Friday, 28 August 2009

Christianity Explored in Swahili

I am in Bangor near Belfast for a few days with some very special people - Craig Dyer of Christianity Explored, John McDowell of the Presbyterian Church, John Doherty of the Bible Society Northern Ireland and Jim McAnlis of the Church Mission Society Ireland.

We are here to meet with Shadrach and Nora Luwago of Kiwoko Hospital, Luwero, Uganda, to progress the translation and publication of Christianity Explored in Swahili.

The hope is to launch the new translation in Bweyle, Northern Uganda, in January 2010 at a conference for pastors and church leaders to help equip churches in Uganda but also Tanzania and Kenya to turn pagans into missionaries.

John and Pamela McDowell share about their enthusiasm for Christianity Explored. Pauline Whan shares her experience of introducing CE to churches in Togo in West Africa.

Bangor has played an historic role in world evangelisation. Comgall founded a monastery here in 558 AD. One of his disciples Columbanus travelled from Bangor to France, Switzerland and Italy to evangelise and found monasteries. Read more here

Saturday, 22 August 2009

How to Ignore the Elephant in the Room: ACNA and General Synod

At July's General Synod, several members asked questions to clarify the relationship between the Anglican Church in England and the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA). Are we in communion with fellow Anglicans or not?

A simple question you might think. But no. It is in fact the 'elephant in the room' that no one in the establishment really wants to acknowledge, at least not yet. Here is the dialogue. Notice how various Bishops have a go at answering the question without actually answering it.

The following is taken from pages 16 and 17 of the PDF transcript:

26. Revd Angus MacLeay (Rochester) asked the Chairman of the House of Bishops: What representation did the House of Bishops have at the recent inauguration of Bishop Bob Duncan as the Primate of the Anglican Church in North America on June 24?

The Bishop of Bristol [the Rt Revd Michael Hill]: None. It is not the practice of the House to arrange such representation.

Revd Angus MacLeay: Bishop, what is the view of the House of Bishops as to the Anglican identity of the Anglican Church in North America and are any—

The Chairman [The Bishop of Willesden (Rt Revd Pete Broadbent)]: I know you would love to get in this one, but I am afraid it is asking for an expression of opinion. Can you rephrase the supplementary?

Revd Angus MacLeay: Could I ask the Bishop: are any individual members of the House of Bishops in communion with the Anglican Church in North America?

The Chairman: That one is all right but it is not actually one that arises out of the question. It was a question but it was not the right question.

27. Mrs Lorna Ashworth (Chichester) asked the Chairman of the House of Bishops: Has the House of Bishops considered the relationship of the Church of England to the new Anglican Church in North America?

28. Mrs Alison Ruoff (London) asked the Chairman of the Ministry Division: Has the House of Bishops considered what degree of recognition and welcome the Church of England can offer to the new Anglican Church in North America?

The Bishop of Bristol: With permission, Chairman, I should like to answer the Questions from Lorna Ashworth and Alison Ruoff together. The House has not specifically considered this matter.

Revd Canon Dr Chris Sugden (Oxford): Do any of the House of Bishops regard themselves as being in communion with the bishops of the Anglican Church in North America?

The Bishop of Bristol: I think that given the fairly recent development of ACNA, as it is now called, I find that a very difficult question to answer on behalf of my colleagues. You will be aware that some bishops sent good wishes to them. I would not be qualified to say whether that means they regard themselves in communion and I think because of the recentness of this development, the reality is that the House of Bishops at some stage will look at that and think about it, but, on the other hand, I think there is then the issue of how we deal with individual clergy from them, which of course is covered by the Overseas Clergy Measure 1967, which is a matter for the Archbishops.

Mrs Alison Ruoff (London): Would the Bishop give an assurance to the Synod that this urgent question will be on the agenda for the next meeting of the House of Bishops, please?

The Bishop of Bristol: I do not think it would be for me to give that assurance. All I can say is that I am aware that the House of Bishops and the Archbishops in particular are aware of this fairly recent development and I am quite sure that they will be concerned to look at what the ramifications of this are, not just for the Church of England but for the wider Anglican Communion.

Revd Hugh Lee (Oxford): Is it for the House of Bishops, for the Archbishop or indeed for General Synod to decide ultimately whether we wish to be in communion with such a province?

The Bishop of Bristol: Procedurally I do not know the answer to that question. I would have thought that, first off, it might be a discussion amongst the House of Bishops and it would be for the House of Bishops to decide whether or not that would be shared more widely. This is a situation that we have never quite had to deal with in recent history before, and therefore I think it is new for all of us.

The Bishop of Durham (Rt Revd Tom Wright): Is the Bishop of Bristol aware that earlier today at a meeting of the House of Bishops Theology Group the new canons and constitution of ACNA were tabled for consideration by the theological group of the House of Bishops so that they might then come in a considered way to the House of Bishops?

