Peace Pilgrimage to Syria ‚Äď peace work in Iran

Hi Fighter,

Once again it’s been too long since I’ve posted. ūüôĀ

I’m back in Oz now, well ensconced with my family. Even so, a large part of my heart remains in Syria. So many memories and images continue to turn over¬†in my mind.
Not all of them are good but all are full of life and colour.

I’m sorry that I haven’t posted all the pics and videos from our pilgrimage up here yet. That’s partly because I’ve been under the gun since I got back. It’s also because we’ve been waiting to see whether any TV stations are going to screen our footage.¬†Things are still unclear but we know that they¬†won’t screen our material if we’ve already publicly released it. My plan is to¬†share¬†the¬†images¬†of¬†Sol and me boxing with kids in the streets of Syria next week if we haven’t heard from them.

In the meantime I thought I’d publish a series of¬†images and¬†videos that won’t be of interest to the networks as they concern our week in Iran during which we made our preparations. We secured the medicines and toys we were taking¬†with us and we met with some wonderful Iranian peace activists, many of whom went on to join us in Syria..

Meet the team - Sam and Ulrike
Meet the team - Mairead, Ulrike and Carmel
Meet the team - Denning
Meet the team - Dave and Mohamed Reva
Meet the team - Roohulla
Meet the team - John
Meet the team - Mairead and Solomon
Meet the team - Dave & Ali
Meet the team
Meet the team

Four videos are thumbnailed below. Just click one to watch it.

  1. The first video is a three-minute offering from our man, Denning. It’s an overview of the week that is as brief as it is artistic. ūüôā
  2. The second is a Press TV report on the delegation. We actually received a lot of media attention. Unfortunately it was all from Iranian or Syrian media.
  3. The third is a talk I gave on “the role of religions in bringing peace”¬†in Qom. Denning has edited it down to 3 minutes which is about as long as I had¬†to prepare it!
  4. The fourth is a wonderful 10-minute compilation of our time in Iran, put together by a wonderful young Iranian film-maker, Mehdi Khoshnejad.

The last of these videos is actually longer than the other three put together. Even so, it is worth watching. It features our time touring one of the ancient mosques in Esfahan wherein there is a special spot marked on the floor from which you can sing and somehow join in the chorus of your own echo!

Denning's Tehran video
Press TV report
Talk at the Armenian Church in Qom
Mehdi Khoshnejad's video

Let me end today by sharing with you the wonderful way in which I met my friend Mohamed Reva (featured in one of the pics up the top).

We were in Tehran, gathered together for a delegates meeting in the lobby of our hotel. I hadn’t met Sheikh Mohamed Reva at that point but he was a part of the gathering.

After the meeting he came across the room and grabbed my hand enthusiastically. “My name is Mohamed Reva”, he said. “I knew you were a special person the first moment I saw you. I am very keen to meet you.”

“Brother”, I said, “I am not special. It is simply the Spirit of God in you recognising the Spirit of God in me. We were¬†connected in this way long before we met.”¬†Mohamed smiled and nodded.

In some ways that experience summed up my pilgrimage¬†to Iran and Syria this time. We generally think of a pilgrimage as a journey that leads to a destination of great spiritual significance. My experience was that wherever I went I found the Spirit of God already there to welcome¬†me! What a wonderful privilege! ūüôā

I’ll be back with you again next week.

Your brother in the Good Fight,

Dave
www.fatherdave.org
www.fighting-fathers.com
www.holytrinity.org.au
www.binacrombi.com.au
www.israelandpalestine.org
www.prayersforsyria.com
www.zerocostwebsite.net
www.dulwichhillgym.com
www.warriorweekends.com
www.how2changetheworld.com

P.S. If you’d like to see what I’m writing, I’ve just published a new article on www.prayersforsyria.com entitled, Why the Syrian rebellion may soon collapse like a house of cards!”¬†I know that most commentators are convinced that the warring in Syria will go on and on with no near end in sight. I am far more optimistic. ūüôā

P.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.

About Father Dave Smith

Preacher, Pugilist, Activist, Father of four

Weekly Missive ‚Äď August 28th, 2013

Hi Fighter,

Are we on the eve of Armageddon?

