rewind life and go back to the spot where things went wrong to fix them.

Some people think that “healing” involves returning life to the way it was. This isn’t healing, it’s nostalgia.

Some people simply substitute “holding onto the pain of the past” for living in the present.

Luke 5:17-25 (the familiar story of Jesus healing the paralytic lowered down through the roof of a house by his friends) identifies four places where healing begins. And as a memory device, let’s connect each of these places to personalities in the story.

Personality 1: The Crowd – they didn’t see the need for healing in the man or in their community.

The Miracle: Healing begins with Jesus’ vision for “normal” (wholeness) for our lives.

Repentance: Give up believing your “normal” and ask the Holy Spirit to show you what living could look like.

Personality 2: The Pharisees – were sure only God could know if someone was worthy of forgiveness.

The Miracle: Healing begins with letting go of the past to live responsibly today.

Repentance: Give up the idea that you have the right to know ‘why’/’how’ and ask the Holy Spirit to help you trust God.

Personality 3: The Paralyzed Man – came expecting one kind of healing.

The Miracle: Healing begins with nurturing an attitude of expectancy in relationship with God.

Repentance: Close the distance between you and God and (re)establish that relationship.

Personality 4: The Friends – were content getting nothing personal for their effort.

The Miracle: Healing begins with knowing that wholeness is not a personal matter.

Repentance: Stop believing that someone else’s wholeness is none of your business; and start believing that issues of healing in your life are effecting everyone at Cherry Street.

“The power of the Lord is on Jesus to heal (the sick).” (Luke 5:17)

Where does healing begin for you?

Saying Yes and Saying No February 25, 2009

Posted by dan snyder in art, Bible - Meditation, Bible: New Testament, Jesus Christ.
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a man must choose

he is not a spray of

flowers nor of birdsong

nor the fall of dry twigs

in a rising wind

Francis Sullivan, “Vision with Its Outcome”

Whenever we say “yes” to something or someone, we are saying “no” to something or someone else. “To say yes and no means taking on responsibilities and obligations. Saying yes and saying no are companions in the process of constituting a whole and holy life.” (M. Shawn Copeland as quoted in Practicing Our Faith ed. by Dorothy C. Bass, 1997.)

As you look at the painting below ask yourself, “to what was the person saying ‘no’ or ‘yes’?”

Credits: Tanner, Henry Ossawa The Annunciation 1898. (oil on canvas, Philadelphia Museum of Art)

Henry Ossawa Tanner "The Annunciation"

Henry Ossawa Tanner "The Annunciation"

What sort of support do you and Mary, the mother of Jesus, have to help you to say “yes” or “no”?

Watching the Cloudy Skies December 3, 2008

Posted by dan snyder in art, Bible: New Testament, Jesus Christ.
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When you were a child, what were the first signs that clued-you-in that Christmas was coming?

For my dad, who grew up in the 40’s, it was that he saw smoke coming out of the chimney’s. For my mom, it wasn’t until the day before Christmas when the Christmas Tree made it’s way into the living room that she new Christmas was upon them. In my childhood it was Thanksgiving Dinner at Grandma’s that ushered in the holiday’s.

What about this year? What are you watching for that let you know the Season is here? Or perhaps, the signs just burst into your life whether your ready and watching or not!

The disciples of Jesus ask him to tell them what the sign(s) of his return will be. And included in his answer is the text for this week, Mark 13:24-37

24“But in those days, following that distress,
” ‘the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light;
25the stars will fall from the sky,
and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’

26“At that time men will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens”

As I read through Mark 13 (and other such apocalyptic passages) I get the impression that Jesus is pretty excited about his return. As this passage continues, he says that no one except the Father really knows when this return will happen, but this doesn’t really seem to concern Jesus. It seems that he’s okay not knowing as long as the there is the assurance that his Father knows. I suppose we should be as satisfied.

But it seems that the return of Jesus is not so exciting to contemporary people. With the exception of a few fundamentalist TV preachers who have an almost overly enthusiastic sense of urgency, most people I meet are hoping it will happen but suppose that it won’t happen like – tomorrow!

Maybe this is because year after year at Advent, we talk about the the Coming of Jesus and then it never happens. But the Gospel Writers like Mark aren’t really biting their nails over the fact. PROBABLY BECAUSE THE COMING OF JESUS IS NOT SO MUCH AN EVENT AS IT IS A HOPE. I’m not saying that I don’t believe that Jesus won’t ‘literally’ return one day. But the ‘relevant living’ theology is that Jesus gives us signs that will help us know that his coming is very close – signs that are practical for today!

