Monday Missive – January 28th, 2013

Hi Fighter,

It’s Father Dave, back with you again on a wet and balmy January evening in Sydney.

As is the pattern in Australia, the weather shifts between passionate extremes – going from hot and dusty to a flood situation in a matter of hours!

Every January is like this – floods in the north of the country and bush-fires in the south. We in the middle tend to be blessedly spared most of the calamities. Indeed, the only negative impact the weather has had on me today is that it blocked me from doing my Monday half-marathon, which is a shame as I had about half a dozen lads from the church and Fight Club who were going to join me tonight. Never mind. There’s always next week!

Mind you, next week I head off to Syria too. I think I will be taking my running shoes with me, but I might leave the boxing gloves behind.

Getting Ready for Syria

I want to offer my heartfelt thanks to everybody who has sent words of encouragement for the Syria trip. In truth, I’ve been quite overwhelmed by the show of support!

I’m afraid I need to be a little vague at this stage about my precise itinerary. There are understandable security concerns for our peace delegation, but I do intend to keep you up-to-date every step of the way if I can, most probably through this blog if I can get consistent Internet access.

One exciting piece of news that I can tell you is that it appears that Fighting Father Denning (my noble assistant) may well be coming with me!

Denning’s hope is that he’ll be able to film everything we do there and put together a documentary of the event. I think this would be fantastic, and could be invaluable to us in our efforts to spread the words about the ‘Mussalaha‘ (reconciliation) program when we return.

As for the many of you who have expressed grave fears for our safety, let me assure you that our delegation will apparently be accompanied by an armed escort everywhere we go – by government troops when we are in government-controlled areas and by rebel security forces when we are in rebel-held areas.

In all seriousness, I think the obvious protection we have on this mission is that it not in the interest of either side of the Syrian conflict to have us hurt. Both the government and the rebels are working hard on their public image, and it won’t look good for either side to be responsible for the deaths of a Nobel Peace Prize winner and a group of prominent bishops and other clergy!

Indeed, the only persons who could stand to benefit from our peace delegation having an accident would be power-brokers in my own country or in those of our ‘allies’ outside of Syria who benefit from having the country in turmoil. Keep that in mind, and if anything does happen and you hear that ‘the regime’ is to blame, don’t believe it!

Anyway, I’m not going to think further on that tonight as I have something far more weighty on my mind!

Geale vs. Mundine!

In truth, I don’t know if anyone outside of Australia (apart from truly fanatical boxing fans) would even know who these two characters are, but I can tell you that in this country Geale and Mundine are household names, though that’s not to say that most people would want both men in their households (and almost certainly NOT both at the same time)!

They are fighting this coming Wednesday night in Sydney. I will be in attendance, and I may be in a position to give you a free ticket. I’ll give you the details on how you can get that ticket before we end this missive, but first I want to talk about the fight!

There’s been a fair bit of antipathy shown in the lead-up to this fight, and a lot of that is just showmanship, but it has left a lot of people hating Anthony Mundine, and I get the feeling that a lot of the people who are buying tickets to the fight are doing so in order to see Anthony Mundine get his comeuppance!

Anthony 'the Man' Mundine, sparring with me at our box-a-thon, April 1st, 2012

Anthony ‘the Man’ Mundine, sparring with me at our box-a-thon, April 1st, 2012

Let me say straight up that I make no apologies for being a Mundine fan and supporter. He’s been a great supporter of our Youth Centre, has boxed with me on a number of occasions now to help us raise funds, and has never been anything but a gentleman in the respect he has shown me. Even so, I understand why he puts so many people off.

Anthony has been outspoken on a number of matters where I think he would have been well-advised to keep his opinions to himself, starting with his 9-11 comments given back in October 2001 (for which the US has never forgiven him) but by no means ending there. Indeed, at some points he seems to only open his mouth to change feet!

The lead-up to this latest fight has been a case in point. Anthony has said some things for which he later publicly apologised (such as comments about his opponent’s family) but the things he hasn’t apologised for were just as damaging.

