postmodern nativity

migrations, murders, and a desperate flight to Egypt

postmodern nativity

Remarks from a New Year’s Eve rally for Palestine in Niagara Falls, these remarks are edited and built upon but accurately reflect the things I said.

On December 30, 2023 US President Joseph Biden bypassed Congress, again, to send another $147 million in arms to Israel. He bypassed Congress earlier in December to send 4,000 rounds of tank shells. The US isn’t supposed to send weapons to countries where they will be used to commit war crimes, which must be why it consistently votes against anything critical of Israel. If it admits that Israel is commiting war crimes or other acts then it is in violation of its own laws and policies.

Aid from the US, Canada and Australia, as well as many European countries comes with conditions. In her book, Border & Rule, Harsha Walia details these conditional packages and the consequences they have for migrants, as well as the boon they mean for mostly US arms dealers. Often they have to agree to keep refugees from leaving their countries, which means that the US, Canada, and Europe can pretend they are not responsible for the violence done to migrants since it happens in other countries, countries that are deliberately impoverished and described as “shit hole nations.” The violence provoked and paid for by western nations is blamed on the people it has impoverished and made desperate. But the aid that Biden sends to Israel has no conditions. And Netanyahu is promising months of war.

Months of war? The current death toll is staggering.

Chart showing those killed: at least 1,139 (Israel), at least 22,185 (Gaza), at least 324 (West Bank).  Injured: at least 8,730 (Israel), at least 57,035 (Palestine), and at least 3,800 (West Bank)>
This is bonkers when you consider that in the the UN is reporting since Russian invastion of Ukraine only 10,000 civilians of whom 560 are children. In an interview on December 6, the Israeli spokesman admitted that only about 30% of the Palestinian death toll are militants.

Additionally, some 85% of the population of Gaza has been displaced. They go south, where they were told they would be safe and Israel bombs them anyway.

I see all of this, scrolling my endless Twitter feed, and I think about the Christmas story. In a twitter poll I did just after Christmas 70% of those who responded said their church didn’t mention Palestine in their Christmas sermons. No mention despite scenes from the nativity story playing out before our eyes.

In the book of Luke the writer talks about Mary and Joseph going to Bethlehem to be registered or counted because of a census ordered by Caesar Augustus, but by all accounts outside of the Bible it didn’t happen when Luke says it did and doing a census like that doesn’t make sense anyway1. A census is for taxes, for demographic information. Moving people around the country, forcing them to go back to their ancestral homes even temporarily makes no sense from an administrative point of view, it makes no sense from an economic point of view. Not unless you want that land for yourself and this is a pretext to get them off of it, rather like the various ways in which Canada and the US have used various legal strategies to move Black and Indigenous people off of land that they want.

In September I lead a workshop and talked about somebody who had come to Canada from Palestine, an engineer who was told by Canadian government workers that Canada needed engineers. So he came here only to find that the college of engineers didn’t accept his credentials. So stupid I said, that one layer of government doesn’t tell the other what their requirements are and now we’ve got engineers and doctors driving cabs. I thought this was just another example of government bureaucracy. Then a woman in the room who works with refugees said, it got him off the land didn’t it? And I thought wow, yes it did. Wouldn’t be the first time that a government lied to desperate people to get them off the land that they wanted.

And it wouldn’t be the first time that a forced migration was whitewashed by people wanting to tell a different story. It wouldn’t be the last time either. Indigenous people were moved too, multiple trails of tears from the east coast of the US across the Mississippi. Cree and Blackfoot starved into submission2 and moved off land in the prairies to make it available for Canadian farmers. The Middle Passage which moved millions of Africans, about 40% of whom were Muslim3, across the Atlantic Ocean and into the chattel slavery that built the US and Canada, because while Canada and the northern states may have abolished slavery they continued to rely on unfree labour just as they do now. Migrant farm workers are also moved from Mexico and the Caribbean, domestic workers brought in from the Philippines, all of them  deported when their labour is no longer needed.4 When they can’t move us, they move our children.  Move them into cages at the southern US border. Move them into residential schools and foster homes and adoptive families.

And after years of this being a fringe idea, last week the Jerusalem Post published an opinion piece headlined “Why moving to the Sinai is the solution for Gaza’s Palestinians” On December 28 an AI generated twitter account “Terror Alarm” claiming to be the world's first AI generated News and Views tweeted out a map showing Gaza in red with an arrow pointing into the heart of the Sinai peninsula with the words “The final solution to protect Gaza civilians.” Kelly Hayes, from commented that when you feed a bot enough Israeli talking points it spits back language about “the final solution.” And even though no Israeli leaders I can find have used that particular language, many of them come very close and at least one has invoked Auschwitz as an example for what they should do to Gaza.

