A lot has happened since my last post. Most notably, I’ve been to Manus Island, and have visited the asylum-seekers being detained there by the Australian government.
You may have already seen the TV coverage we received on Lateline or watched he video on the Getup website. I’ve debriefed our experience in a sermon (featured below), and I refer you to that for the details of our trip. What I’d like to do first though is to talk a little about why we went to Manus and what has resulted from it.
I confess that I knew very little about the goings-on on Manus Island until very recently. I knew the Australian government was shipping asylum-seekers there for processing (as with the island of Nauru), and I had heard talk of abuse and violence and even death! Even so, it seemed impossible to find out exactly what was going on as the Australian government seemed to have placed a media blackout over the entire area!
This is what initially concerned me – that I couldn’t get answers to my questions. What was going on there? What was the Australian government doing to these men? How was the church responding to these allegations of violence and abuse – both the church in this country and the church on Manus Island?
I started ringing around and asking church people what they knew. Nobody seemed to know anything, so I put out a Twitter tweet to some of my more notorious clergy friends – Father Bob Maguire, Father Rod Bower, and Pastor Jarrod McKenna – and asked them whether we should try to charter a plane and get out there to see what was going on. The result was that within a week, Pastor Jarrod and I were boarding a plane for Papua New Guinea, hoping to successfully make our way from Port Moresby to Manus Island, and from Manus to the detention centre.
In truth, we would never have boarded that plane if it weren’t for the good people of Getup! Those guys sponsored and organised our trip, and they stuck with us every second of the way – even communicating with us via text messages as we floated around in a dingy in the middle of the night, desperately trying to find the right beach to land on while avoiding the local navy (who were based on the adjoining beach)!
It was a massive effort from a wonderful team of people – some based in Oz and others on the ground in Manus – and I am deeply grateful to them all. I only pray that we were able to achieve something on Manus that will contribute to the long-term good of these detained men.
What we discovered in that decommissioned detention centre was quite remarkable and (for me) quite unexpected. I had expected to find men suffering, and I did find that, but I found something else there too. I found community! The detainees we met on Manus Island were a close knit community – a band of brothers who had learnt to live and work together and to depend on each other.
The men had a clear leadership system with strong democratic accountability (demonstrated through regular camp-wide meetings). They had a centralised healthcare system, with all the men pooling medications that were then distributed as needed. The mentally ill were being looked after on a rostered basis (with different men walking them around the compound). The engineers used their skills to build wells and to maintain the electrical supply (where possible). In short, they had developed a highly functional society, which explained why they were refusing to be broken up and shifted to new facilities. Why would they abandon their brothers, who they knew they could trust, for promises made by the Australian government, who they knew they couldn’t trust?
Within a couple of days of our visit these men were forcibly moved, and bussed to new facilities that weren’t ready for them. The result was that hundreds ended up sleeping by the roadside, with their clothing and provisions having been left behind. Since then things have only got worse. At time of writing, many of the men have apparently been without fresh water for two days. Others are suffering from various medical conditions. And what has the Australian government done about this? Last week they blocked Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) from sending doctors into Manus to attend to the sick! This week they voted ‘no’ to an offer from the New Zealand government to give two hundred of these men immediate refuge!
These developments frankly leave me dumbfounded! I thought us Aussies were supposed to be the good guys. I thought it was only evil regimes run by unscrupulous dictators that deliberately tortured and killed people. I was wrong.
So, what did our team achieve by going to Manus Island?
I believe we were able to bring some spiritual and emotional comfort to the men – letting them know that they are not alone, and that not everybody in our country is against them! I hope we have also helped to bring something of the truth of their situation back to the Australian people. As I say, there seemed to be something of a media blackout on the entire situation, and how could we know how to respond if we didn’t know what was going on? Now that we know, what do we do? Well … somehow, we have to find a way of bringing human values back into the Australian political process.
It is not uniformly bad news in that regard. The decision to refuse New Zealand’s offer to give refuge to some of these men was only lost by one vote, and I think that’s probably pretty indicative of where things stand. Indeed, I received an encouraging mention in Anthony Albanese MP’s speech in support of New Zealand’s proposal (which you can watch here or read here), and that did remind me that our Parliament is not completely made up of thugs.
I’m personally convinced that the majority of Australian people – politicians included – do believe in giving a fair go to those who come to our shores seeking protection. The problem is that we are a (largely) silent majority, and it’s time we spoke out!
It’s time that the church spoke out too. I appreciate that some church leaders on Manus feel they need to keep quiet. That’s because they are busy sneaking food and medicine to the men, and don’t want to draw attention to what they are doing. There’s no such excuse for the church in this country. We should be unequivocal in our concern for welfare of the men, and in our condemnation of our government for abandoning them.
It seemed serendipitous to me that the Gospel reading scheduled for the Sunday after my return from Manus was Matthew 25:31-46, where Jesus depicts the final judgement, and shares those memorable words:
“I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink … I was in prison, and you came to visit me. … whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:35-36,40)
Having just visited Jesus in prison, how could I not take this opportunity to talk about it. If you’d prefer the written version of this address, you’ll find it here.
Let me close today with the usual seasonal invitation:
- If you’re free on Christmas Eve, join us for carols on our front lawn (7 pm).