The Bishop of Bristol: I am truly thankful for the Bishop’s question. I was not aware of that fact but welcome it in the light of the discussion of the last few minutes.

All of which raises the hypothetical, could the Church of England choose to be in communion with ACNA without ACNA being part of the Anglican Communion?

A Private Member’s Motion stating "Mrs Lorna Ashworth (Chichester) to move: ‘That this Synod express the desire that the Church of England be in communion with the Anglican Church in North America.’." The rules by which PMM’s enter debate are here. This motion has crossed one minimum threshold: It has garnered in excess 100 signatures signaling interest in debating it. If I understand this correctly it could, but not necessarily would, be scheduled for debate at the next General Synod.

With thanks to J.B. Chilton over at Episcopal Cafe

Friday, 21 August 2009

BlackRock Bank Divests from Settlement Construction

The US Investment giant BlackRock has divested from Lev Leviev settlement projects on the West Bank.

The divestment follows pressure by three Norwegian banks marketing BlackRock funds. BlackRock was second biggest shareholder in the controversial Israeli firm.

Erik Hagen, writing on Norwatch says,

"When the British Embassy in Tel Aviv was looking for new premises and was offered the opportunity of occupying a building owned by the investment company Africa-Israel Investments, the ambassador refrained.

The reason was that the company was also responsible for settlements on the occupied West Bank. Africa-Israel Investments' main owner is Israeli diamond magnate Lev Leviev."

Now BlackRock has apparently followed in the footsteps of the British ambassador. Hagen continues,

"The bank was for a while the second largest shareholder in the Israeli investment company. Africa-Israel Investments is, among other things, in on the construction of the settlement Ma’aleh Adumim (above). The construction of settlements on occupied Palestinian territory is in conflict with international law.

It was Norwatch who this past spring revealed BlackRock’s investments in the controversial company and how private investors in Norway could invest in the project by means of the fund BlackRock Emerging Europe.

This was possible through Norwegian insurance company Storebrand, Norwegian-Swedish bank Skandiabanken, and the Norwegian-Danish Danica Pensjon.

But after all 3 banks have taken action, the British bank has now announced its divestment from the Israeli company. This must have happened sometime between June and August, possibly as late as this week."

Read more here and here

According to the Guardian, BlackRock has combined assets under management of more than 2.7 trillion dollars (£1.64 trillion)

The Decline and Fall of the Episcopal Church

Reduced status suggested for Episcopal Church (That's subtle Anglican-speak for "you made your bed so you can lie on it..." and TEC are not going to like this one little bit. No siree)

"Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has suggested that the Episcopal Church may have to accept a secondary role in the Anglican Communion after voting to allow the ordination of gay bishops and blessings for same-sex unions.

Williams, the spiritual leader of the world's 77 million Anglicans, said in a statement from England that "very serious anxieties have already been expressed" about the pro-gay resolutions approved by the Episcopal Church at its General Convention in Anaheim, California.

While "there is no threat of being cast into outer darkness," Williams said, certain churches, including the Episcopal Church, may have to take a back seat in ecumenical and interfaith dialogue because their views on homosexuality do not represent the larger Anglican Communion.

Many of the world's Anglican churches oppose homosexuality as sinful and unbiblical.

"It helps to be clear about these possible futures, however much we think them less than ideal," Williams said, "and to speak about them not in apocalyptic terms of schism and excommunication but plainly as what they are—two styles of being Anglican."

Williams said the mechanics of a two-track system "will certainly need working out," but could well include the kinds of "cooperation in mission and service" that is currently shared between sister churches in the communion.

Episcopal Church officials in New York did not make an immediate response to Williams's statement. But Mark Harris, a member of the church's Executive Council, said on his blog, Preludium, that the archbishop "nicely and in his usual nuanced style essentially said that no one is fooled: . . . the Episcopal Church has strayed from the fold."

As head of the Church of England, Williams serves as spiritual guide of the Anglican Communion, a worldwide fellowship of churches that includes the 2.1 million-member Episcopal Church.

Though he lacks the power of a pope to enforce his will on the communion, Williams remains extraordinarily influential among Anglicans; he has proposed the two-tiered system several times in recent years as a way to make the communion's 38 provinces more mutually accountable.

At the start of the July 8-17 Episcopal convention, Williams urged the U.S. church not to take steps that would exacerbate Anglican tensions, which began to rise after the consecration of an openly gay bishop in New Hampshire in 2003. Despite the warning, Episcopalians overwhelmingly voted to lift a de facto ban on the consecration of additional gay bishops and approved a broad local option for bishops who wish to allow gay and lesbian couples to receive nuptial blessings from the church.