In verses prior to those in our text, Jesus says that one of the signs will be that the Temple (which the disciples found to be very impressive – v.1) will be torn down. There were times in Jewish History when the Temple became more sacred, provided more security, and gave a greater sense of identity than the God of the Temple. The building and its ethos was their strength, hope, wisdom, power, wealth, etc., – things that should have been found in God alone.

What are your Temples?

When our Temples are crumbling – when strengths become our weaknesses – Jesus said, “[Now] you will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory.” When you’ve tried everything you know to do, when you’ve run out of options, when you’ve exhausted all possibilities, and you throw your hands in the air in surrender – Jesus says, “YES! I am coming to you in your deepest need. Now you’re ready!”

Some people stand in piles of rubble – their Temples have crumbled all around them – and they keep trying, they won’t give up. Little do they know, they have no room for Jesus. If they would only surrender their Temple, Jesus could bring his great power and the glory of his Name to their situation.

One thing Jesus says about these signs is that you won’t miss them. It will be like the darkening of the sun and moon and the falling of stars. Everyone will know the time is near. How about your life, your neighborhood, your nation, your world? Is it dark enough yet for you to see that your Temples aren’t working? When you become (self)aware of the desperate situation around you which makes you cry out to Jesus for help – then he will come with great power and glory.

Sometimes we don’t recognize that our Temples are working because our vision is puny compared to what God hopes to do. And, so, we keep on doing small things thinking we’re doing okay. But the kingdom never grows because we’re using the rubble of our Temples to build it with our strength. We need to see the marvel of the Kingdom before we’ll admit that we’re too small, too weak to build it.

So what do you want for Christmas? What do you need for Christmas?

If your answer is anything less than the power and glory that is found in the Person of Jesus Christ then you’ll always be disappointed. These are tough times – relationships, finances, sickness and death are wearing us all down. If there was ever a time we needed Jesus to come to us, it’s now.

Take a few minutes and meditate on this painting by Salvador Dali of The Girl Stand at the Window. As you imagine yourself in the painting, reflect on your sense of urgency and hope as you look to the clouds.

Salvador Dali, The Girl Standing at the Window (1925)

Salvador Dali, The Girl Standing at the Window (1925)

Prayer Poem: O Christ, O Cross, O Highest Name August 3, 2008

Posted by dan snyder in art.
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O Christ, O Cross, O Highest Name,
enthrall my every thought
until Your Life and Death in me
Your Royal Will doth wraught.

Though stress or strain my soul endures
within Thy Life I hide;
Beneath the Cross and in the Word
Today, o soul, abide.

-Dan Snyder, 2004

Lessons in Energy (NCD Growth Forces) May 1, 2008

Posted by dan snyder in Leadership Reflections.
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Our congregation had been growing for nearly two years. Attendance had more than quadrupled in that time. People were happily serving, finding joy using their spiritual gifts. Momentum was on our side.

But a change needed to be made. We had outgrown our worship space. And with little resources for expansion, the best solution was to multiply into two worship communities. When the idea was presented to leaders, suddenly the energy changed. And for the next several months the momentum switched sides.

The tendency for a leader in these situations is to push harder. We find our default force tactic and apply it with steadily.

But a new solution may be discovered if we consider the difference between boxing and Jujitsu. The tactic in boxing is always the same: first to ward off the punch of the opponent, then to initiate an offense to knock him out. Both steps require all of the boxer’s force and energy.

Jujitsu Drawing

The 1500 year old art of Jujitsu is quite different than boxing. Jujitsu was developed by the non-violent monks in a monastery in Shanin. They designed a set of “soft” fighting techniques that do not resist the force of the enemy; rather they steer the opponent’s momentum. The effect is the opponent’s strength is directed on himself to achieve a winning goal.

Nature makes use of such energy transformation as well. A moving stream causes destructive erosion; but this motion also cleanses the creek bed. A winter frost kills delicate foliage; but it also destroys unwanted mold spores. A grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies alone; but when it dies it brings forth much fruit.

The people of Israel were held captive in Babylon for 70 years. But during those years they rediscovered God and His Word and who they were as a people. And the church in our opening example took the resistance to multiply (viewed as splitting up relationships in the community) and turned in into energy to build a small groups ministry that valued those relationships.

What resistance are you facing in your ministry? Are you using ‘boxing’ force tactics that are tiring you out? How can you direct the energy of this resistance toward a great goal?