- We’d love to have you join us for church on Christmas Day (9.15 am)
- And if you don’t have anyone to enjoy Christmas lunch with, we have room at our table (from midday)
I’ll be back again soon with a more formal Christmas greeting. Until then, I remain …
Your brother in the Good Fight,
It’s Father Dave, and I must confess to feeling somewhat exhausted as I write to you today. It’s been an overwhelming month:
- I’ve been trying to recover from my brain haemorrhage.
- We’ve had much turmoil in the community (and perhaps in the church, most especially) over our government’s postal vote on same-sex marriage
- Syria lost the World Cup qualifier match to Australia
- One of my old friends has just taken his own life
Thankfully, not all of these struggles has ended badly. Indeed, as regards my recovery from the brain injury, my progress has been nothing short of miraculous. Last week I fronted up to the doctor’s office armed with the results of both and MRI and a CT scan. This was the same doctor who had told me a few weeks earlier that my boxing days were over. This time, after looking at the results and shaking his head, he ticked ‘fit to box’ on the appropriate form.
I give thanks to God for healing my brain so that I can fight again. I’ve been feeling rather lost over the last month, wondering how else I can raise money. As I often say, I can only do two things well – preach and fight – and I can’t see anyone handing over big dollars to hear me preach. Anyway, those concerns are behind me for the moment, though the painful thing is that both the fights I had scheduled were cancelled during my recovery period.
When the injury happened, I’d been in training for a big show-down with Dave Birchell. This naturally had to be called off. I had another fight though lined up with Mark Bouris in late November at a PCYC fundraiser event. Unfortunately, Mr Bouris was rematched. I did ask them to hold off on rematching him and to expect a miracle. For some reason the organisers followed common sense instead. And so, I find myself ‘fit to box’ but, once again, without an opponent. Even so, I’m sure the Lord has healed me for a reason, so something (or someone) will no doubt appear soon and make the way forwards clear.
As to the same-sex marriage debate this country has been enduring, I feel it has been a despicable process. I have seen so much pain caused by this postal vote! It has brought the worst out of a lot of people – reinforcing prejudices and eliciting violence and vilification from both sides. It truly was a gutless decision of our government to encourage this process.
As you may know, I was urged once again to publish my views on the subject of same-sex marriage. The result was an article that appeared on news.com.au that has generated no end of hate mail, phone calls, lost friendships, and enough social media banter to fill a decent-sized book. The process culminated for me when I received a call from a man claiming to have been sexually abused by a priest. He was so angry about my Archbishop’s support for the ‘no’ vote that he said he just needed to scream at someone. He knew I wasn’t to blame but apparently nobody else would take his call.
Another distressing dimension of this process for me has been the damage done to my relations with the Muslim community. I had two inter-faith events planned for this month where my Muslim friends withdrew due to the views expressed in my article. One woman even said that her Sheikh now refused to enter our church building! That hurt.
I’m know that doesn’t represent all my Muslim friends. Indeed, I’ve had others affirm their love and respect for me, even though we disagree on this issue.
Perhaps my sermon today reflects a bit too much of my hurt referred to above. Certainly, the text of Matthew 21:28-31 did tap right into the issues I was struggling with, though the connection may not be immediately obvious. It’s a parable Jesus tells about two brothers – one who is pious and obedient and the other who is rebellious and disobedient, or so they appear to be. First impressions can be deceiving, and maybe we need to be cautious in passing judgement on either of the brothers too quickly.
Back to the Bush
When the going gets tough, I get going, and my favourite place to go when I’m feeling under pressure is our bush camp – Binacrombi. Can you join me there this coming weekend?
I’m sorry for the short notice but this event has been a difficult one to organise. The camp was originally designed to be an interfaith project, bringing together Christian and Muslim kids in an integrated training environment. Unfortunately, as indicated above, many have pulled out, though some friends from the Australian Muslim Youth Association are now trying to see if they can get a new group involved! Either way, the camp will go ahead, but there is currently plenty of room for extra participants.
That’s enough from me today. I’ve got plenty more I’d like to share but, in truth, I’d rather do it over a beer at Binacrombi. Of course, if our Muslim friends do join us, I’ll happily forgo the beer and substitute coffee. Either way, I’d love to have you with us if you can make it.
Your brother in the Good Fight,
Yes, it was going to be the fight of my life but, no, it’s not going to happen. To cut a long story short, I took a big hit last Friday and suffered a minor brain haemorrhage. Hopefully, it’s not the end of my fight career but it certainly is the end of this fight.
For those who want the long story …
I did some sparring with an old mate last Friday. I won’t mention his name, but I will say that he did hold a world title and that he is a little bigger and a little younger than me. I probably should have been wearing a head-gear.
He caught me with a big hook to the side of my head while I was on the ropes. Everything went black for a moment, but only for a moment. I stayed on my feet, finished the round, and I think I did two more rounds after that. I felt OK. Indeed, I felt pretty pleased with myself, figuring that if I could handle a shot like that I could handle anything my upcoming opponent was going to throw at me. I drove myself safely home, but have no memory of what I did after that until I woke the next day.
None of this is too unusual. I’ve been out on my feet before (though not for a long time) and I’m not the first person to suffer a bit of memory loss. Even so, I didn’t feel quite right, and that showed itself when I tried to get back into the ring the following day. I couldn’t perform. I was in pain in my head and I just wasn’t functioning properly. I figured I was just having a bad day and thought I’d try again the next day. The next day I was worse. Within 30 seconds I was on the ground. I stopped and took counsel from a wise mate (Anton) who recognised that I’d been concussed. The next day I booked myself in for a scan.