At the end of the convention, Episcopal leaders sought to cut off criticism with a letter to Williams that described the measures as "more descriptive than prescriptive in nature"—more in keeping with a church that is ministering to a culture with rapidly changing understandings of homosexuality.

Williams responded July 27 with a pastoral, five-page reflection that gently chided Episcopalians for overturning centuries of Christian understanding of marriage and homosexuality without there being a wider consensus among Anglicans.

The archbishop also suggested that Anglicans could settle their differences with a proposed covenant that would outline acceptable beliefs and practices, particularly on divisive issues like homosexuality. Churches that could not agree to the covenant would be given a reduced role in the communion.

"Perhaps we are faced with the possibility rather of a 'two-track' model, two ways of witnessing to the Anglican heritage, one of which had decided that local autonomy had to be the prevailing value," he wrote.

"The question is not a simple one of human rights or human dignity," he said. "It is that a certain choice of lifestyle has certain consequences." By pressing ahead without wide consensus, the Episcopal Church "risks becoming unrecognizable" and renders itself "strange to Christian sisters and brothers across the globe," he said.

Susan Russell, president of the pro-gay Episcopal group Integrity USA, said that it is clear that the steps her church took in Anaheim "were contrary to what the archbishop said he hoped would happen."

But Russell said she does not expect Episcopalians to back off on consecrating gay bishops or blessing same-sex unions. In fact, she said, the Diocese of Los Angeles, where Russell is a priest, is expected to consider electing a gay or lesbian candidate as suffragan (assistant) bishop later this year.

Bishop-theologian N. T. (Tom) Wright of England, in a July 30 post on the Thinking Anglicans Web site, said the Canterbury statement drew wide-ranging reactions—from calling the archbishop "a hopeless liberal" to saying he "sold out to the conservatives." Said Wright: "There is much to welcome, and much whose implications need further unpacking."

Source: The Christian Century -Religion News Service

Thursday, 20 August 2009

The Case for Palestine: John Quigley

In clear and unequivocal terms John Quigley presents ‘the Case for Palestine’ based on the rule of international law. As a distinguished professor of criminal, comparative and international law at Ohio State University, with many years active engagement in issues of human rights world-wide, Quigley writes with authority, credibility and courage.

In 33 short, readable chapters, Quigley traces the implications of the systematic and inexorable colonisation of Palestine by waves of Zionist colonisers. It is also without doubt the best single volume summary of the legal case for an independent, sovereign and viable Palestinian state. Most convincingly, he lays bare the fallacy that somehow the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the longest running dispute in the history of the United Nations, is somehow too complicated or too intractable to be resolved.

In the introduction, he presents the thesis of the book, to which he has dedicated his life:

“The conflict needs to be resolved, in my estimation, in a manner consistent with the legitimate expectations of the two populations as regards rights of residency, of property, of fair treatment. Those expectations are found in the rules that the world community has developed for the treatment of individuals, for control over territory, and the like. It is a thesis of this book that the rights of the individuals who make up the two populations must be respected in a settlement. My fear is that a settlement that does not respect those rights will not be accepted and may only perpetuate the conflict.” (xii)
Quigley is dismissive of those who take a pragmatic or partisan approach to resolving the conflict, indeed who feel, to use his words, that the emphasis on legal entitlement is somehow “unrealistic, even counterproductive.” Instead, he rightly lays the blame for the breakdown of successive peace initiatives to Israel’s unwillingness to negotiate on the basis of principles of justice and law, as much as the unwillingness of the UN Security Council to implement its own resolutions.

He argues with great clarity that established tenets of international law, and in particular the right of self-determination, have been systematically ignored, resisted, violated or neutralised by the pro-Zionist lobby and by successive US administrations, to the complete detriment, not only of Palestinian rights, but the securing of a lasting peace in the wider Middle East.

Quigley provides an impartial and thorough understanding of both sides of the conflict in the context of international law. He contends, however, based on that body of law, that Palestinians have a much stronger legal claim to Jerusalem than do the Israelis; that Palestinian refugees have the inalienable right of return to their homes and land, including those within the borders of Israel; and that Israel must withdraw from the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967.

The five sections provide an extensive and well documented evaluation of the conflict spanning the last 120 years:

Part 1: Origins of the Zionist-Arab Conflict in Palestine
Part 2: The 1948 War and the Establishment of Israel
Part 3: The Status of Arabs in Israel
Part 4: The 1967 War, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip
Part 5: Resolution of the Palestine-Israel Conflict

Quigley discusses the origins of Zionist movement, the League of Nations’ decision to promote a Jewish homeland in Palestine, the 1948 war and creation of Israel, and Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and Golan Heights during the 1967 war. Fully one third of the book comprises notes, sources and bibliography, a veritable goldmine for fellow researchers.

