For any of you who didn’t hear, my fight with Billy Kinbacher was a great success. Indeed, it was exhilarating to be back in the ring, and I was lucky enough to emerge in one piece and with a win. My opponent was an absolute gentleman and it was a privilege to fight him.
As you know, fighting for me is never just about fighting, and many good things have already emerged from this bout. One of them was a message of congratulations I received immediately after the fight from a fellow professional boxer, Ezatullah Kakar, who contacted me from Papau New Guinea where he has been a guest of the Australian government for some years.
Ezatullah is an asylum-seeker from Pakistan who had made the unfortunate mistake of thinking that Australia might be a sanctuary for him. Our government’s response is to keep people like Ezatullah in indefinite detention – using their suffering as a deterrent to others who make the mistake of taking our national anthem seriously.
For those who’ve come across the seas
We’ve boundless plains to share
It would be far more honest if our government would delete those lines from our national anthem, or perhaps replace “boundless plains” with “endless pain” or something more appropriate. As you will remember, I travelled to Manus Island last year. I met with many of the men in detention there and I promised them that I would continue to work for their freedom. That message from Ezatullah has given me another opportunity to do just that.
Ezatullah is fighting for the Oceanic Light-Middleweight Title in Port Moresby next week against the local champion, John Korake. He asked me to support him, so I asked him to get me a spot on the undercard so that I could fight alongside him. The result is that I am now scheduled to fight Luke Baro – a local pug who is 16 years my junior, a kilo or two heavier, and has 72 fights behind him. I know what you’re thinking – “take it easy on him, Dave!” Don’t worry. I promise I’ll be nice. 😉
Of course, the focus of my return to PNG is the main event, and assuming that I recover adequately from my bout, I’ll be a part of Ezatullah’s corner team. Either way, I intend to interview him extensively before the fight and try to get his message out to the world. Ezatullah says he will be fighting for all the men of Manus, and for the men, women and children of Nauru.
My plan is to publish everything through the Father Dave Facebook page, at least initially. You don’t need to be a member of Facebook to access the page, and I’ve found that Facebook pages are an excellent platform for live video. Once we’ve streamed via Facebook, we’ll archive the footage as quickly as possible on YouTube. Either way, you should be able to access all the action as it happens or shortly thereafter.
Of course, all this assumes that the technology will work flawlessly, and I’m not taking that for granted. My experience with PNG thus far has been that most of these things work most of the time there. Even so, it’s in God’s good hands, and I trust that it will all come together somehow.
As to the financing of this one, I am deeply grateful for the support I’ve already received from our church community. I’m also being supported by everyone who contributes monthly support through membership of our Fighting Fathers’ online community (www.fighting-fathers.com).
Over the coming months, I’m hoping to get new members signing up at www.fighting-fathers.com.We’ve been working hard on getting the new site fully functional and are grateful for all feedback. I figure that if I can get twenty good souls subscribing at the $100/month level (or better) that we’ll be able to keep this sort of work going indefinitely without the need for special fundraisers. Indeed, maybe I’ll even be able to stop fighting?
Keep us in your prayers, please. There is much to pray for (as always), but pray especially for Ezatullah, and that our efforts will achieve something for the men of Manus and for the men, women and children of Nauru.
November 11th this year was a historic day – 100 years since the end of the first World War – and it fell on a Sunday. I felt I could not avoid the subject of war in my sermon, however controversial my views might be, and the Gospel reading – the story of the Widow’s mite (Mark 12:41-44) – seemed highly appropriate.
If you know the story, Jesus praises a widow who puts her small coin into the Temple treasury, even though it is everything she has to live on. The story is haunting, for we cannot but join Jesus in admiring the sacrificial generosity of the woman and yet, at the same time, we know that the cause for which she sacrificed herself was of highly ambiguous value. Indeed, in the same passage, Jesus rips into the very same temple institution for its corruption – the institution that took this woman’s money.
The parallels here with our history of warfare seemed all too obvious to me. We cannot but admire the self-sacrificial courage of those individuals who serve in our defense forces. At the same time though, we have to question the institutions and governments that send our people to war.
As I said, I knew I would be controversial. Even so, I think this is the only sermon I have ever given at Holy Trinity where one of our beloved parishioners stood up and confronted me verbally during the sermon. Perhaps you would have too?
(for the written version of this sermon, click here)
I’ll try be in contact with you again before Christmas, fighter. if you’re going to be in the Dulwich Hill area though over the next two weeks, do make plans to join us in our Yuletide festivities.
- Christmas Eve: Carols on the rectory lawn from 7 pn
- Christmas Day Eucharist at 9.15 am
- lunch afterwards with our family if you’re on your own 🙂
And if you’re wondering what to get me for Christmas, consider signing up to our members site at www.fighting-fathers.com. That would indeed make me merry 🙂
Yours in the Good Fight,
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,
I’m finally resurfacing after a few very intense weeks. Specifically, over the last four weeks I’ve:
- Boxed my old nemesis, Dimitry Patsouris
- Helped raise some funds for the men of Manus Island
- Overseen the Australian tour of human-rights activist, Rev. Stephen Sizer
- Celebrated Easter
All of the above have been worthwhile and exciting but they’ve left me a little exhausted. Indeed, towards the end of this post I’ll be making an appeal for more help. If you want to avoid hearing me beg, stop reading a few paragraphs short of the end. 😉
In terms of the fight/fundraiser, it was quite a surreal event. It was a great team effort and we did raise a significant amount for the detainees on Manus Island and Nauru. Even so, they were the weirdest rounds of boxing I’ve ever experienced.