When I did the scan, I expected to head straight home afterwards but the doctors made me wait. I was eventually called into the back room where they sat me down and told me that I had a haemorrhage and needed to get to hospital immediately. I said I wasn’t going anywhere until after I’d got my little girl home from school. They agreed, saying that since I’d taken the hit four days earlier, I was probably going to be fine anyway.
The medics at the hospital were great. I’m very privileged to live in a country where teams of experts gather around to help you when you’re down. I don’t take any of that for granted. In the end, the doctors agreed to discharge me that evening, providing that I monitor myself carefully, get more scans, and report back to them.
I’m hoping that this is only a temporary set-back. When a skier breaks her leg that doesn’t mean she’s never going to ski again. You get over the injury and you head back to the slopes. Hopefully, it will work for me like that too. Indeed, I’ve already got another fight lined up for November, and I hope I’ll be good for that. Even so, if this is the end of my fight career, I’ll come to terms with that too.
One thing is very clear to me – that I owe a big debt of gratitude to those who supported me in preparing for this fight, and most of all I want to thank the guy who was going to be my opponent – Dave Birchell.
I know Dave only took the fight because he wanted to help me raise money for Syria. He was the first person I called when I got the scan results. I was a bit teary when I called him, and I think he got a bit teary too. He thanked me for getting the scan, saying “If you hadn’t done this and something had happened to you in the ring, I never could have lived with myself”. Thanks brother. You’re a top bloke and a great mate.
There is, in fact, a long list of people I need to thank, including my trainers, the boys at the gym, my family, church, close friends, and the promoter of the August 25 event, John. Instead of going off at me for losing him money, his response, when I told him that I was out because the scan had discovered a haemorrhage was “Praise God”.
As I say, I hope that this is not the end of my fight career. In truth, I think I still have my best fights left in me. Even so, I suspect all fighters think that, and if my time has indeed come, I will come to terms with that. It will be difficult though, as the fighting is so deeply tied in with our social justice work, with the inter-faith work, with Syria, …
Keep me in your prayers please. Pray for a full recovery, and pray that if my boxing days are over that God will show me other ways to raise funds and raise awareness. In truth, I can’t imagine a life without boxing. Part of me had always hoped that I’d depart this world from the ring. Even so, this experience has made it very clear to me that even if it’s great to die doing what you love, it’s not good for the people you care about.
Your brother in the Good Fight,
Once again it’s been far too long since we last communicated in this way, and indeed, I’ve taken five weeks of long-service leave since then.
My goals in taking that leave were three:
- To move things forward at Binacrombi bush camp.
- To finish the book I’ve been working on – “Christians and Muslims can be friends”
- To get myself fit and ready for the next fight.
I’m happy to report a degree of success on all fronts.
Certainly, Binacrombi has never been functioning so well. Indeed, the initial vision of Binacrombi as Australia’s leading adventure site for young people looks less and less like a dream and more like reality. Moreover, Bina continues to prove itself as a place of healing and renewal.
We held a fantastic Warriors Weekend up there last month (as evidenced in some of the pics above). The camp brought together some of our team from Dulwich Hill with members of the Muhammadi Welfare Association of Penrith – a wonderful group of Pakistani Muslim Australians.
The camp concluded with a traditional Pakistani BBQ, courtesy of our guests. We had one old Australian bushman with us who had never been near Pakistani food before in his life. “Best tucker I’ve ever tasted!”, I heard him say!
As regards the book, I have indeed finished a draft of the first part, and am really hoping to have it all published before the end of the year.
I still haven’t come up with a better title than “Christians and Muslims can be friends”, though I appreciate the alternative suggestions that have been offered, I figure that at least with the current title, it’s obvious what the book is about.
In terms of completing the book, I’d really appreciate help in two areas:
Firstly, I’m looking for people who will read and critique what I have written. I’m happy to share the existing seven chapters with anyone who is willing to read through them, check for typos, and tell me where I can make improvements. Just send me an email if you’re interested.
Secondly, my plan for the second half of the book is that it be a compilation of interviews with various Muslim religious and community leaders. I’ve already done a number of these interviews but I need a few more. If you have any suggestions (and, ideally, contact details) for appropriate persons I might interview, let me know.
Keep in mind that my primary target audience for the book is Christian people like myself. I’m therefore looking for persons that the average white, Australian Christian would recognise as authentic representatives of the Islamic community.
As to getting ready for a fight, things started going in reverse for me! Rather than getting fitter during my leave, I developed a rotator-cuff injury that just won’t go away, then I fell down a flight of stairs at Binacrombi and did myself some damage, and then I almost got wiped out by a truck while doing a late nigh run! I think the Good Lord was trying to keep me humble.
Having said that, I am happy to report that the big fight has finally been confirmed. I’m scheduled to fight Dave Birchell at Husrtville Entertainment Centre on the evening of Friday, August 25th!
