So many memories and dreams placed on tiny plot of land  

“When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about (Luke 2:15). ‘”

The shepherds are part of a long list of visitors who have been interested in the birthplace of Christ. Believers of many faiths have been interested in the Holy Land for thousands of years. Too much attention by too many people.  Too many conflicting blueprints for this tiny patch of earth.

Christians want to turn back the clock in the Holy Land to the time when Christ was born – – to a time when their Lord and Savior walked the earth and spread his Gospel.  It’s long ago in a land far away.

If modern shepherds tried to get to Bethlehem and the Holy Land using a map, they would have trouble finding the place.  There is no place on the map called Holy Land and the name for the town of Bethlehem is uncertain.

Not to worry.  The shepherds could simply hop aboard a tour of the Holy Land and the tour guides would find the place. For example, a U.S. tour agency called Four Winds Bibleland Tour has a nine day, seven night, tour of the Holy Land.

On Monday, you arrive at Ben-Gurion airport in Israel. On Tuesday, you visit Jerusalem.  On Wednesday morning it’s Mount Zion and in the afternoon, Bethlehem.  You get the picture – – it’s a whirlwind tour.  The little town of Bethlehem, how they welcome the nativity industry.  There’s not much else.

Tourists might be surprised to find that Bethlehem is in the territory of Palestine, home to 32,000 Arabs and Christians who live there.  After the tourists are gone, the Arabs will call their town Bayt Lahn.

Jews want to turn the clock back even further than the beginning of Christianity.  They prefer golden times before that troublemaker came along 2,000 years ago, rumoured  to be the Son of God, the Messiah.  Jews dream of a return to ancient glory where “the king made silver and gold as common in Jerusalem as stones (2 Chronicles 1:15).”

Dreams and daily experience are as different as day and night for modern Jews and Palestinians.  Not only is it a land of unfulfilled dreams, it’s a place where “the other” is a plague upon the land.

Names, like designs for the Holy Land, have power.  Words and language are a way of calibrating thought.  For some Israelis, “Palestinians are like cancer. There are all sorts of solutions to cancerous manifestations.  For the time being, I am applying chemotherapy,”  says Moshe Y’alon, Israeli Chief of Staff.

Understandably, Palestinians have a problem with this point of view.  The Palestinian poet, Mourid Barghouti, calls it “verbicide.”  As someone whose uses words in his craft, he feels “attacked by the apartheid hate language of Israeli generals.”

Palestinians want to turn the clock back too, but only a few decades.   They prefer the way things were before the Jews descended on the land to carve Israel out of Palestine in1948.   Barghouti still remembers that time as a child growing up in the eastern hills of Palestine.

When fellow Palestinian arrived from afar, running for their lives, Barghouti asked his father what they were running from.  His father told him that their homes had been destroyed by “Zionist brigades that declared the State of Israel.”

“The battle for language becomes the battle for the land,” says Barghouti in the August, 2003, issue of New Internationalist magazine.  As far as Israelis are concerned, he no longer lives in his childhood home of east Palestine, they call it the West Bank or the Territories.   The Israelis propose changing the name again to Judea and Samaria, to evoke the biblical entitlement of Jewish suburbs.

The Holy Land is tiny -one-half the size of Nova Scotia, one-fortieth the size of B.C.  You need a magnifying glass to see it clearly on a globe.  But it’s also magnified by conflicting visions and realities.

The focus of so many conflicting dreams and truths on this tiny bit of land has heated it up -as happens when sunlight catches a magnifying lens and the subject catches fire.


Bush as peacemaker biased by one-sided religious view  

The popularity of religion may declining but not its power.  According to a survey done by Statistics Canada, Canadians increasingly say they have no religion.  The Yukon and B.C. lead the country in non-believers.

Billy Graham and G.W. Bush

Billy Graham and G.W. Bush

But fear not. Our fallen province is about to be saved by American Baptists.  They have designated Vancouver a “strategic focus city.”  Professor John Stackhouse from Vancouver’s Regent College says that U.S. evangelicals see Vancouver as “shockingly pagan, with our low numbers of church attendance and high numbers declaring no religion (The Daily News, May 31, 2003).”

The idea of British Columbians being saved by Southern Baptists is mildly amusing.  What’s not funny is the influence that religious forces have over the world’s hyperpower. An unholy union of state and religion guides President Bush and the U.S. government.  Some of these religions are obscure.

I bet you’ve never heard of The Fellowship, for example.  That’s the way they want it.  The Fellowship is not like most religions that seek to convert the masses.  It’s more like an covert council.  Their goal is to sway the world’s decision makers, not to win converts.

“A Fellowship employee, went so far as to say that ‘there is no such thing as the Fellowship,’ even as she helped lead a group of 250 college students around Washington this month, part of a Fellowship-sponsored national leadership forum on faith and values,” writes Lisa Getter in The Los Angeles Times (Sep 27, 2002).

Even those who are influenced by The Fellowship don’t know exactly who they are.  The administration of U.S. government is so closely entwined with The Fellowship that they appear seamless.  Their annual big public event is the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington. It has been attended by a succession of ambassadors, foreign dignitaries for years.  Most attendees think the event is sponsored by Congress or even the president.

A Los Angeles Times review of the Fellowship’s archives kept at the Billy Graham Center reveals that The Fellowship has had extraordinary access and influence on foreign affairs for the last 50 years.

The Fellowship’s leader, Douglas Coe, 73, has befriended a succession of presidents and world leaders since arriving in Washington in 1959. Former U.S. President Bush Sr. once referred to Coe as “an ambassador of faith.”

Jeffrey Sharlet infiltrated The Fellowship at their boot camp for recruits in Arlington, Virginia.  They don’t like to call themselves The Fellowship.  They prefer “the Family.”   They don’t even like to call themselves Christians.  It’s “a term they deride as too narrow for the world they are building in Christ’s honor,” says Sharlet in the March issue of Harper’s magazine. Instead, they are “believers.”

The Family believes that the way to advance Christ’s will on earth is through intense personal bonds, or covenants, with world leaders.  While in Arlington, Sharlet met Douglas Coe as he was counseling a congressman from Kansas about commitment to the Family.  Coe summed up the influence of their minimalist religion, “That’s what you get with a covenant, Jesus plus nothing.”

It’s not just shadowy quasi-religions that influence the world’s most powerful nation.  U.S. President Bush’s foreign policy is affected by Evangelical Christians who make up 25 per cent of the U.S. population.

Many of Bush’s supporters are Christian Zionists – – they believe that the return of the Jews to Israel is part of God’s plan.  They include Evangelical groups headed by Pat Robertson, Oral Roberts, Billy Graham and Jerry Falwell.

Their biblical interpretation of God’s plan was popularized by a maverick Irish Anglican priest, John Nelson Darby (1800-1882).  He proposed history as a series of epochs in which mankind moved from catastrophe to catastrophe.  First there was the expulsion from Eden, then the flood, the crucifixion of Christ.  Now, with the return of the Jews to Israel, we are in an epoch which God will soon bring to a shuddering halt.

In the apocalyptic imaginations of Christian Zionists, Yasser Arafat and Saddam Hussein compete for the role of Antichrist.

President Bush hopes to bring peace between Israel and Palestine with his “road map.”  His credibility as peacemaker is stretched, not just by his inclination to make war, but by his religious bias. How can his plan succeed when he regards one side as God’s chosen people and the other as evil terrorists?