The first edition, published in 1990, has already received considerable praise. Professor Francis A. Boyle, legal adviser to the Palestinian delegation to the Middle East peace negotiations (1991–93), for example, writes,

“This masterful book comes at a most critical time in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and of American foreign policy towards the Middle East. It sets forth essential information on the international legal and human rights principles applicable to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and their relevance to the production of a comprehensive Middle East peace settlement between Israel and Palestine as well as between Israel and the surrounding Arab States. Indeed, there is no way anyone can even begin to comprehend the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and how to resolve it without developing a basic working knowledge of the principles of international law and human rights related thereto. By the end of this book, the reader should be in an excellent position to go out and work for peace with justice for all peoples and states in the Middle East.”

Richard H. Curtiss, executive editor, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs writes that Quigley,

“shows that by excluding the United Nations and insisting on bilateral peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, Washington diluted the principles of international law—to the ultimate detriment of the parties themselves and of the international community as a whole.”

Ghaleb Darabya, writing in the, International Third World Studies Journal and Review says,

“The Case for Palestine is a concise, well written book with invaluable summary of historical background for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. John Quigley’s dispassionate analysis and presentation of unbiased historical facts from credible sources overwhelmingly serves to educate and inform any reader. . . . [It] should be considered a must read for all those interested in a comprehensive overview of the legal issues surrounding this conflict and for all those interested in bringing about a long-lasting, durable peace and justice in the holy land."

Antony T. Sullivan, in, Law & Politics Book Review writes that it is one of the,

“best book-length summaries currently available of the historical case for the establishment of an independent and viable Palestinian state. As a primer on what Palestinians understand the historical reality over the past century to have been, there is today no better guide than John Quigley's updated and revised version of his first edition. . . . His mastery of the topic and command of the literature published in or translated into English is on full display in the volume at hand. Arab (Christian and Muslim), Jewish and other sources are exploited in a balanced fashion… This volume should be included on all academic reading lists dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian question. . . . Especially now, The Case for Palestine is worth the attention of US government officials engaged in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Quigley is to be commended for having compressed the work of a lifetime into this short, accessible, and copiously documented book."

This second, expanded edition, first published in 2005, elaborates on the hopes and disappointments of the more recent deadlocked peace process, notably the failure of the Oslo and Madrid negotiations.

Quigley concludes by insisting, in somewhat understated and dispassionate terms, what is the unmistakable thesis of the book as a whole, that the resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict rests entirely with us, the world community, represented by the United Nations:

"The international community bears a responsibility to ensure an outcome consistent with the legal rights of the parties. If the matter is left exclusively to the parties, there is a serious risk of an inappropriate outcome. That would be unfortunate for the inhabitants of the region. It would also increase the likelihood that the international community, which has dealt with the Arab-Israeli conflict for half a century, will face many more years of turmoil in the region." (p. 238)

Radical Cleric Claims Two State Solution Dead

Over at The American Prospect Matthew Duss has written an important expose of Southern Baptist Pastor Mike Huckabee's recent visit to Israel. Duss asks why Huckabee's views, (he justifies the transfer of Palestinians from the Occupied Territories and opposes the Two State Solution) so far to the right of his own party, have not been more heavily criticised? Simple - he is a Southern Baptist, a Republican and a Presidential candidate for 2012.

Entitled, Will Huckabee Pay A Price For Rejecting the Two-State Solution? Duss writes,
"On Monday, a radical cleric issued a statement rejecting a two-state solution for Israel-Palestine, suggesting that one of the two parties involved in the conflict should be made to find a homeland "elsewhere." Strangely, conservatives, who can usually be counted on to condemn such statements, have thus far been silent about this denial of the right of two peoples to two states in the Holy Land.

But perhaps it's not so strange, given that the cleric in question is Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor, non-ordained Southern Baptist pastor, and former (and likely future) Republican presidential candidate. Speaking to reporters while on a tour of Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem, Huckabee insisted that there is no room for a Palestinian state "in the middle of the Jewish homeland" and that the international community should consider giving the Palestinians a state some place else."

Read more here

See also Does Mike Huckabee buy into “transfer”?

and Hukabee Rejects Two State Solution

Islamist Threat to UK Jews Exposed as Fraud

Richard Bartholomew today has a most revealing update on the alleged Islamist threat in the UK. The title of which just about says it all:

Glen Jenvey Confesses that He Wrote Fake Islamist Postings which Formed the Basis for Sun Front Page Story

Bartholomew rightly asks about the implications for the media,

"how can the media be manipulated so easily in this way? The reality and dangers of Islamic fundamentalism of course must not be underestimated, but now we have to ask: what other information about radical Islam which has come through the media is of dubious provenance? We know there was a channel by which material “discovered” by Jenvey made its way to the desk of Patrick Mercer MP, the former Conservative Shadow Minister for Homeland Security. Mercer, and those who generated this channel, are now in rather embarrassing situation, it seems to me. Are court cases involving extremists now really in jeopardy, as Jenvey claims is the case as regards Abu Hamza?"