After it was all over, it took me some time to work out why the boxing felt so odd. Then I realised – I’m used to performing in front of hard-core boxing fans, many of whom are drunk. This time we had a crowd of church people and humanitarians, all of whom were very quiet and respectful. Gone were the screams of “rip his head off”, and similar words of encouragement. Instead, a deathly silence descended upon the ring when Dimitri and I started our stoush! I wasn’t sure how to respond! We’re going to have to give this some serious thought before we do it again (though do it again, we will). 🙂
I’m posting the video that Denning made of the fight below. I’d appreciate it if you’d share it around, either by directing your friends to this page or by directly sharing the YouTube link. The aim is two-fold: firstly, I’m hoping that the video will help generate more funds for Gifts for Manus and Nauru. The men on Manus Island, and the men, women and children of Nauru most surely need more support. Secondly though, I’m hoping that the video might catch the eye of a few boxing promoters.
I expect that this will be my last year as a professional fighter, so I want to give it my best shot. As you’ll see in the video, I’m in great shape at the moment. Even so, I’m already Australia’s oldest pro fighter of all time and I don’t expect that I’ll be able to keep going forever. I’d really like to do some significant fundraising with my fists while I still can. I’ll accept any reasonable offer.
So, if you want to challenge me or if you want to organise a challenge for me, I’m ready. I’m pursuing one possibility at the moment for a fight in Eastern Ghouta (in Syria) but that may be a few months away. I’m ready to rumble now. You just need a good cause and some cash to make it happen. Contact me.
The other key event that I’ve been involved in lately is the tour of Rev. Dr. Stephen Sizer around Australia. Stephen, like me, is an Anglican Priest. Also like me, he has a passion for building bridges between faith communities, and for seeing a just peace prevail in Israel/Palestine. Unlike me, he’s written several books on these subjects and has completed a doctoral thesis on the history of Christian Zionism!
I first met Stephen in Iran in 2014, and we’ve been talking about having him come to Australia ever since. This year it finally happened, and it was worth the wait. The only downside was that we only covered the east coast of Australia (Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne) though he had invitations to both Adelaide and Perth.
If you missed hearing Stephen while he was in Oz, all is not lost. There’s plenty of video evidence of his visit:
- His sermon at Holy Trinity Dulwich Hill
- His seminar on the problem of Christian Zionism
- His Radio interview with Lyn Arnold (former Premier of South Australia)
- This excellent interview on Community Radio
Stephen’s main focus was the way certain elements in the church have contributed to the oppression of the Palestinian people through the propagation of Christian Zionism. If you don’t know anything about Christian Zionism, the above links are a good starting point. If you’re all too familiar with this aberration on the Gospel as it’s taken over your town, you might consider inviting Stephen to come and pay you a visit. You’ll find him through his web pages – www.stephensizer.com and www.peacemakers.ngo.
It’s always a challenge, coming up with a new sermon for Easter Sunday. Along with Christmas, it’s a day where you don’t have a lot of choice about the Bible readings or the theme. This Easter I really struggled to come up with a fresh angle on the text. I had plenty of thoughts about our community though and what we were going through, so I just started writing about us. Strangely, the message of Easter hope just seemed to rise right out of my reflections on the community!
This is a dangerous way to write a sermon, and I don’t recommend it to budding preachers. Even so, I had more than one person say to me afterwards that it’s the best sermon they’ve ever heard me give! That’s why I thought I’d share it today.
“But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” (Luke 5:16)
Having been racing around for the last month, I’m heading into the wilderness for a few days. I’d like you to join me.
Dates: April 20th to 22nd
Aim: To find a lonely space where we can pray and reflect
Location: Binacrombi bush retreat (where mobile phones do not work)
You are probably familiar with my ‘Warrior Weekends’ programme, where we head out to Binacrombi for a weekend of intense physical training. My idea this time is to attempt something altogether different – a weekend of prayer and fasting.
My proposal is that we follow the Benedictine pattern of meeting five times for prayer on the Saturday – at 6 am, 9 am, noon, 3 pm and 6 pm. Further, I suggest we keep eating to a minimum until after our final prayer session of the day, after which we have a huge BBQ feast.
If that sounds too intense, be assured that you don’t have to fast, and you don’t have to pray either. You can spend the weekend swimming in the billabong, walking and looking at the stars if you prefer. I’d still like to have you with me.
The cost for the weekend is $200 for the rich, $100 for the poor and free for the destitute, and you decide which category you fall into. Let me know if you’re interested.
And before I let you go, let me make my plea for help. I really do need a few more Fighting Fathers to help me share the load. If I could pay for a strong team of assistants, I would. At the moment that’s not an option, so I’m accepting all volunteers and those who need minimal remuneration.
