It’s Father Dave, after another prolonged period of silence. So many things have happened since I last communicated with you. Most obviously, I spent a week in Iran, and that was an intense and wonderful experience.
I must confess that I wasn’t really looking forward to that trip at all. I’d been invited to speak at a conference about Palestine, and I thought it was important to have a Christian speaker at the event. Even so, I didn’t expect to enjoy myself, but thought that it would be a light schedule and that the week away would give me time to finish work on my book. I was wrong on all counts!
I did enjoy myself! That was in part due to the number of old friends I caught up with over the week. Miko Peled was there – a man for whom I have an enormous love and respect. Paul Larudee was there, Alison Weir, and others known world-wide for their Palestinian activism. Some of the world’s most famous whistle-blowers were there too – people like Peter Van Buren and Dr Phil Giraldi! Indeed, the only ones missing were Assange, Snowden, and my old mate, Morde Vanunu. It was all a wonderful surprise, though my biggest surprise (predictably) happened in the boxing ring!
In the lead up to the conference I had written to the organisers and said that I was available to box if that could help the cause. I received what I thought was a rather curt response, along the lines that they had fifty other delegates to worry about and that this was not a priority. I gave it no further thought. Even so, when I turned up at the hotel in Mashad, not having slept for two days and completely worn out, I was told “Your boxing match is tomorrow.” I asked, “Is this a serious fight?” The response was, “we don’t know. It’s been organised by the Ministry of Sport”
The result was the most unique boxing experience I’ve ever had (and that’s really saying something)! Indeed, I expect that it will be the only fight I ever have where my opponent meets me at centre ring with a bouquet of flowers! The aftermath of the fight was even more colourful, with the dozen or so boxing officials lining up to give me a long-stemmed rose each and a kiss on each cheek!
In addition to the fight, the other surprise I received on arrival in Mashad was the news that there was a film crew there to make a documentary about me! This led me away from the conference for a significant block of time, but meant I was able to visit places I would never otherwise have seen, such as the spinal-injury unit of a hospital for Iran-Iraq war veterans, and an orphanage for Hazara refugees whose dads had recently died, fighting in Syria.
As the conference drew to a close and I thought I was finally going to get some rest, someone dropped some papers in front of me on the dinner-table (as they did on the table of every delegate). It was an itinerary for the following day, which in my case meant being in the lobby at 6 am for a flight across the country, followed by a three-hour drive. I was going to Urmia, in the north-west of Iran, near the borders of both Turkey and Azerbaijan. I was initially horrified. Suffice it to say though that my 24 hours in Urmia, addressing students at the University and visiting one of the largest churches in the city, was one of the highlights of my trip!
And so I returned to Sydney, exhausted, but with a feeling of deep gratitude towards my friends in Iran, along with a renewed passion to continue the fight for the beleaguered people of Palestine.
Palestine had been the focus of the conference and of my talks, and, along with the other delegates, I had watched the brutal murder of so many unarmed protesters in Gaza while our conference took place. At one level it seemed almost sacrilegious to be making fine speeches while these people were bleeding. At the same time though, it reminded me that the only weapon we can bring to this fight is the truth, and I have to believe that the truth will ultimately set the Palestinian people free. If you’d like to hear my contribution on the errors of Christian Zionism, you’ll find it here.
Of course, there has been plenty to keep me busy at home too – prayer and boxing-training weekends at Binacrombi, multiple wonderful Iftar dinners during Ramadan, and protests to mark six years of arbitrary detention for our brother, Julian Assange. It’s all been very painful and very stressful and yet all very wonderful at the same time. We live in dangerous days, and yet there are plenty of reasons to celebrate.
Sermon Time – encountering the Ethiopian Eunuch
The English-speaking church has become very focused on issues of gender and sexuality in recent days. Some would say that we’ve always been obsessed with sex. Certainly in Australia the recent debates over same-sex marriage have brought discussions about sexuality to the top of the church’s agenda.
In the context of this debate, it surprises me that Bible-centred Christians make so little reference to that strangely gender-non-specific character who appears in the eighth chapter of the Book of Acts – the Ethiopian eunuch.
The Eunuch is a key character in the story of the early church because his conversion marks the point at which we moved beyond being an all-white, all Jewish homogeneous community! This guy is not only not-white and not-Jewish but his sexual issues should have excluded him from the temple community altogether. Even so, he was enthusiastically embraced by the church. Click below to hear my thoughts, or click here if you’d like the written version.
The first is an inter-faith event happening next Friday – June 29th – where Holy Trinity Dulwich Hill is hosting Sheikh Dr Nour Kabbani as he travels across Australia on his Caravan of Peace.
Sheikh Kabbani will be signing the Charter of Compassion with us, along with other representative faith and community leaders in Dulwich Hill. If you’ve never read the charter, you’ll find a copy of it here. For details of the event, click the poster below.
The other wonderful event happens the following day – June 30th – where we’ll be holding a bush-dance to raise money for the House of Welcome – a place where asylum-seekers and refugees find welcome, shelter and empowerment, regardless of their age, gender, sexuality, nationality or religion.
You can find out more about this wonderful event (and book tickets) here.
I’ll leave you in peace now and hope to see you next week. Hopefully, I’ll be contacting you again shortly after that with details of another Boxers for Peace tour of Syria. We are just waiting for a final confirmation of the dates.
Much to do, much to pray for, much to celebrate.
Yours in the Good Fight,