Love Syria

It’s Father Dave, and I confess that as I write to you today I’m feeling sick in my stomach.

It‚Äôs not something that I ate or drank (though I have had a second glass of red tonight to steel my nerves). It‚Äôs Syria, and it’s what I’m seeing on the news!

I’ve been watching and listening to European leaders and US and Israeli officials all talking about how urgent it is that we start bombing Bashar Al-Assad into submission, and all this before the UN inspectors have produced a single finding!

I remember having the same sick and sinking feeling on the eve of the Iraq invasion. I remember thinking then, ‚ÄúNo. Surely they won‚Äôt do it. They‚Äôre not that stupid. They know there are no ‚Äėweapons of mass destruction‚Äô. It‚Äôs all just¬†saber¬†rattling!‚ÄĚ And now … 1,000,000 dead Iraqi‚Äôs later … history seems to be repeating itself!

Here’s how the scenario plays out in my mind:

  1. The US and NATO attack Syrian government forces on the pretext of the chemical weapon attacks.
  2. The government falls and the country crumbles into uncontrollable sectarian violence with jihadists gaining control of major areas (as in Iraq)
  3. Lebanon’s infrastructure cannot withstand the further influx of refugees (already almost 50% of the size of its citizenry) and so it falls into anarchy as well
  4. Iran is now left without allies (which I believe is one of the main aims of the game) and so Israel attacks Iran’s nuclear facilities, confident that Iran will not retaliate.
  5. Iran declares war on Israel and the regional war against the Shi’a goes into overdrive.
  6. Shi’a majorities in Bahrain and Iraq and elsewhere rise up and turn the entire Middle East into a cauldron of bloody violence.
  7. Israel eventually becomes the focus of the wrath of all its neighbours.
  8. The reverberations are felt throughout the world. Terrorist acts take place in every major city. There is widespread religious and ethnic violence, reprisals, etc.
  9. It all climaxes with some massive nuclear detonations.
  10. Everyone looks back and realises that there never were any chemical weapons attacks carried out by the Syrian government.

You might think this is all very fanciful, but I have military friends in the US that were put on ‚ÄėClass 1 Alert‚Äô on the weekend, indicating possible immediate deployment to Syria! Meanwhile, my sources in Damascus are expecting the bombing to start on Tuesday!

A Voice Crying in the Wilderness

with Mairead Maguire - my hero!

with Mairead Maguire – my hero!

Amidst all the beating of war-drums, I was greatly encouraged to hear the lone voice of my friend (and Nobel Peace Prize winner) Mairead Maguire, calling upon her Foreign Minister to stop agitating for war! Says Mairead:

‚ÄúArming rebels and authorizing military action by USA/NATO forces will not solve the problem facing Syria, but indeed could lead to the death of thousands of Syrians, the breaking-up of Syria, and it falling under the control of violent fundamentalist jihadist forces. It will mean the further fleeing of Syrians into surrounding countries which will themselves¬† become destabilised. The entire Middle East will become unstable and violence will spiral out of control.‚ÄĚ

You can read Mairead’s complete press release here.

And while Mairead Fights the Good Fight in Britain, my dear friend Ghinwa (who you met last week) is just fighting to stay alive in Damascus!

Ghinwa visting the Ummayyad Mosque in Damascus

Ghinwa visiting the Ummayyad Mosque (Damascus)

Ghinwa and her family are on the move, looking for somewhere safe to shelter. They have lost many friends and family members. As an Alawite, Ghinwa knows she is a target to Jabhat Al-Nusra and the armies of foreign mercenaries that besiege her city.

We haven’t been able to secure a time yet when Ghinwa can join us for a conference call and it will have to wait until she finds somewhere safe to stay. In the meantime, let me share with you our latest text exchanges:

¬†Ghinwa: I was supposed to contact with you on Sunday but I was caught in Damascus because of clashes on the way back home. I was lucky on Monday to avoid mortar shells. Anyhow, we are all OK. Trying to find a safe place to move on to in Damascus …

Dave: You are in my constant prayers, my friend – you and your dear sister. I hope we can speak again soon. … Just let me know if you want to do that phone conference.