It will be the fight of my life – no doubt about it. Dave was a member of the Australian Olympic team, and has subsequently been undefeated as a professional. With me now at 55, he is also twelve years younger than me, so, on paper, I don’t have a hope! Even so, I’m counting on my good cardio-vascular fitness (which has never been better) and perhaps a bit of help from above. 😉
In truth, if this fight goes badly for me, it will probably be my last. If, on the other hand, I do well, I can see a clear path from Hurstville Entertainment Centre to The Citadel in Aleppo. I appreciate that the connection will not be obvious to many people, but in my mind that’s what the fight it really all about. I’m still hoping to be back in Syria before the end of the year, and I really believe that the best contribution I can make there will come through boxing.
If we can stage some high-profile boxing matches in Aleppo, we can get the eyes of the Western media on Syria, and if we can get the real Syria screened into the living-rooms of average Australians (and Americans and Europeans) then we can start to erode the myths that are fuelling the violence.
If you’re having trouble following my logic, I apologise. Hopefully all will become clear as the lies that make for war are systematically exposed by groups like WikiLeaks, and as the truth gradually emerges. Ether way, I believe Boxers for Peace has a role to play.
Anyway, I’ll be back to you soon with ticketing details for the big event, and will appreciate any and all support. Hopefully we’ll raise plenty of funds on the night too that can be forwarded to places in Syria where they’re needed the most. Whatever the outcome, I’ve never had a better reason to get beaten up. 😉
In keeping with the ‘Christians and Muslims can be friends’ theme, I thought that today I’d include my recent sermon on the doctrine of the Trinity.
That might seem like odd logic since, at a dogmatic level, the doctrine of the Trinity is the most obvious point of division between Christians and Muslims (as it is between Christians and Mormons, Christians and Jehovah’s Witnesses, and others).
I’ve found though that one of the difficulties my Muslim friends have with Christian doctrine is that they simply can’t make sense of the Trinity. In truth, I’m not sure how many Christians understand what it’s about either. At any rate, I wrote a letter to my friend, Sheikh Mansour, trying to explain to hm why Christians believe in the Trinity, and this sermon is basically a recitation of that letter.
I trust Mansour won’t mind. I’m planning on including it as an appendix to the book too. Let me know if you find it helpful. If you’d prefer the written version, you can find it here.
Before signing off today, I want to raise one other issue that is very important to me.
Over the years, a small band of faithful supporters have helped keep the online work of Fighting Fathers Ministries going through their financial support. Those persons are the subscribers to the Fighting Fathers Member site.
Some of you have been subscribing at a rate of $10/month for many years now. Some contribute more. A number have dropped off, but some of you have been with me from the beginning! I know who you are and I pray for each of you by name regularly. Financially speaking, this work could not have survived without you, and at a personal level, your willingness to stand with me in this fight has been a source of constant encouragement.
Having said that, I am conscious that membership of the Fighting Fathers Member site is no longer offering value for money, and I don’t feel good about this. The site is badly out of date and has technical problems that cannot be easily solved, so I am looking at re-thinking the whole member-site concept. The question is ‘what form should a new member site take?’
I am going to contact each of my current subscribers personally to ask this same question, but I want to raise it here openly first – both to current financial subscribers and to all supporters of Fighting Fathers Ministries. What sort of subscription-based online site would be useful to you in your work and ministry?
I am limited, of course, in what I can offer, but I do want to offer something substantive to subscribers:
- a regular online video-chat?
- access to special online content (books, sermons, etc.)
- individually designed physical and spiritual fitness programs?
These are a few ideas that spring to mind, but I really want to hear from you. How can I best support you as you serve God and people in need? Send me an email. Let me know your thoughts. I look forward to hearing from you.
Your brother in the Good Fight,
It’s Father Dave, writing to you from the middle of the Australian bush! No, I’m not retreating from the Good Fight but I am retreating from the Big Smoke for a while.
I am on long-service leave, and will be spending most of my weekends up to the end of May at Binacrombi – our remote prayer-space, dirt-bike farm and boxing-training facility.
I’m hoping that these five weeks will be a rejuvenating time, though they are not a holiday. I’ve got three goals I want to achieve over my time away from the parish:
- Get Binacrombi functioning on a renewed basis
- Finish the book I’m working on – “Christians and Muslims can be friends”
- Get fully fit for my next fight.
As for the fight, I don’t have a date fixed yet, but I’ll be letting you know as soon as something is confirmed.
As for the book, I won’t say more about that here either, except that I’ll be looking for your help to spread it around once I get it published. In the meantime, you might like to help me come up with a better title.
As for Binacrombi, do you have a weekend spare before the end of May when you can come and join me?
I’m planning another Warrior Weekend for May 19 to 21 (and I’ll say more on that below) but I’d be happy to see you on any of the other weekends too. If I’m left here by myself, with only the kangaroos to keep me company, I may get a bit jumpy! 😉
OK … It’s not really the lack of company that I’m concerned about, but I am looking for good people who will help run weekends out here. Binacrombi has developed enormously over the last few years under the tireless and dedicated management of Fighting Father Tez. Even so, Tez is not as young as he used to be, and it’s time for a few more of us to step up and give him a hand.
Perhaps you’ve always seen yourself as a farm-manager or as a fighting monk, or perhaps you’d just like to help develop the ministry of the Fighting Fathers? Here is your opportunity! Join me down here at some point in the next month and we’ll train you in the ways of Binacrombi. You might then consider coming back once every couple of months, to be an ongoing part of the team.