He concludes with a justified swipe at the obnoxious propaganda DVD still circulating in the US after being sent to millions of homes in swing States just ahead of the last US elections.

"And what about the credibility (as if it ever had any) of Obsession, which was distributed as a free DVD to 28 million American homes in 2008, and which featured Jenvey along with the likes of Daniel Pipes, Alan Dershowitz, and Brigitte Gabriel?"

In November 2008, Jews on First published an excellent rebuttal of the film Obsession.

Obsession vs. the Facts

Key arguments made in JewsOnFirst's Rebutting Obsession are:

  • Obsession and the “expert” viewpoints presented in it represent the ideology of the far right wing within the Republican Party, which seeks to intervene in the Presidential election with a distraction from the current economic turmoil.
  • Obsession ignores the geopolitical environment in which radical Islam was cultured, and makes a baseless argument that such fundamentalism is the ideological descendent of Nazism.
  • Obsession seeks, at a time of economic pain and cultural division to permit the viewer to project all real or imaginary fears and anxieties onto Muslims, as an alien and externalized enemy. This propaganda mirrors the situation faced by Japanese Americans during World War II and non-Anglo-Saxon immigrants in the 20th century. Such divisiveness actually weakens America by threatening our principles of cultural coexistence and religious freedom.
  • The “experts” presented in Obsession have limited experience in the Middle East, few speak Arabic or Farsi and most have limited or no academic background in Islam or the Koran. They represent a fringe group of Middle East “specialists” who align themselves with the Likud party in Israel and Christian evangelical and pro-settler lobbies in the United States.
  • Finally, Obsession, despite its half-hearted disclaimer that radical Muslims are a small minority, seeks to promote the concept of a violent clash of civilizations instead of cultural coexistence and religious pluralism.

Read Rebutting Obsession: Jews on First

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Maryam and Marzieh: Update from Iran

Elam Ministries have published an update on the saga of Maryam Rustampoor and Marzieh Amirizadeh, imprisoned in Iran for their faith in Jesus.

According to Elam, on Sunday 9th August they were brought before the revolutionary court in Tehran and told to recant their faith in Jesus.

'Though great pressure was put on them, both women declared that they would not deny their faith.

'Maryam and Marzieh were originally arrested on March 5, 2009 and have suffered greatly while in prison, suffering ill health, solitary confinement and interrogations for many hours while blindfolded.

'On Saturday August 8, Maryam and Marzieh were summoned to appear in court on Sunday August 9 in order to hear a verdict on their case. The chief interrogator had recommended a verdict of ‘apostasy.’ However, when they arrived, no verdict was actually given.

'Instead, the court session focussed on the deputy prosecutor, Mr Haddad, questioning Maryam and Marzieh about their faith and telling them that they had to recant in both verbal and written form. This made it clear that in the eyes of the court, Maryam and Marzieh’s only crime is that they have converted to Christianity.

'Mr Haddad asked the two women if they were Christians. “We love Jesus,” they replied. He repeated his question and they said, “Yes, we are Christians.” Mr. Haddad then said, “You were Muslims and now you have become Christians.” “We were born in Muslim families, but we were not Muslims,” was their reply.

'Mr Haddad’s questioning continued and he asked them if they regretted becoming Christians, to which they replied, “We have no regrets.” Then he stated emphatically, “You should renounce your faith verbally and in written form.” They stood firm and replied, “We will not deny our faith.”

'During one tense moment in the questioning, Maryam and Marzieh made reference to their belief that God had convicted them through the Holy Spirit.

'Mr Haddad told them, “It is impossible for God to speak with humans.” Marzieh asked him in return, “Are you questioning whether God is Almighty?” Mr. Haddad then replied, “You are not worthy for God to speak to you.” Marzieh said, “It is God, and not you, who determines if I am worthy.”

'Mr Haddad told the women to return to prison and think about the options they were given and come back to him when they are ready (to comply).

'Maryam and Marzieh said, “We have already done our thinking.”

'At the end of the session, Mr. Haddad told them that a judge will give them his verdict, though it is not clear who will be the judge in their case now. He also allowed Maryam and Marzieh to have a lawyer represent them in the case for the first time since their arrest. Both women are back in Evin prison tonight.

'During their five-month ordeal, both have been unwell and have lost much weight. Marzieh is in pain due to an on-going problem with her spine, as well as an infected tooth and intense headaches. She desperately needs medical attention. Two months ago the prison officials told her the prison had proper medical equipment and that they will attend to her, but so far no proper treatment has been given.