He questioned Daniel Geale’s Indigenous heritage, and suggested that he should not wear an Aboriginal flag on his shorts! He even made the brash statement that “I thought they wiped all the Aborigines from Tasmania out”, and so managed to offend not just Geale (who is a Tasmanian) but the entire Indigenous community across our most southern state!

My feeling is that it really all comes down to Anthony trying to model himself on Muhammad Ali just a little too closely!

I appreciate that Anthony is fast like Ali was fast, and he has tried to emulate Ali’s graceful style as a boxer. He converted to Islam just as Ali did, and he’s tried to speak out on issues of faith and justice just as Ali did. The big difference though was that Ali had the charisma and the quick wit to pull it off, and Anthony just doesn’t have those qualities to the same degree!

Who can forget the way Ali tried to insinuate that George Foreman wasn’t really black, but that he might have some Dutch heritage. He did this in Zaire – in a country that had formerly been under Dutch colonial rule! It was a terrible thing to say, but he said it with that boyish twinkle in his eye, and you knew he wasn’t really serious, and you could not but think of him as a loveable rogue!

When Anthony questioned Geale’s ethnic heritage, he was trying to emulate the master. Indeed, he apparently even used the words ‘Old Tom’ at one point, which was the derogatory term Ali applied to Frazier in the lead-up to the ‘Thriller in Manilla’. The problem Mundine has is that he doesn’t have the twinkle in his eye, and so instead of coming across as a loveable rogue, he just comes across as a rogue!

OK. I wont’ say any more about the fight or the fighters today but I do want to tell you about the free tickets. Surprisingly perhaps, they’ve come to me courtesy of Mr Geale!

I’m being sent the tickets on Tuesday, and they’re earmarked for kids across this community who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford to go. Having said that, there may be some tickets left over and if there is, I’d love to have you join me.

The problem is that I won’t know how many tickets I have left over (if any) until Wednesday morning (ie. the day of the fight). So you’ll need to ring me or email me first thing on Wednesday to find out. If you do email me, make sure you include a phone number where we can reach you as I’ll need to work out how to get your ticket to you.

Faith and Fighting

I know that some people really struggle to understand how a committed peace-activist like myself can simultaneously love sports pugilism! In truth, it’s not an uncommon combination!

I will never forget my time out the front of Ashkelon Prison in April 2004. I was part of a peace protest made up mainly of Jewish students. We were standing outside the prison in which my dear friend, Mordechai Vanunu, had been detained for 18 years. We were waiting for his release and calling for an end to nuclear weapons in the Middle East.

There were thousands of us there, and at least 90% of those people were NOT friends of Morde’s. On the contrary, they were baying for his blood! There were soldiers with machine-guns everywhere. There were police cars and armored vehicles. Slogans were being chanted. Abuse was being shouted. The noise of the helicopters flying overhead was sometimes deafening! And what do you think I was talking about with my two buddies on the front line of that protest?

Who was going to win the fight between Anthony Mundine and Danny Green?

I’ll never forget those intense moments, and I’ll never forget that both of my Jewish mates that day were wrong about the fight! They both picked Green, just as most punters now are picking Geale. Personally, I’m not so sure, but I do think that it will be a larger-than-life event!

Jesus and Family Values!

I can’t offer you Sunday’s sermon today (as I’m afraid it wasn’t recorded this week) so I’m going to share with you one I did a couple of weeks ago that is almost guaranteed to annoy you!

It’s the sermon I gave on the first Sunday after Christmas, on the ‘Feast of the Holy Family’. My passage from Luke chapter 2 concerns the boyhood of Jesus, and it seems like the perfect occasion to get hold of our children and drill them on how to be more Christ-like!

But the truth is that the boyhood of Jesus offers us a rather shocking pattern for anyone to emulate! Do we really want our children to disappear for days at a time, only to show up in a Cathedral somewhere!

And this is just the thin edge of the wedge! All the glimpses we get of Jesus’ earthly family suggest that there was a lot of tension and turmoil there!

You’ve been warned!