In truth, even if you only want to come and help me pray for Syria in the chapel here, I’d be very glad to see you. Call me or email me and let me know when you’d like to come. All my details are on www.fatherdave.org (the non-mobile version). Mind you, the obvious weekend to join us is May 19 to 21 – the date of our next …
Yes, it’s happening again. From Friday evening (May 19) to Sunday afternoon (May 21) we will be giving you another opportunity to Train like a Trojan and Pray like a Monk at our remote bush training facility, Binacrombi.
The workouts will be fitness-focused and won’t be restricted to boxing training. Even so, you’ll get plenty of chances to show your prowess in the ring if you so desire, so bring your gloves and your mouthguard.
The prayer sessions are not compulsory, of course (and neither are the workouts), but those who are willing will meet for prayer and meditation according to the traditional Benedictine schedule – at 6am, 9am, noon, 3pm and 6pm. There will be separate prayer spaces allocated for Christian and for Muslim prayers.
We already have some young people from the Muhammadi Welfare Association joining us for the camp, and I’m hoping that our friends from Fighting for Autism will join us too. These camps not only offer participants great personal benefits in terms of physical and spiritual fitness but are also wonderful opportunities for social integration. 🙂
The prices for the weekend have not changed:
- $200 for the rich
- $100 for the poor
- Free for the destitute
These fees cover accommodation, training, and all meals (excluding the BYO Saturday night BBQ). If you feel you fit into the ‘destitute’ category, let me know and we will organise sponsorship for you.
The flyer for this camp is here. Right-click and choose ‘save target as’ to download it. The flyer includes a form that you can sign and forward to me.
Sermon of the month
Easter is the time of year when Christians remember how God confronts evil in our world. It was therefore an extraordinary time for Donald Trump to drop the ‘Mother of all Bombs’ on Afghanistan, and yet that happened on Good Friday (Australian time)!
This seems to be the only way the powerful in our world know how to deal with evil. They drops bombs on it and hope it will go away. In this case, the Mother of all Bombs was dropped on (what is perceived to be) the Mother of all Evils (Al Qaeda). The result was that 36 people died, which was apparently considered a success.
It is the unambiguous teaching of the New Testament that evil cannot ultimately be stopped by other forms of evil. The Easter story tells us about a God who confronts evil in a different way altogether – through suffering and death and resurrection!
(forgive me for the poor quality of this video. The written version of this sermon is here)
Becoming the Ice-Man
Before I let you go today, I want to explain the picture that appears at the top – the one of me and a group of men in an ice-bath!
Yes, it was ice! Perhaps you didn’t look too closely at the pic and thought I was enjoying a relaxing session in the pool with my mates. Take a closer look and you’ll see that the water was thick with ice-cubes. It wasn’t relaxing! 🙁
The ice-man has been able to perform some amazing physical feats, considered impossible before Wim did them. He climbed Mount Everest in his swimsuit and broke the world record for swimming under the ice. He then ran a marathon through the Sahara Desert without taking any water! And he’s a couple of years older then me!
Wim’s training method combines breathing techniques with stretching and ‘cold therapy’, which means cold showers and ice-baths, and by the time I make my next blog post, I should have reached the end of his 10-week course. I want to share my progress with you.
I’m hoping that Wim’s techniques will give me an edge in the boxing ring, and at my age I need every edge I can get. And if you do decide to join me on the camp, be aware that I’ll be integrating some cold therapy into our training routine (though, of course, it is not compulsory for anybody except me).
That’s plenty for today. I’ll hope to see you at the camp. 🙂
Your brother in the Good Fight,
Firstly, let me thank all of you who made our New Year’s trip to Syria possible – supporting us financially and with prayer. Secondly, let me apolgise for the time it has taken to feed back to you about the trip.
I’ll address my time issues later in this missive, but let me say first that I think the trip was highly constructive and that we achieved most of our aims, if not all of them.
We didn’t get to Aleppo, and we didn’t get the media focus on the Syrian people that we had been looking for. Even so, we did deliver some tangible aid and, most importantly, we did work out a way of getting ongoing aid where it’s most needed.
This, in my opinion, is the biggest problem facing Syria at the moment. The victory on the battlefield is all but complete. Even so, life is not returning to normal. So many homes have been destroyed and so many people are in need, and the country is simply out of resources! The Syrian people need help in order to rebuild, yet instead of sending them aid, we impose sanctions, making it impossible for them to rebuild!
There is a demonic paradox at the heart of Western foreign policy towards Syria:
- We bomb their country and destroy their homes
- Through sanctions, we then stop them from rebuilding
- We then complain like hell if they try to leave their country to join us!
US Senator, Chris Murphy, summed up the situation rather succinctly in a Twitter Tweet recently: “We bomb your country, creating a humanitarian nightmare, then lock you inside. That’s a horror movie, not a foreign policy.”
We must urge our governments to show some humanity and drop these vicious sanctions. Until this happens though, we must find ways around the sanctions to get resources where they are most needed. Is there a back-door into Syria for humanitarian aid and medicines? The answer is YES, and that back door is the church!
Our delegation was deeply impressed by the aid work being done by the church in Syria, and no work was more impressive than that of ‘Gopa Derd’ – the aid arm of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate.
The Greek Orthodox Church is by far the largest Christian communion in Syria, and they have aid work going on across the country, including major food-distribution and education centres in Aleppo and other critical areas. Gopa Derd does not discriminate in terms of who benefits from their aid. No preference is given to Greek Orthodox Christians or other Christians over Muslims or anybody else. It is a truly Christ-like work!