'Despite the concentrated effort of officials to pressure them into recanting their faith, Maryam and Marzieh love Jesus and they are determined to stand firm to the very end no matter whatever happens. They have demonstrated their love for Jesus and would offer their lives for Him if they were called to do so.

'After Sunday’s court session they said, “If we come out of prison we want to do so with honor.”

'Maryam and Marzieh’s case is a clear and harsh violation of human rights and religious liberty by Iran’s authorities. They deserve the support of all those who respect human rights and to be released without charges so they can pursue a life of freedom.'

For an earlier blog on Maryam and Marzieh, see here

Monday, 17 August 2009

Photos of France

I'm using the down time in August to process and upload photos taken last month on holiday in France. Its very restful and therapeutic. You can view them in my Flickr Collections or on Porta

There are separate collections for:

St Tropez

Bornes Les Minosis
Gorges du Verdon

I hope to add more collections by the end of August.

If you are curious, they were all taken with a Nikon D700 and a 28-200mm 3.5-4.5 D lenses. Its an old jack-of-all-trades lens from a pre-digital age but gets a rave review from Ken Rockwell for being really sharp and largely distortion free. And I'm using Adobe Photoshop for final processing.

The Battle for Jerusalem

The Battle for Jerusalem from Stephen Sizer on Vimeo.

What provides you with most security? After your faith and your family, what comes next? Probably your home.

It is probably your largest monthly financial expense or, if the mortgage is paid, your most valuable asset. You may have only just moved in yesterday. Your life, your memories, your hopes and dreams are still carefully packed away in those unopened boxes, but it is still your home. Or you may be living in your parents home. You may have been born there, grown up there, never spent a night anywhere else. What ever, your home is your security. The place where you can lock the door, feel secure, be yourself, protect your loved ones, raise your family.

Now imagine losing it. Not to a mortgage company through repossession, not because of a divorce settlement or an act of nature be it fire or flood, but lose it violently to a foreign government. Imagine being woken at 6:00am by riot police with dogs and bulldozers. They force you out at gun point.

They give you 15 minutes to remove your possessions.

They demolish your home in front of you. Then a week later, they send you the bill. It happens every day. Salim and Arabiya Shawamreh live in Anata, a village to the east of Jerusalem.

In June, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that their home could be demolished - for the fifth time. Four times it has been demolished and four times friends and international volunteers have rebuilt it.

Read more here:

Sunday, 16 August 2009

The Battle for Jerusalem

What provides you with your security? After your faith and your family, what comes next? Probably your home.

It is probably your largest monthly financial expense or, if the mortgage is paid, your most valuable asset. You may have only just moved in yesterday. Your life, your memories, your hopes and dreams are still carefully packed away in those unopened boxes, but it is still your home. Or you may be living in your parents home. You may have been born there, grown up there, never spent a night anywhere else. What ever, your home is your security. The place where you can lock the door, feel secure, be yourself, protect your loved ones, raise your family.

Now imagine losing it. Not to a mortgage company through repossession, not because of a divorce settlement or an act of nature be it fire or flood, but lose it violently to a foreign government. Imagine being woken at 6:00am by riot police with dogs and bulldozers. They force you out at gun point.

They give you 15 minutes to remove your possessions.

They demolish your home in front of you. Then a week later, they send you the bill. It happens every day. Salim and Arabiya Shawamreh live in Anata, a village to the east of Jerusalem.

In June, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that their home could be demolished - for the fifth time. Four times it has been demolished and four times friends and international volunteers have rebuilt it.

Read the rest of this entry

Friday, 14 August 2009

The War of Armageddon has cost $1 trillion so far

The war in Iraq has cost the US over $1 trillion as well as the lives of more than 4,000 servicemen and women. The total number of Iraqi casualties will never be known. Associated Press estimates 110,000 violent deaths; the Lancet 601,000; ORB, 1,033,000 killed.

Irrespective of the humanitarian or military justification for the invasion, what is not widely acknowledged is the possibility that apocalyptic religious convictions may have influenced George W. Bush to go to war.

James Haught is the editor of the Charleston Gazette. In July he wrote an article entitled Agog over Bush's comments on Gog and Magog. Here's a flavour:

Incredibly, President George W. Bush told French President Jacques Chirac in early 2003 that Iraq must be invaded to thwart Gog and Magog, the Bible's satanic agents of the Apocalypse.

Honest. This isn't a joke. The president of the United States, in a top-secret phone call to a major European ally, asked for French troops to join American soldiers in attacking Iraq as a mission from God.