Ghinwa: I wanted to do that but every day something new happens. I was unable to leave home in the past two days, and until now … there are clashes in the area around the place I live in.¬†There are military operations now around Damascus, heavy clashes around us, I have information that there are around 4,000 Al-Nusra fighters in Muadamia. This morning those fighters used chemical weapons against the Syrian Army…

After the massacres against Alawites that killed some 350-400 people (we have the names of 256 persons of them) two massacres took place – one against Christians in Wadi-Alnasara area. 20 Christian people were killed there in what Islamist fighters called the Islamist battle to control Wadi Al-Nasara, meaning “Christans’ Vallley”, and a massacre against Kurds that killed more than 200 Kurds.

… I don’t know what to say!

Dave: God bless you, my sister. It tears at my heart to hear these things. Out here we are being told of various accusations against the government for the use of chemical weapons. I have no idea whether there is any truth to these but certainly things are terrible.

Ghinwa: Yes, I know these stories, but I know the accusations to the government are not true. When I checked videos on the Internet, telling the story that the government used chemicals against people in Ghota, I noticed those videos were uploaded to YouTube before the time the alleged massacre took place…

We see the same people in three different videos. Each video claims that those were killed in a different place. The only difference is that they changed the places of the bodies and arranged the scene in a different way. They put once that those people were killed in Kafr – batna, and the other video tells those where killed in Irbeen area.

I’ll check the videos and send them by email if you wish, Father.

Dave: I will publish what you send me, sister, and try to get the word out.¬†My only concern is whether it’s putting you at any greater risk by having your name and face associated with this information.

Ghinwa: I am already on their death lists. Belonging to Alawites is a justification to kill me. It is something I was born with, not something I chose. So no problems of putting my name and pictures there.

Ghinwa with our delegation in Damascus

Ghinwa with our delegation in Damascus

In case you think Ghinwa’s claims about the videos are outrageous, I note that Veterans News Now¬†are reporting that Al Jazeera and Reuters published news of the latest Syrian massacre one day before it happened (see here)!

Faith without Love = Fundamentalism

As we all know, the looming war on Syria is not just a political issue. It’s also a faith issue.

In the New Testament “Letter to the Hebrews” (chapter 11)¬†the author eulogises over all the wonderful things that people have accomplished throughout history through their faith.¬†When I read this though the first thing that occurred to me was that Al Qaeda and Jabhat Al-Nusra also claim to be¬†‘faith organisations’¬†, though it seems to be a very different sort of faith to anything I’m familiar with.

How do we distinguish between good faith and bad faith?¬†As a child I once believed that anybody who espoused the¬†Christian faith must be a person of¬†good faith whereas all members of other faiths are the bad guys. Then I studied the history of the church and realised (to use Desmond Tutu’s phrase) that “God is not a Christian”.

I believe the New Testament itself gives us a straightforward way of distinguishing between¬†the¬†faith that kills¬†and the¬†faith that gives life, and I it’s something that I think all Christian people need to take to heart.

[imaioVideo v=1]

If you can’t view this video, click here

Vote Wikileaks!

Let me conclude this week’s missive with a shameless plug to all my fellow Australians: vote Wikileaks at the coming elections!

As George Galloway said when he was with us, if Australia votes in Julian Assange as a Senator we’ll be sending a message around the globe saying that Australia does not accept the ways that governments lie to their people and engage in murderous wars without the consent of the voting public!

And while the Wikileaks Party may not be the most polished and professional outfit in comparison to the more established party machines, one great thing Wikileaks does have is a solid policy on Syria (click here)!

with John Shipton (Julian Assange's dad) after church

with John Shipton (Julian Assange’s dad) after church (click to enlarge)

Let me conclude this missive with the same question with which I started:

Are we on the eve of Armageddon?