Most importantly, Father Alexis Chehadeh, the head of Gopa Derd, has a German passport, allowing him to travel in and out of Syria with ease. This means that money can be sent to Alexis’ German account and he can physically carry that money back into Syria to channel it where it’s most needed. Thus we get around the sanctions!
If you’d like to know more about Gopa Derd, this 20-minute video is worth watching in its entirety. If you’d like to contribute to their work, contact me. I can give you the bank account details you need. Personally, I’m trying to coordinate a broad fundraising effort from churches in Sydney to support the work of Gopa Derd. At the same time, I (and my fellow delegates to Syria) are doing our best to lobby our government to end the inhumane sanctions.
Our interview on Syrian TV
In keeping with the Syria focus of this post, the video I’m featuring today is of the delightful Vanig Gonjian interviewing our delegation on Syrian TV. I note that neither my son, Soren, nor Troy Hester – both of whom were essential members of our team – were included in the interview. Even so, it was a great opportunity for Mother Carol, Father Michael, Maher and myself, to further extend the hand of friendship to Syria, not only on behalf of our greater team, but on behalf of all Australian people.
If you feel you’ve missed out on getting your sermon fix today, you can always get my latest sermon on www.fatherdave.net, or my entire sermon video-gallery here! You may also be interested in my Syria video-gallery, featuring our 20 most recent Syria clips. You’ll find that here.
I need your help
In closing, let me apologise again for the time it’s taken to get this update to you. The truth is that I am not on top of things and that I frankly need more help if I’m going to keep all the balls in the air. I balance a variety of responsibilities:
- my role as Parish Priest of Holy Trinity Dulwich Hill
- Management of Binacrombi – our remote bush retreat
- Father Dave’s Old-School Boxing Academy
- being father to four children
I’m also trying to finish a book on “Christians and Muslims can be friends”. On top of that, there’s my commitment to Syria and all that is involved in that, as well as my other social justice and community commitments.
I sincerely believe in the work I’m doing but I need more help if I’m going to get on top of things. So far as I can see, I have three options:
- I find an apprentice who is willing to do long hours for next to nothing
- I broaden my support base so that I can afford to pay people to help.
- I get a boxing match that will pay big dividends and so solve all my problems in one hit (pun intended)!
My search for that big fight is no joke. I haven’t fought for more than a year now and have just had another fight cancelled on me (my 3rd cancellation in a row). I’m fit and ready to rumble if any of you can help me find an opponent.
While I wait for that, I’m open to all suggestions about broadening my support base. As things stand, about 20 of your guys subscribe to www.fighting-fathers.com for $10/month and one of you contributes $100/month. I am deeply grateful to you guys, and if it wasn’t for your support we would have crumbled long ago. Even so, I need a lot more active subscribers if Fighting Fathers Ministries is to move forward, and I’m not sure if that’s even plausible.
So … if you have any ideas, please share them with me. Alternatively, if you’re feeling called to be that overworked and underpaid apprentice, let me know. In truth, I’m wanting to hear from you. All my contact details (including my mobile number) are in the ‘contact’ section of www.fatherdave.org (non-mobile version). Call me, visit me or email me with your wisdom.
Your brother in the Good Fight,
As usual, it’s been far too long since I communicated with you, and here we are at the pointy end of the year already!
I have been flat out:
- Running some amazing Warrior Weekends
- Sharing in some fantastic cross-cultural and interfaith bridge-building work
- Doing plenty of praying and boxing
And now I’m heading back to Syria, hoping to pray in the New Year in one of the ancient Christian communities north of Damascus!
This latest scheme might seem like my craziest yet, but let me lay it out in more detail:
Firstly, I’m planning on celebrating Christmas with my church and my family first. That’s a priority. Secondly, I’m taking a contingent of Christian leaders with me:
- Ven. Carol Wagner (Archdeacon of the Coast – Canberra-Goulburn Diocese)
- Rev. Michael Palmer (rector of Vaucluse)
- Troy Hester (formerly our community worker, and now with Anglicare, in charge of the resettlement of Syrian refugees in Sydney)
- My son, Soren (representing Australian Christian young people)
In other words, we are going to pray rather than box this time (though I am trying to see if I can get a fight in while I am there). Our goals, at any rate, are:
- To take some much-needed medical supplies into Syria
- To establish sister church relationships with Syrian Christian communities
- To allow Syrian Christians to share their stories (through our media team)
We currently have two expert journalists in our media team. Hopefully, by the grace of God, you will soon be seeing their work on your TV and social media, with Syrian Christians telling their story – a story that, up to this point, has not been told!
It is an auspicious time in Syria right now. Aleppo is on the verge of being liberated from the coalition of terrorist groups that have controlled the east of the city for some years. Conversely of course, Palmyra (where we were only a few months ago) has fallen back under the control of DAESH/ISIS. Even so, all indications are that this reversal will not last for long.
Indeed, my hope is that our New Year celebrations will mark the end of the carnage in Syria, for I do believe that once Aleppo has fallen, foreign investors in the war are likely to close their accounts, after which the violence will end as quickly as it began.
Please keep praying for the people of Syria. Their resilience is remarkable, but even if this marks the end of the violence, these good people have a long road to recovery ahead. That’s one of the reasons it’s so important to establish long-term supportive relationships between churches and other community organisations at this point in time. Pray with me that our team will make a genuine contribution in this process.