Now out of office, Chirac recounts that the American leader appealed to their "common faith" (Christianity) and told him:

"Gog and Magog are at work in the Middle East. ... The biblical prophecies are being fulfilled. ... This confrontation is willed by God, who wants to use this conflict to erase his people's enemies before a New Age begins."

This bizarre -- seemingly deranged -- episode happened while the White House was assembling its "coalition of the willing" to unleash the Iraq invasion. Chirac says he was boggled by Bush's call, and "wondered how someone could be so superficial and fanatical in their beliefs."

After the 2003 call, the puzzled French leader didn't comply with Bush's request. Instead, his staff asked Thomas Romer, a theologian at the University of Lausanne, to analyze the weird appeal. Dr. Romer explained that the Old Testament book of Ezekiel contains two chapters (38 and 39) in which God rages against Gog and Magog, sinister and mysterious forces menacing Israel. Jehovah vows to smite them savagely, to "turn thee back, and put hooks into thy jaws," and slaughter them ruthlessly. In the New Testament, the mystical book of Revelation envisions Gog and Magog gathering nations for battle, "and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them."

In 2007, Dr. Romer recounted Bush's strange behavior in Lausanne University's review, Allez Savoir. A French-language Swiss newspaper, Le Matin Dimanche, printed a sarcastic account titled: "When President George W. Bush saw the prophesies of the Bible coming to pass." France's La Liberte likewise spoofed it under the headline, "A small scoop on Bush, Chirac, God, Gog and Magog." But other news media missed the amazing report.

You can read the rest here

See also an earlier article George W. Bush and the Road to Armageddon

Zinc and Diarrhea

Want to save the world? Well, save the lives of at least 1,600,000 children a year for starters? All it takes is a simple course of zinc tablets administered at the first sign of diarrhea. How much? It costs less than £0.20p ($0.30) to save the life of a child. We hear a lot about AIDS and malaria but diarrhea kills more children than either, in fact it is the second most common cause of death in infants (down from first and now just below pneumonia).

Vivienne Walt, writing in this week's TIME has a moving article entitled The Great Zinc Breakthrough.

She writes:
It is hard to grasp the impact diarrhea has on people's lives across Africa and Asia. The disease kills more children than either malaria or AIDS, stunts growth, and forces millions — adults and children alike — to spend weeks at a time off work or school, which hits both a country's economy and its citizens' chances of a better future. In countless villages like Sogola, where people have long drawn water from unreliable wells, diarrhea kills so many that there is a general sense of resignation, as if watching children die is simply one of life's inevitable tragedies.
The Gates Foundation and Save the Children are changing all that.
But now a quiet revolution is under way. Over the past few years, a handful of aid organizations and governments — including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the U.S. Agency for International Development — have begun distributing zinc supplements to villagers in Bangladesh, India, Mali and Pakistan. Several other groups are working with governments in Africa to introduce zinc, which comes both in tablet form and as a syrup. In Mali, Save the Children U.S. used $680,000 from a 2007 charity concert of American Idol to distribute zinc tablets to a handful of villages in the south of the country.
Read more here...

See also A simple pill saves lives

Healing: The unexpected properties of zinc

Monday, 10 August 2009

With God on our Side

"With God On Our Side takes a look at the theology of Christian Zionism, which teaches that because the Jews are God's chosen people, they have a divine right to the land of Israel. Aspects of this belief system lead some Christians in the West to give uncritical support to Israeli government policies, even those that privilege Jews at the expense of Palestinians, leading to great suffering among Muslim and Christian Palestinians alike and threatening Israel's security as a whole.

This film demonstrates that there is a biblical alternative for Christians who want to love and support the people of Israel, a theology that doesn't favor one people group over another but instead promotes peace and reconciliation for both Jews and Palestinians."

Launch: Autumn 2009. More news soon.

With God on our Side - Website, FaceBook and YouTube

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Where is the Promised Land?

Kristin Davis, star of Sex in the City is, “the new face of Ahava” the Israeli cosmetic company which specialises in natural skin care products made from Dead Sea minerals. “I’m honoured to be a part of a beauty legend that dates back to Cleopatra,” she said.

Unfortunately, Ahava cosmetic products are made in Mitzpe Shalem, an illegal Jewish settlement built in the Palestinian West Bank. Ahava’s extraction of Palestinian natural resources from the Dead Sea is, according to the Fourth Geneva Convention, illegal use by an occupying power of stolen resources for its own profit. To add insult to injury, Ahava’s labels claim Israel to be the country of origin, something decried by Oxfam and other human rights groups as blatantly misleading. Ironically, Kristin Davis is a spokeswoman for Oxfam – or rather was until this week when they suspended her (see here for details). Hopefully, Kristin will now sever her relationship with the cosmetics-maker, regain her platform with Oxfam, and campaign for the human rights of all who have been dispossessed.