I think we could be. In my mathematical reckoning FSA+USA=WWIII

But don’t take my word for it. Let’s hear what some of the leaders of the churches in Syria and around the world believe:

“if there is an armed intervention, that would mean, I believe, a world war”¬†
Bishop Antoine Audo of Aleppo, President of Caritas Syria

The West thinks that with the Sunnis in government democracy will replace the dictatorship, but this is a great illusion: regime change by force, without giving security to the secular parties of inspiration, will trigger a conflict worse than in Iraq.”
Syriac Catholic Patriarch, Youssef III Younan

“the situation in the Middle East is becoming more and more critical as each day passes…¬†there is a plan to destroy the Arab world for political and economic interests.”
Maronite Patriarch, Cardinal Bechara Rai

Once again, as was the case in Iraq, the United States is acting as an international executioner …¬†Once again¬†thousands of lives will be sacrificed on the altar of an imaginary democracy; among them there are, first of all, Christians, about whose fate no one cares.”
Metropolitan Hilarion, Russian Orthodox Church, Moscow Patriarchate.

Will you pray with me, fighter, as I pray with so many sisters and brothers across the world that this threat to unleash all hell on the people of Syria will come to nothing?

Your brother in the Good Fight,

Dave
www.fatherdave.org
www.fighting-fathers.com
www.zerocostwebsite.net
www.prayersforsyria.com
www.israelandpalestine.org
www.how2changetheworld.com

P.S. And 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 ‚Äď May 27th, 2013

Hi Fighter,

You’ll have to forgive me for the gap between missives.

The last one (May 13) was sent out while I was still in Iran, enjoying a short respite with my dear friend Sheikh Mansour Leghaei. It was a two-day stopover between Syria and Sydney. I wish it had been longer.

Since I got back in the country my feet have barely touched the ground! I’ve been preoccupied both with my Syrian experience and with issues associated with the burning down of our Church Hall/Youth Centre, which happened only a week before I left.

Receiving a gift from Dr Hassoun, the Grand Mufti of Syria

I was overwhelmed to receive this gift from Dr Hassoun, the Grand Mufti of Syria

Making Sense of Syria

The more I reflect on the so-called ‘civil war’ in Syria, the more I become convinced that we could be on the edge of World War III.

As I understand it, the goal of those who are fueling the violence is to isolate Iran by severely weakening its only allies in the region РSyria and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Having seen first-hand the terrible overcrowding of refugee camps in Lebanon, I can appreciate that all it will take to completely¬†destabilize¬†that country is to push another million displaced Syrians over the border.¬†There are already close to a million refugees (mainly Palestinian) in Lebanon – a country that is already overcrowded with its native population of 4.3 million. Another million people will certainly break the back of the country’s infrastructure, and that is exactly what is envisaged should the strife in Syria continue for much longer.

So the world’s power-brokers play their games (and I hear on the news tonight that both Britain and France are now champing at the bit to pour more ammunition into the fray) while the Syrian people pay the price with their blood. The big oil and arms manufacturers are (quite literally) making a killing in Syria. It is entirely demonic!

We don’t see this side of the story, of course. Indeed, we don’t see much of the story at all in this country. It seems that all ‘Western’ media have been extracted from Damascus (with the curious exception of CNN)!¬†The major Australian media companies are refusing to even purchase stories and photos from¬†independent¬†journalists and photographers in ¬†government-controlled areas on the pretext that it puts them in danger!¬†We had an excellent journo and cameraman with us in Lebanon from Australian SBS television but he was pulled out and sent home before we crossed the Syrian border!

Whatever the reason behind the media blanket over Damascus, it means that most of us only see the conflict from the perspective of those embedded amidst the attacking rebel forces. This means that we only hear one side of the story. Moreover, it means that we only ever see Syria as a war-zone.

What I saw in Syria was not a war. I saw human beings trying to get on with their lives – lots of wonderful men and women with lovely families who were trying to make the best of their situation and who were committed to bringing about change in their country through dialogue rather than through violence!

God bless the people of Syria! God bless the many people working for peace, especially the religious leaders (both Christian and Islamic), the community leaders, and the young people! We saw so many beautiful young people in their teens and twenty’s who still believe in a bright future for their country and who were still willing to devote themselves to the work of peace. God bless them all!