As always, we are dependent on our support team to get us there and to make it all happen. I appreciate that this is the worst time of year to be asking for financial support. Even so, if you can forward us even a small amount it will be greatly appreciated.
If you’d like to forward us some cash via Paypal, please use my ‘Buy me a drink‘ page, and PLEASE DO NOT MENTION SYRIA anywhere when you make the donation!
On the last occasion, a number of lovely people who tried to contribute included messages of support, along the lines of ‘peace for Syria’ and the very mention of the word ‘Syria’ triggered Paypal’s alarm system. The result was that the account was frozen for a number of weeks and none of those contributions got through.
If you’d like to give support but would prefer to avoid Paypal, just contact me and we’ll work something out. All my contact details (phone number, map to my place, etc.) are in the ‘contact’ section of www.fatherdave.org (ie. the non-mobile version).
Christ is King
For our sermon today, I want to take you back a few weeks, to that day in the church year known as ‘Christ the King Sunday’. It fell on November 20th this year, and is day when we celebrate the rule of Christ in our world.
I appreciate that the very idea that Christ rules our world may seem absurd to many. To all appearances, it is money and power that rule our world. In what sense is God really in charge of anything in this world, and if God is in charge, why isn’t He making a better job of things?
(you can read this sermon here if you prefer, or watch the YouTube version here)
Of course, I can’t close off today without inviting you to be a part of our Christmas celebrations here at the Church of the Holy Trinity in Dulwich Hill.
We’ll be having carol-singing on our rectory lawn, as per usual, from 7pm on Christmas Eve. We’ll also be celebrating our Christmas Eucharist from around 9.15am on Christmas Day. And if you haven’t got anywhere special to be for lunch on Christmas Day, let me know. We currently have plenty of room at our table.
I’ll be in contact again before the big day!
Your brother in the Good Fight,
P.S. Support the work of the Fighting Fathers by joining our online community at www.fighting-fathers.com. It only costs you $10/month and the first month is free.
Father Dave here with a very belated newsletter.
I do apologise for the long lapses in communication. There was a time when I managed to keep in touch with my friends and supporters almost every week. Nowadays I struggle to find time each month, and probably wouldn’t manage it now, except that I’m in synod this week and find myself with time on my hands between sessions!
For those who don’t know what a synod is, it’s the Annual General Meeting of the church – not of our local church community in Dulwich Hill but of the whole Sydney Anglican Diocese, which includes us along with 382 other church communities!
I will say a little more about synod towards the end of this post but I have a lot of things I want to share today, and lots of events I want to invite you to, so I’ll list them all here first and you can choose where you want to go first:
- Pray for Syria
- Pray with me in Syria
- Do something simple for refugees and asylum-seekers
- Video break I
- Invitation: Founding of the Australia-Indonesia Boxing Club
- Invitation: November and December Warrior Weekends
- Invitation: Join the Binacrombi management team
- Video break II (Sermon time)
- Pray for Syria
Please redouble your prayers for Syria. The situation there is very volatile at present, and let me challenge you too to question everything you hear in the media.
Whatever else you’ve heard about Syria lately, you’ve almost certainly been told that:
- The Syrian government and the Russians are committing atrocities in Aleppo.
- The violence in Syria will never end unless there is a humanitarian intervention from the US and NATO.
I’d suggest to you that both of these seeming truisms are completely false.
The problem, as I see it, is that the Syrian Arab Army (and their Russian, Iranian and Lebanese comrades) are on the verge of winning the war against DAESH/ISIS, Al Nusra, etc. Indeed, if it hadn’t been for the recent ceasefire (during which period the rebels in Aleppo re-armed) that battle might be over already, and once Aleppo is back in Syrian hands, the war is basically finished.
My reading of all the rhetoric coming in about the atrocities of the Syrian Army and the Russians is that it’s an attempt to slow things down, at least until Hillary Clinton takes the reins in the US, so that the violence might then be escalated.
I appreciate that this will sound outrageous to those who get all their news from ABC and CNN, but let me offer you two pieces of alternative media:
- This video of my friend, Vanessa Beeley, interviewed by the Ron Paul Institute
- This insightful article by Prof James Petras about media propaganda
And if you’d like to hear what I’ve personally been saying about Syria lately, there’s a video of a short speech that I gave at a recent ‘Hands Off Syria’ rally below.
- Praying with me in Syria
While I can’t divulge any details at this stage, I may have an opportunity in the near future to head back to Damascus to pray for peace with Syrian religious leaders. I’m looking for church leaders who will join me – the more high-profile the better.
My main aim, as always, is to allow the Syrians to tell their story. If we can put together a high-profile religious team, we’ll be able to take a strong media team with us, and if we have the media with us, we can open up the real Syria to the people back home.
If you’d like to join me, let me know. All my contact details are on www.fatherdave.org (the non-mobile version).
- Supporting Refugees and Asylum-seekers
I appreciate that not everybody is able to travel to Syria, and it may be that you can do far more for Syria and for Syrian refugees from where you are. One very simple thing you can do to highlight the plight faced by refugees and asylum-seekers in Australia is to help promote the ‘Skye Boat Song’ by my friend, Ruth McCall!