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(and if you can’t view the sermon, click here)

That’s plenty from me today, fighter.

Please keep me in your prayers as I do you.

Your brother in the Good Fight,

Dave
www.fatherdave.org
www.fighting-fathers.com
www.israelandpalestine.org
www.how2changetheworld.com

P.S. As I’m apt to remind you, if you’d like to support our work, the best way is to become a financial member at fighting-fathers.com. It only costs you $10/month but it makes all the difference at this end!

About Father Dave Smith

Preacher, Pugilist, Activist, Father of four

Monday Missive – January 21st, 2013

Hi Fighter,

It’s Father Dave back with you again, and I confess that I’m kicking back a bit tonight.

I’m taking it easy, as I feel rather tired.

I’m not sure why I feel tired but I’ve abandoned my weekly half-marathon run tonight and am enjoying a glass of wine instead.

I feel a bit bad about the fact that my running partner, Solomon ‘Mr Jones’ Egberime, won’t have me to push him along, but the truth is that when he runs with me he has to slow himself down so much that he runs backwards for about a third of the journey and at other times literally runs rings around me!

I think he’ll manage just fine without me!

Now … I’ve had some exciting news since last we spoke.

I’m off to Syria! (God willing)

I mentioned last week that I’ve been invited to be a part of a peace delegation in Syria, but I wasn’t sure last week whether I was going to be able to commit to the trip.

My main concern was being back in time for our Confirmation service that’s being held in the second half of February. It appears though that Mother Agnes and the team have shuffled things around a little to make it possible for me to get back in time. Indeed I am humbled by their efforts.

Since making the decision to go I’ve received all sorts of news – both positive and negative – that has increased my level of excitement and anticipation!

On the one hand I’ve heard that my old friend Bishop Riah Abu el-Assal is going to be joining the international delegation! Riah was Bishop of Jerusalem when I made my one and only visit there in 2004 to be reunited with dear Morde Vanunu when he completed his 18-year sentence in Ashkelon Prison.

Bishop Riah was the man who gave Morde sanctuary in the guest house of the Cathedral, and he was gracious enough then to let me spend a week in his own flat in that guest-house so that I had time to catch up with Morde!

The pic below of me and Riah and my dear friend Sheikh Mansour is from when the Bishop visited Sydney two years later. We hosted a dinner for him here in Dulwich Hill. What a great night that was!

Bishop Riah with me and Mansour in 2006

Anyway, not only will dear Bishop Riah be there, along with the great Mairead Maguire and dear Mother Agnes, but I’m told that Rev. Stephen Sizer from Surrey in England will be joining the delegation too!

The Reverend Sizer is another man I have long admired for his fearless social justice advocacy and he’s been the feature of a number of articles lately on israelandpalestine.org – mainly concerning complaints that have been made about him to his Bishop!

Anyway … all this is very exciting. On the other hand though, all the news coming out of Syria is scary at the moment.  It seems that the heaviest fighting is in the very areas we are planning on visiting. Apparently we’ll be traveling into areas controlled by both government and rebel troops.

I uploaded this video concerning a recent massacre in Homs to the Fighting Fathers Member site. The report well reflects the conflicting narratives about what is taking place in Syria. The rebels claim that the government troops are responsible for the atrocities, but the survivors of this massacre disagree, blaming instead masked rebels who had the words ‘Allahu Akbar’ (‘God is great’) printed on their headbands!

I personally can’t imagine anything more demonic than a group of men proclaiming ‘God is great’ while they slaughter women and children. It seems the height of blasphemy to me!

Mind you, it’s not as if Islamic fundamentalism has a monopoly on such atrocities. I hate to think of the terror once wrought by the Crusaders, each proudly bearing the symbol of the cross on their shields as they butchered people mercilessly in the name of Christ! And those knights of old have plenty of modern counterparts – fiery preachers who mix Christian jargon with mindless nationalism.

I’m personally suspicious of any church that hangs its national flag at the centre of its place of worship. I’m not opposed to patriotism. I just don’t understand it. It seems to be a way of saying that my country is better than yours, or at the very least that my pride in human achievement should stop at my nation’s borders.