Talking peace with the Bishops of Damascus

Talking peace with the Bishops of Damascus

Mother Agnes returns to Oz

I will stop eulogising over Syria in a moment, but I must mention two more things first:

Firstly, if you didn’t see the formal statements made by our Mussalaha Peace Delegation to Syria, I commend them to you:

  1. The Concluding Declaration of the Mussalaha Delegation to Syria
  2. The Declaration of the Mussalaha Delegation on the Refugee Situation in Lebanon

Secondly, in case you haven’t heard, know that dear Mother Agnes of Homs is going to be back in Australia in only three weeks time!

Mother Agnes is going to be raising both funds and awareness in this tour and there will be a $100/head fundraiser dinner on the evening of Friday, June 21st.¬†I’ve already booked a table, so if you’d like to join me at my table I’d love your company. Just let me know.

If you can’t afford to join us at the dinner, I’m hoping to have Mother Agnes with us for church with us on the Sunday – June 23rd. That won’t cost you anything (and you even get a free cup of coffee afterwards)!¬†

with Mother Agnes at the Umayyad mosqe

with Mother Agnes and the team at the Umayyad mosque

Binacrombi Boot Camp II

The Fighting Fathers held another wonderful ‘Boot Camp’ while I was away.

Ange tells me that the program ran exceptionally well. Apparently we not only had Christian and Muslim boys join us this time but a Jewish boy as well. Everybody demonstrated a wonderful camaraderie and commitment to the program, which was both challenging and invigorating!

Congratulations go to Fighting Fathers Mungo McCall, Caine Pennell, Danny Sarkis and Sol Egberime for making the weekend work so well! :-)

Our next Boot Camp is scheduled for the last weekend in July. Given the icy-cold temperatures at Binacrombi at that time of the year, this one will be tailored towards the truly battle-hardened. Book now! 

Binacrombi Boot Camp II

Veterans of the Binacrombi Boot Camp II

Mairead Maguire

As I said before I left for Syria, one of the things I was most looking forward to on the trip was the opportunity to meet one of my great heroes – Maired Maguire.

I know that often when you meet someone whom you’ve admired from afar for many years they turn out to be a bit of a disappointment in person. Not so in this case! Mairead is as inspiring when you get to know her as she is at a distance! More-so in fact!¬†:-)

If you don’t know Mairead’s story and the role she played in the peace process in Northern Ireland (which won her the Nobel Peace Prize in 1976) you can read about her in Wikipedia or in a thousand other places on the web. For the moment, I’ll let my interview with her speak for itself.

[imaioVideo v=1]

If you can’t view the video, click here.

Before I go today I need your help with something:

I’m setting up a website on Syria – a site where I can post articles and videos that will keep us all up-to-date with the news on Syria that you won’t see on TV. I’ve purchased three domain names but I’m not sure which on to use?

  • syria.net.co
  • newsinsyria.com
  • syriaupdate.com

Which one do you think works best? Please email me your thoughts or post them at the end of the blog in the comments section.

OK.

In closing, allow me to share with you some of pics I took in Iran with my friend, Sheikh Mansour.

If you don’t know the history between Mansour and me, and how I fought tooth and nail to prevent his ‘deportation without trial’ a few years ago, it’s all on¬†savethesheikh.com.

Mansour is now back in Esfahan while his sons remain in Australia. His case is still before the United Nations Human Rights Committee for consideration. One day we hope to see him back in Sydney.

In the meantime, Mansour and I are hoping to develop some sort of online inter-faith radio show together. We’ve been planning it for years in fact. If all goes well we might be able to start something even next month! In the meantime, here’s a few photos of me and Mansour in Tehran, Qom and Esfahan (click to enlarge).

A sight for sore eyes ‚Äď meeting Mansour at the airport

A sight for sore eyes ‚Äď meeting Mansour at the airport

at the Jamkaran Mosque in Qom with Mansour

at the Jamkaran Mosque in Qom with Mansour

with Mansour in Esfahan

with Mansour in Esfahan

That’s it for today, fighter. I hope to be back with you this time next week.