Ruth is a musician, and she has gone to enormous trouble to put together this video/song as a protest against the treatment of asylum seekers in offshore detention centres. Sydney musicians and choirs got together to say ‘no more’ to the cruelty off offshore detention and seek to promote an honourable response to the current worldwide refugee crisis. You can contact Ruth via her website: www.ruthmccall.com.
- Video Break
- Australian-Indonesian Boxing Club
As a part of our greater effort to build bridges between people of different races and religions, I am proud to announce the foundation of the Australian-Indonesian Boxing Club!
We’ll be having an official launch ceremony for the club at Holy Trinity’s Australia-Indonesia Friendship Afternoon on October 23rd, and you are invited!
Download the flyer here, print it, copy it, share it around, pin it to the fridge, etc.
We expect to have the Indonesian Consular General with us for the occasion, along with a good assortment of community leaders. Most exciting of all, not only the Indonesian Consulate, but also Lina and her team from “Spread Hummus not Hate” will be providing us with a sumptuous afternoon tea to enjoy!
When: October 23rd, 2016, 2 pm
Where: Trinity’s Community Centre, 2 Herbert Street, Dulwich Hill
- Warrior Weekends
Following the foundation of our new club, the obvious next step is to head to Binacrombi – our training camp in the middle of the Australian bush – for another Warrior Weekend, so we’ll be attempting to train like Trojans and pray like monks over the first weekends of both November and December.
These bush training-camps are guaranteed to build your physical and spiritual fitness. They will also hopefully give you a chance to make some of our new Indonesian friends!
- An invitation to join the Binacrombi management team
And while we’re on the subject of Binacrombi Bush Camp, here’s a question from left-field: would you like to be a part of the management team?
We’ve been developing Binacrombi for fourteen years now and we’re on track, I believe, to build our bush-camp into Australia’s greatest ever retreat-space for young people. We’re now at the stage where we need to upgrade our management team, and train up a new group of people to help manage the site on weekends. Are you interested?
Perhaps you’ve often thought of yourself as a bush-camp manager?
- You love dirt-bike riding
- You know how to operate generators and pumps
- You can work with people
You may be just the person we’re looking for! Here’s the deal:
- We train you in how to run the Binacrombi site
- You let us know when you can help cover a weekend
- You get $300 for your efforts when your turn comes
It’s not a huge pay-out, but we’re not looking for people who are in it for the cash.
We are the Fighting Fathers. Our mission is to offer an alternative culture to our young people, based on values of courage, integrity, self-discipline and teamwork. We don’t run at a profit but we do need funds to keep our programs going and this is how we make it work.
Interested? Let me know. All my contact details, as mentioned already, are on www.fatherdave.org (the non-mobile version of the site). We’ll be training people between now and the end of the year.
- Video Break II (Sermon Time)
The lies and the violence of the great powers can be so overwhelming! That’s why we constantly need to be reminded of the love of God for all of His fragile and broken children. Few of Jesus’ teachings bring home that love more powerfully than his well-known parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son.
Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to [Jesus]. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” (Luke 15:1-2)
And so Jesus told them a joke …
(and if this video isn’t displaying properly, you can view it here)
Synod has been a tense time for me personally this year as one of the main subjects under discussion is the church’s stand on same-sex marriage.
I published an article supporting same-sex marriage some four years ago (see here) though I appreciated, even back then, that my views were not shared by many in my Diocese. This disappoints me, but of more immediate concern to me is the way this issue has affected my friend and colleague at Holy Trinity – the Rev Dr Keith Mascord.
Keith recently published his second book – Faith without Fear – in which he raises lots of questions about our traditional understanding of the faith, including issues of sexuality. Keith is also a supporter of same-sex marriage. In his case though, his views seem to have cost him his license to minister as a priest in the Diocese (which you can read more about here)! This has been a cause of great upset for both Keith personally and for our parish.
There was much said in synod about Keith and about same-sex marriage. I kept quiet for the most part but decided that something had to be said in opposition to a motion put forward that was designed to mobilise the church in opposition to same-sex marriage. I was the only person to speak against the motion. I forgot most of what I meant to say but an audio of that I did say is below.
The motion was passed, of course, despite my plea, though I did hear at least two or three other persons say ‘no’. I guess I expected that. What I didn’t expect, and what I personally found much harder to deal with, regarded a proposed amendment to the motion, put forward by my friend Rev. Michael Palmer.
Mike’s amendment, proposed after my brief speech, condemned the “vilification, bigotry or other expressions of hate or fear” directed towards “Christians holding or considering divergent views on same-sex relationships” (eg. me). This proposed amendment was defeated, meaning, one might think, that Anglican Christians in Sydney are at liberty to vilify me (and Keith and other dissenters) as much as they please! I’m sure that wasn’t the intention behind the rejection of the motion, but it did leave me feeling very alienated from the synod as a whole.
Please put in a prayer for Keith, for our Diocese, and for me, but most especially for the GLBTI+ community of Sydney who, I suspect, will interpret synod’s decisions as just another slap in the face from the church. These people have already been subject to a significant history of ecclesiastical abuse.
I do pray for the day when all forms of abuse and discrimination will end, and when the church everywhere will turn to their gay and lesbian sisters and brothers with love and respect, seeking forgiveness for past wrongs. I fear though that that day may yet be a long time coming.
That’s more than enough from me for today.
Your brother in the Good Fight,
P.S. Support the work of the Fighting Fathers by joining our online community at www.fighting-fathers.com. It only costs you $10/month and the first month is free.