It seems to me that if we are serious about calling Jesus Christ our Lord then all other Kings and Kaisers and Presidents and Prime Ministers need to take their proper place, and our human family should be of far greater concern to us than any sub-group within that family with whom we share a common language or skin-colour or country of birth!

… sorry … I’ve slipped into pulpit-mode, haven’t I, and I do try to restrict myself to just one sermon per week?

Anyway … hopefully I’m off to Syria in a few weeks and if there are genuine dangers to be faced, I’ll be facing them in excellent company!

The Hot and the Holy

I did want to share a sermon with you this week, though it’s not the one from last Sunday.

It’s a sermon that I gave last December, and I think it was probably the best sermon I gave last year. It was a sermon on the book (and the character) of Ruth.

I find Ruth to be one of the most inspiring characters in the entire Biblical drama, though I appreciate that she is rarely extolled as one of the heroes of the faith, as her exploits can seem trivial in comparison with some of the more colourful Biblical women and men.

But it’s Ruth’s ordinariness that really captures my imagination! I am inspired by her for the same reason that Joe Frazier always inspired me as a boxer!

Frazier, to my mind, may have been the World Heavyweight champion with the least natural ability of all time! He was a very one-dimensional fighter. He wasn’t super-fast or super-strong or super-anything. He was just a damn hard worker, and he made up for his lack of natural ability with a deep and passionate commitment to his art!

Ruth is a heavyweight champion of the same ilk! She wasn’t a powerful person (in worldy terms). She had no great role or significant job. She had no education nor any obvious special ability. She had one thing going or her – she was drop-dead gorgeous – and she made that work for her! Indeed, she used her body to secure a future for herself and for the elderly woman who was more dear to her than life itself!

I suspect that the good religious folk of Ruth’s day always looked down on her as someone who was willing to prostitute herself for the sake of her mother-in-law. I see her as a genuine Christ-figure in that regard – as one who sacrificed her body for the sake of those she loved!

However we decide on Ruth, she is indeed a powerful combination of principle and passion, of the erotic and the domestic, of the hot and the holy.

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(and if you can’t see the video because you’re on your iPhone, click here)

That’s enough from me for one day, fighter.

I’ll keep you in touch with my progress as I prepare for the trip to Syria, though you’ll appreciate that we are trying not to publish the details of the trip too broadly.

Keep me in your prayers as I do you.

Your brother in the Good Fight,

Dave
www.fatherdave.org
www.fighting-fathers.com
www.israelandpalestine.org
www.how2changetheworld.com

P.S. As I’m apt to remind you, if you’d like to support our work, the best way is to become a financial member at fighting-fathers.com. It only costs you $10/month but it makes all the difference at this end!

About Father Dave Smith

Preacher, Pugilist, Activist, Father of four

Monday Missive – January 14th, 2013

Hi Fighter!

It’s Father Dave and it’s good to be back with you for another week.

Before I say anything else today let me thank you for your prayers for Bernie!

There was a torrent of prayerful response to last week’s missive where I mentioned my time with a dear man named Bernie. Without wanting to intrude into his privacy, let it suffice to say that after he left me some very positive things happened for him that resulted in him returning home safely. Thanks be to God!

And special thanks to Fighting Father Tony, who helped me track Bernie down. It was a chase that took me on a circuitous route through boarding-houses and places in suburban Sydney where I had never been before. Even so, the quest had a happy outcome! Thank you!

Your Prayers Requested

I have an opportunity to embark on another exciting quest next month, but I’m currently quite unsure about whether I should go and would value your prayers and your feedback.

I’ve been invited to go to Damascus (in Syria) to be a part of an international peace delegation. The venture is being organised by dear Mother Agnes of Homs, who you will remember came and shared with us here at Holy Trinity late last year.

Father Dave and Mother Agnes

Mother Agnes is one of this world’s great saints – a woman who has put her body on the line for the sake of the people of Syria and for the sake of peace. And the international delegation she has pulled together is going to be headed up by another hero of mine – Mairead Maguire – the woman who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1974 for her magnificent work as a peacemaker in Northern Ireland!