Until then I remain …

Your brother in the Good Fight,

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

P.S. And 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 ‚Äď May 13th, 2013

Hi Fighter,

I left Syria yesterday and, quite frankly, the days spent there were amongst the most intense and meaningful of my life! I sensed as I crossed the border into Lebanon that I had left some of my heart behind in Damascus!

I’m afraid I was a right pain to those I sat next to on the flight to Abu Dhabi, and to staff and companions in subsequent airport lounges, as I can’t stop talking about what I saw and what I learned. I’m conscious that I could prattle on endlessly in this missive too if I’m not careful, so I thought that today I would share with you only four encounters with Syrians that I met – two men and two women – and leave the rest for another time.

Our team visits Baalbek refugee camp in Lebanon before crossing the border into Syria

At Baalbek refugee camp in Lebanon, before crossing into Syria

The woman in black

Our hosts Рthe Mussalaha organising committee Рencountered a fair degree of difficulty in obtaining the 16 visas needed for our team. When we finally crossed the border into Syria there was a great degree of jubilation, and this only increased when we arrived at the Dama Rose hotel to be greeted by a team of well-dressed delegates.

The Dama Rose is a five-star hotel, and even though we were in the middle of a war-zone, it was hard to escape feeling like members of some royal family Рwe were treated with such warmth and appreciation! The reality started to sink in though when I was grabbed by a middle-aged woman in the foyer, dressed in black, who started to tell me about her 12-year-old son, Mohamed, who had recently been killed. 

She was speaking in Arabic but had an interpreter in her other hand who was trying to keep up with the woman’s pain and passion. She said that the rebel soldiers had put a bomb in his pocket and that he was blown apart (she gestured grotesquely).¬†“And why did they kill him?”¬†she cried.¬†“Because we are Shi’ite”.

She pulled out a crumbled photo of the boy from her pocket and kissed it repeatedly. I borrowed the photo briefly and kissed Mohamed too.

He was walking to work when a mortar shell blew off his leg

He was walking to work when a mortar shell blew off his leg

The Woman from Mount Qasioun

I shared dinner with a very articulate woman who lived on the slopes of Mount Qasioun, which is within jogging distance of the centre of town.

Mount Qasioun is the mountain that was bombed last week by Israeli jets. This woman told me that she had been thrown out of her bed by the force of the explosions!

The Israelis claimed they were targetting a convoy of weapons bound for Hezbollah, and the US President excused the attack accordingly. This woman though told me that three very precise targets had been hit:

  1. The barracks of ‘Brigade 14’ – Bashar Al-Assad’s elite ‘royal guard
  2. The ammunition dump
  3. The military research centre

This would suggest that the attack had nothing to do with Hezbollah, though sources in Lebanon have said that seven Hezbollah personnel had been killed in the attack. Either way though, this was a direct attack by Israel on Syria and not on Hezbollah, and it has the potential to lead to World War III.

This is the third Israeli assault on Syrian soil. The plan seems to be to continue to provoke Syria with small murderous acts until Israel gets a response. That response is not likely to come from Syria (whose resources are completely tied up with its internal struggle) but from Iran (whom many believe are really in control of Syria now). Once this happens, the Israelis will have the excuse they need to launch an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities.

It seems that the US has not given Israel permission to attack Iran. If Iran attacks Israel though Netanyahu won’t need permission. He’ll then be able to drag the US into the conflict as it escalates into a regional war. One can only imagine the consequences!

We present the Minister for Justice with a petition for the release of 72 non-violent activists

We present the Minister for Justice with a petition for the release of 72 non-violent activists

The Sheikh with one ear

We met a Sheikh with only one ear in our visit to the hospital in Damascus.

This man had been abducted by rebel troops, tortured, beaten with rods, had his ear cut off, and was eventually shot in the throat and left for dead. Somehow he survived, but now he is unable to leave the grounds of the hospital as he knows that there are people on the outside waiting to kill him.

How did this man become so hated? He said that the rebel fighters had asked him to bless their troops. He refused.

We meet up with a local Mussalaha peace team

We meet up with a local Mussalaha peace team

The Mufti

I had the enormous privilege of meeting, on our last day in Syria, the Grand Mufti.