At the moment, I’m in particular need of a webmaster – someone who can help me oversee my websites and keep them running smoothly. Coding ability in HTML and PHP would be a big advantage but is not essential.
If I find the right person, they can help me restart the member site at www.fighting-fathers.com and this in turn could generate some income that could then help renumerate the webmaster. Even so, you have to be willing to start out working for peanuts. If that sounds attractive, contact me. If that’s not you, say a prayer for me.
Till next we meet, I remain …
your brother in the Good Fight,
If you’ve been wondering why I’ve published so few blog posts lately, I’ve been flat out putting together two big events, both of which I want to invite you too now.
The Fighting for the Men of Manus fundraiser is overdue. The men of Manus Island have been treated so shamefully by this country, and every day we sit on our hands and allow the abuse to continue adds to our shame.
A large part of what we hope to accomplish on Sunday is to raise awareness. We will have representatives of the major asylum-seeker and refugee-support agencies with us. These people will speak to us about their work and tell us how we can support them as they support the men on Manus, and the men, women and children on Nauru. We’ll also be streaming some of the video interviews we did with the men of Manus when I was in the detention centre with them last November.
We also intend to raise money – lots of it. Hopefully our costs on the day will be covered by sponsors, allowing us to forward 100% of what is collected to Gifts for Manus and Nauru, who supply detainees with emergency food, water, and other vital supplies, including phone credit!
Some may think that phone credit is hardly a necessity but, for the men of Manus, it is their lifeline to the outside world. Not only has it allowed them to make their situation known, but it has also put them back in contact with their families.
I met one man there who had been targeted by the Taliban in Afghanistan, and so had left his pregnant wife with her father while he searched for a safer home. He reached Australia, hoping this might be the beginning of a new life for his family. Instead it was the beginning of an indefinite prison term on a remote island. His son is four years old now and they have never met. They connect through Skype.
Of course, I can’t mention this event without talking about my stoush with my old nemesis – Dimitri ‘the Dominator’ Patsouris!
I first met this man inside the ring 22 years ago, when he was known as Jimmy ‘the Devil’ Pat. It was my debut as a professional boxer, and it was certainly the roughest stoush I had ever had at that stage. You can see the last round here.
In truth, I was lucky to get away with a draw, and I was in no mood for a rematch at the time. Now though, 22 years later …
I must make clear though that this is NOT an official boxing match. There are lots of reasons for that, the most obvious of which is that it will cost us at least $1,000 to have the event formally sanctioned, and I really don’t want any of the proceeds going to anybody apart from our friends on Manus and Nauru!
So, officially, this is a friendly four-round sparring session between two old pugs – no referee, no judges, and no decision (except for the decision you guys make). I don’t even have a ringside doctor organised (though if you are a doctor and you’d like to come, I’d by happy to give you a ringside seat).
I don’t expect anything to go wrong or for anyone to get seriously hurt, but given that Dimitri and I both went on to win state and national titles after our initial clash, we’ve both got a point to make. 😉
Sunday, March 11th, beginning at 12 noon (main event scheduled for 1pm)
Holy Trinity Community Centre, 2 Herbert Street, Dulwich Hill
And for those who can’t make it, the event will be live-streamed through Facebook Live. You’ll be able to watch the whole thing from your computer or mobile phone through the church’s Facebook page, and we will have a donate link on the page. We expect to start streaming at around 12.30
And if you’d like to download the poster for the event and help share the love, you’ll find it here.
My sermon today is on Jesus’ clearing of the temple as recorded in John 2:14-16. It’s perhaps the only time in the Gospels that we see Jesus really angry!
I confess that I don’t feel very comfortable with the angry Jesus. I prefer gentle Jesus, meek and mild. The Jesus who wields a whip and screams at people is not the Jesus I talk about to my children before saying nightly prayers. At the same time though, is a Jesus who doesn’t get angry about what’s happening on Manus Island a Jesus worth praying to at all?
With all that’s going on, on Manus, in Syria, and in so many places around our word, we need to rediscover the hostility of Jesus towards all forms of corruption and exploitation.
(for the written version of this sermon, click here)
The second invitation I want to offer you today regards the Australian tour of Reverend Doctor Stephen Sizer.
Stephen is most well known for his support for Palestinian people suffering under the Israeli occupation. More specifically, he’s a renowned opponent of Christian Zionism, which tends to condone all actions taken by the government of Israel, believing this to be a Biblical mandate!
Whether you know a little or a lot about Israel/Palestine, Stephen is definitely working hearing. He’ll be speaking in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne this month, and I’d encourage you to make the effort to hear him if you can. If you’re in Sydney, put aside Sunday, March 18th.
- 9.15 am – preaching at Holy Trinity, Dulwich Hill
(Herbert Street, Dulwich Hill)
- 2.00 pm – a pubic seminar on “Israel, the Church and the Bible”
(2 Herbert Street, Dulwich Hill)
- 5.30 pm – Balmain Uniting Church “Voices from Palestine and Israel”
344 Darling Street, Balmain
That’s more than enough from me today. Keep me in your prayers, as I do you.
Your brother in the Good Fight,
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,
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,