I must admit that I would happily travel half way around the world to meet Ms Maguire, and I expect I probably could make a useful contribution in terms of drawing attention to what’s happening at the grass-roots in Syria. At the same time though the timing is very bad for the parish here. We have a Confirmation service scheduled and all sorts of other significant events looming at around that time.

If I do go to Damascus I will be there for my 51st birthday! It is weird to think that I might spend my birthday in a warzone. Even so, as students of the New Testament know, the Road to Damascus has a history as a place of great spiritual encounter! What better place to celebrate?!

The Baptism of Jesus

I’ve got another sermon for you this week. Yesterday was the day the church traditionally remembers the ‘Baptism of Jesus’ – an event that I must admit has never inspired me!

I went through my pile of old sermons and discovered (to my horror) that I had never preached on this topic before either! I’ve been a professional preacher now for 25 years! How did I manage to avoid Jesus’ baptism for all this time!

No matter! I determined that I must do it and I spent many, many hours reading through scholarly material on the subject and turning it all over in my head. Eventually something clicked for me!

I’ll warn you in advance though that all I really do with the sermon is retrace the steps I took to come to terms with the passage. I had feared that this might make the whole sermon a bit too academic. Even so, a surprising number of people told me that they found it very helpful.

I’d be grateful for any comments you might leave on the blog. I’ve had some excellent constructive criticism from people who have watched me preach lately and would welcome more!

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If you’re having trouble seeing the video, click here.

A couple more quick things before I wind up this week:

Firstly, I mentioned the great Mother Agnes above. You might not know that Fighting Father Denning created a DVD of the talks she gave here on what’s really going on in Syria.

You can watch each of these sessions separately on our YouTube channel, but if you’d rather have them in higher quality on a DVD I have a few copies left! Paypal us $10 to cover postage we’ll send you the DVD at no extra charge. The Fighting Fathers Paypal address dave [AT] fatherdave.org (nb. replace [AT] with @).

Secondly, I would like to encourage all members of our online community to share their wisdom in our online forum.

There are two threads at the moment that I’d recommend in particular:

  • The first is the thread about gun control in the US. This has certainly been the most heated thread we have ever had on the forum. Even so, there is a lot of good information and a lot of wisdom contained there too.
  • The second is a thread started by Fighting Father Rob from Michigan and addresses issues of God and science and the reality of pain and injustice. In other words, it tackles the big issues!

I’d love to hear more on this latter thread from some of the professional theologians who are part of our online community. In truth, I’d love to hear more from everybody! C’mon! Get that light of yours out from underneath that bushel!

I’ll be back with you next week.

May the Lord bless and strengthen you for the work to which you have been called

Your brother in the Good Fight,

Dave
www.fatherdave.org
www.fighting-fathers.com
www.israelandpalestine.org
www.how2changetheworld.com

P.S. Thank you to new members who joined our member site (www.fighting-fathers.com) between this week and last. Your $10/month contribution makes an enormous difference.

About Father Dave Smith

Preacher, Pugilist, Activist, Father of four

Monday Missive – January 7th, 2013

Hi Fighter,

It’s Father Dave back with you, and wishing you a ‘Happy Epiphany!’

I appreciate that Epiphany (which is the day when we remember the wise men who came to worship the baby Jesus) isn’t celebrated by many people, and certainly not as vibrantly as Christmas or New Year. Even so, so far as ‘feast days’ go, Epiphany is my personal favourite, and I’ll explain why a little later in this email, but there’s something on my heart that I want to share with you first.

I had a visit tonight from a man who I suspect may now be dead?

I was just about to head off on my half-marathon run tonight when there was a knock on the front door. It was an older guy who looked in pretty bad shape. He asked if he could talk to me for a few minutes and I assumed he was going to spin me a yarn as to why he needed $50 to visit his brother in hospital …

But … hang on a second … I know this guy! His name is Bernie.