I don’t normally get excited about meeting big-name people, and indeed we met many during our stay, including the Prime Minister of Syria, but no one made an impression on me like the Mufti! Indeed, I don’t think anyone has ever made such a strong first impression on me!

I’m still not sure how to articulate the experience, but the man simply exuded gentleness! Both his words, his manner and his touch embodied the sort of love that, as a Christian, I aspire to.

He spoke about how his son had been killed. His son, he said, was not remotely political. He was a university student, absorbed in his studies. Even so, he was¬†targeted¬†and shot. He then shared how he and his wife had determined not to hold the ‘blood-guilt’ of their son against his killer. Instead they had committed themselves to forgiveness and reconciliation!

I can’t tell you how shocked I was when, after hearing this, I was singled out (along with only two others from our group) to receive a special gift from the Mufti! When he reached out for me I instinctively took his hand and kissed it. This is not proper protocol, of course, as it is a sign of submission – inappropriate for a cleric from another religion. I felt him begin to pull his hand away, but then he relaxed, and then he embraced me and kissed me on both cheeks and held me close for quite some time. It was an extraordinary moment.

I know that many people will shake their head and think me an idiot for my behavior  Some will even think me a traitor to my faith! All I can say is that I was struck by the Spirit of Christ in this man, and I will treasure his gift till the day I die!

The Grand Mufti of Syria - Dr Ahmad Badr Al-Din Hassoun

The Grand Mufti of Syria – Dr Ahmad Badr Al-Din Hassoun

Pray for Syria

I must wind up my Syrian story for today though there is so much more I want to share with you.¬†I haven’t even mentioned the joy of working alongside Mairead Maguire – a true woman of God – and my dear Mother, Agnes Miriam of Homs.

There are a few other snippets strewn across the web if you want to hear a bit more:

  • I’ve created a reasonably comprehensive photo album of the trip on the Fighting Fathers member site (here).
  • I did a blog post on day one of the trip on the same member site (here). I’d intended to do one per day but …
  • I uploaded pics and video of our trip to the Palestinian and Syrian refugee camp on the Lebanese/Syrian border to israelandpalestine.org (here)
  • My friend and team-mate, Paul Larudee, gave an excellent write-up of his experience ¬† of Damascus on the Free Palestine Movement website (here).
Praying together for peace at the Umayyad mosque

Praying together for peace at the Umayyad mosque

You can expect more Syrian stories to trickle down from me over the coming weeks and months, as I have no intention of relaxing my efforts at peacemaking and, indeed, I am hoping that you will join me in this work.

The needs are so deep and the stakes are so high! If Syrian society falls apart, the overflow of refugees will almost certainly take Lebanon down too, and if World War III starts as a result of the collapse, nobody on this planet will be safe.

Moreover, the people of Syria deserve better than what they are receiving from the International community. They are being treated as cannon-fodder in a global battle where the ‘great‘ powers are vying for strategic control of their region. Let’s plead with our governments to get their grubby hands off Syria and let the Syrian people determine their own future, through dialogue rather than violence.

I read today that the US ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, had met with rebel leaders this week, promising more weapons to fuel the conflict and saying:

“Let me be very clear. The US position has not changed. Approximately two years ago, we announced that Bashar al-Assad had lost his legitimacy, and that he had to resign. We still say that Bashar al-Assad must resign, he must resign. And the Syrians must create a new transitional government that excludes him and his inner circle.” (from Alternet.org)

Here is a man who not only tells the Syrian people what sort of government they must have, but who is also happy to help spread death and terror across the country until Syrians come into line and do what he tells them to do! God save us all from this sort of ‘humanitarian intervention‘!

I’ll climb down from my virtual pulpit now and see you next week.

Until then I remain …

Your brother in the Good Fight,

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

P.S. And 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!

with Mairead Maguire in Beirut - my hero!

with Mairead Maguire in Beirut – my hero!

About Father Dave Smith

Preacher, Pugilist, Activist, Father of four

Monday Missive ‚Äď 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.

[imaioVideo v=1]

(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