A flight to Egypt. That’s another part of the nativity story isn’t it. A desperate flight to Egypt to escape Herod, a murderous leader who ordered the deaths of Jewish children, except the one gate to Egypt is often blocked. Blocked for refugees trying to flee, and blocked for aid trucks trying to come in.

Matthew 2:18 says “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”

Palestinian parents weep for their children, just as Indigenous mothers and fathers weep for their children here. We lost our children too, we still lose our children. These murderous kings understand the importance of killing children, of taking them from us. Herod understood it. John A MacDonald and Duncan Campbell Scott understood it. Trump understood it. Netanyahu understands it.

In November the UN was reporting 160 children dying every day in Palestine, that’s one child every 10 minutes. In November. By December 8 the toll had risen to 7,112 children. Netanyahu orders the bombing and bulldozing of hospitals, a total war. They are destroying schools and universities. Entire families wiped out. Many of the people in the crowd that I addressed that day have lost family members, lost contact with family. An angry despot willing to kill everyone and salt the land, literally flooding the aquifer with sea water, to rid himself of an enemy that he created.

The nativity story, a story that gets told every year is unfolding before our eyes and 70% of churches attended by the people who responded to my poll are silent about it. They are silent, like they were silent during the Third Reich. Like they were silent about residential schools. The only ones who aren’t silent are the ones who are openly supporting genocide. Who ran the residential schools. Who supported Hitler. Who support Trump. Who support Netanyahu. They aren’t silent at all. I spent decades in denominations that I now see are influenced by Christian nationalism5, a largely but not exclusively evangelical church with all eyes on Israel waiting for the end of the world to converge in the land where Jesus walked. 

It is well past the time for silence, for telling ourselves to keep politics out of the pulpit or out of our classrooms. Under the guise of neutrality or civility we have ceded these spaces to those who are neither neutral or civil and they are playing a long game. While we play wack-a-mole trying to put out the fires they keep lighting, they’re backing us further and further into the edges of our own irrelevance. My book, Becoming Kin, charts a path for you to first analyze your history because that’s where it starts. Understanding how we got here and how we’ve become enmeshed in that larger long game, often without even realizing what’s happened. Then we can begin our own work to transform the world. Not to just replace one unjust system with another that is unjust in different ways, but to build something truly equitable.

Rome fell once. It can fall again.

  1. The census of Quirinius took place in 6 CE and triggered a revolt. Have to give credit to Jewish scholar of the New Testament, Amy Jill Levine whose book Light of the World is brief, easy to read, and very instructive. She suggests that Luke may have mentioned the census, which took place 5-10 years after Jesus’ birth, since Luke also specifically mentions Herod who died between 5-1BCE, in order to set Jesus up as a different kind of leader. One who was not like Judas of Galilee who had lead that revolt.

  2. A pastor from the church I used to go to recommended the book, Clearing the Plains, as a way to help people understand Canadian policy regarding the Indigenous people contained and crossed by its borders. It’s a brutal account of starvation as policy, a policy that would persist through residential schools and into the present day.

  3. Omar Mouellem wrote about this in his book, Praying to the West which I wrote about in this essay. It’s one of those things I had never thought of and yet as soon as I read the words it made complete sense. Of course many of them were Muslim. Like most people, I’d never thought about it.

  4. Again, I refer you to Harsha Walia’s most excellent work on migration myths and how they support border violence.

  5. There’s quite a few books on my shelves about Christian Nationalism and the rise of the far right in the US. I just finished Bradley Onishi’s Preparing for War and am now reading The Power Worshippers by Katherine Stewart. Culture Warlords by Talia Levin is also excellent. It’s beyond disturbing to see so many names I once listened to, subscribed to, or otherwise followed in these pages: James Dobson, Charles Colson, and Tim LeHaye in particular. These aren’t fringe leaders in the Western church. This essay, laundering the far right, and another about living in the end times encapsulates much of what I’ve been reading and the things in this book track with my own memories and experiences of evangelicalism. Along with Bradley Onishi, I find myself watching things unfold, wondering with the same horror he describes, if I would have been present. And if not present, would I have been supporting it from home. I can admit that, like Onishi, I’ve got a bit of the zealot in me and so the answer is an alarming yes. Yes I would have.