I had only met him once. It was at the Retired Boxers Association meeting towards the end of last year. I had been the guest speaker, but this guy had got up after me to make another speech.

I’d thought I was the only speaker, and evidently most of the guests thought the same, as none of them seemed to be paying any attention to Bernie but were chatting away to each other instead.

Bernie stammered out “I’m not very good with words … I’ve got brain cancer … I haven’t got long to live” All of a sudden the room went very quiet.

What followed was a beautiful and moving story where Bernie told us about how his son had been diagnosed with cancer as a child, but how the two of them developed a love for boxing and how his son became a die-hard fan of a particular Aussie boxer – Heath Stenton – and how father and son had followed Stenton around the country, attending every one of his fights.

Bernie spoke of the wonderful love and respect that Stenton showed his son, often having him on his knee during press conferences, and how other boxers, such as Danny Green and Anthony Mundine had likewise shown kindness and respect to the ailing young man and his dad.

Bernie’s speech was not beautifully-worded nor eloquently delivered but it is was certainly the most moving tribute to the greats of Aussie boxing that I have ever heard!

And now he was here at my front door! Why?

He wanted me to give a message to Anthony Mundine.

That sounded very odd. I can’t pretend to know Anthony well and I don’t know his address. Moreover, it shouldn’t be too hard for Bernie to track down Anthony himself. Why involve me? As he expanded on the story, it all started to make sense.

“I’ve been at St Mary’s Cathedral today”, he told me. “I’ve made my peace with God. I’ve said goodbye to my wife. I’m making this final pilgrimage to tie up some loose ends.”

Bernie explained to me that he’d seen his own father die of brain cancer and he knows how it can change your personality for the worse. He said he can feel himself changing already. He wants those he loves to remember him as the man he is, not as the man the disease could turn him into.

I made a few stammering remarks about ‘not needing to hurry the process along’ and told him that I’d watched both my parents die of cancer and that it didn’t have to be an undignified process. Bernie smiled and thanked me for my concern and farewelled me. I embraced him and said “we’ll meet again”. He left.

I don’t know where he went from here. I didn’t see any point in trying to stop him leaving. Should I have called the police? Would it have done any good?

I don’t know anything about this man apart from his first name and his beautiful story. I don’t know how to contact his wife or family. If you happen to know any of those details can you pass them on to me ASAP please. I don’t want to just leave things at this point!

One thing I certainly will follow-up on is a meeting with Anthony Mundine.

I asked Bernie to jot down some of the details in my notebook so that Anthony could place their meeting. Bernie didn’t think Anthony would remember him but that didn’t seem to bother him. He just wanted ‘The Man’ to know how much respect both father and son had for him! It was a parting gift!

Well … there’s not much more I can say about that, but it’s left me feeling rather emotional.

I offer you the story of our brother Bernie today, and I offer you my Epiphany sermon.

Why do I like Epiphany so much? Because it’s all about inclusiveness.

Yes, I know it’s about three wise men and their gifts of gold, Frankenstein and myrrh (or at least that’s the version some of our kids remember) but the whole point of the story is that these people are outsiders.

These people are not good Jews. They aren’t Jews at all! From a Biblical perspective they are from the wrong country, wrong culture, wrong language-group and … wrong religion!

I won’t go into that more here as you’ll get it in the sermon if you’re interested. The point to make here is simply that if there’s room for those strange wise men in the Nativity scene then there’s room for all of us – you, me, and certainly dear brother Bernie.

Enjoy the sermon!

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And if you can’t view the video, click here.

I’ll be back with you next week.

And while you know I hate asking anyone for money, if one of your New Years resolutions happened to be ‘give more support to Father Dave and Fighting Fathers Ministries’ a $10/month subscription to our member site would make all the difference in helping us cover our costs.

May the Lord bless and strengthen you for the work to which you have been called

Your brother in the Good Fight,

Dave
dave@fatherdave.org
www.fatherdave.org
www.fighting-fathers.com
www.israelandpalestine.org
www.how2changetheworld.com

About Father Dave Smith

Preacher, Pugilist, Activist, Father of four