Not surprisingly the subject of ‘the Land’ is deeply controversial and highly politicised. Even its name - Canaan, Israel, Palestine, the Promised Land - says as much about our presuppositions as our knowledge of Middle East geography: Promised Land? Promised to whom? Under what terms? For what purpose?

Read more here and watch the video here

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Palestinians Evicted from homes in Jerusalem

The US has led international condemnation of Israel after it evicted nine Palestinian families living in two houses in occupied East Jerusalem.

Club-wielding Israeli riot police evicted two Palestinian families from their homes in occupied east Jerusalem on Sunday, defying international protests over Jewish settlement activity in the area.

Jewish settlers moved into the houses almost immediately. The US has urged Israel to abandon plans for a building project in the area.

"I was born in this house and so were my children," said Maher Hanoun, whose family was evicted along with the neighbouring Ghawi household. "Now we are on the streets. We have become refugees."

The Supreme Court ordered the evictions following an appeal by the Nahalat Shimon International settler group which claimed Jewish settlers have title deeds for the properties, despite UN and Palestinian denials.

Jerusalem authorities have also given permission for the construction of about 20 homes in Sheikh Jarrah, in defiance of global calls for a halt to all settlement activity in occupied east Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Sheikh Jarrah is one of the most sensitive neighbourhoods closest to the so-called Green Line separating east and west Jerusalem, with the fate of the city one of the thorniest issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As some settlers carried boxes containing the belongings of the expelled families to a truck, others moved into the houses holding drills, shovels and ladders.

"We are all afraid of being kicked out," said Amal Kassem, a Sheikh Jarrah resident for more than five decades.

She said Jewish settlers were holding "fake title deeds" to homes which the Palestinians obtained in line with a deal struck between Jordan and the UN agency for refugees in 1956, when Jordan had jurisdiction over the area.

Israel occupied East Jerusalem in 1967 and later annexed it, a move not recognised by the world community. The evictions have been condemned by the United Nations, the Palestinians and also the UK government. The US said the evictions were not in keeping with Israel's obligations under the so-called "road map" to resolve the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

The operation to evict the 53 Palestinians in the Sheikh Jarrah district of the city was carried out before dawn on Sunday by police clad in black riot gear. It followed a ruling by Israel's Supreme Court that Jewish families owned the land. Israel wants to build a block of 20 apartments in the area. The police were clad in black riot gear

The evictions were quickly condemned by the United Nations. "I deplore today's totally unacceptable actions by Israel," the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Robert H Serry said. "These actions are contrary to the provisions of the Geneva Conventions related to occupied territory. "These actions heighten tensions and undermine international efforts to create conditions for fruitful negotiations to achieve peace," Mr Perry said.

Palestinian negotiator Sayeb Erekat said:

"Israel is once again showing its utter failure to respect international law," he told reporters.

"Tonight, while these new settlers from abroad will be accommodating themselves and their belongings in these Palestinian houses, 19 newly homeless children will have nowhere to sleep."

Israel considers a united Jerusalem to be the capital of the state of Israel. "Our sovereignty over it is unquestionable," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last month. "We cannot accept the idea that Jews will not have the right to live and buy [homes] anywhere in Jerusalem." The BBC's Tim Franks in Jerusalem says the houses are in what is probably the most contested city on earth and the diplomatic ripples from the evictions will spread.

The UK joined in the condemnation of the evictions.

The British consulate, which is in Sheikh Jarrah along with several other foreign missions, echoed the view.

"The Israelis' claim that the imposition of extremist Jewish settlers into this ancient Arab neighbourhood is a matter for the courts or the municipality is unacceptable," it said in a statement. "These actions are incompatible with the Israeli-professed desire for peace. We urge Israel not to allow the extremists to set the agenda."

There are an estimated 250,000 Palestinians living in East Jerusalem and 200,000 Jews.


Washington Report on Middle East Affairs
France 24
International Middle East Media Centre

See also:

'Israel uses Hitler picture to sell its Settlement expansion': Independent
'Israel defies US and destroys Palestinian homes': Independent
'Israel's evictions upset even its friends': Guardian
'Taking over Jerusalem' Guardian

Palestine and Sex in the City

Philip Weiss over on Mondoweiss has an update on the BDS campaign which is targeting Ahava beauty products manufactured in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Kristin Davis, star of Sex in the City is, according to their website, "the new face of Ahava"

Boycott campaign pays off as Oxfam suspends TV star Kristin Davis

"Another sign that the Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions movement is biting.

A few weeks back Code Pink announced a boycott of beauty products made by Ahava in the occupied West Bank: "Stolen Beauty." Code Pink targeted an Ahava endorser Kristin Davis (left). Now several news organizations report that Oxfam International has dropped/suspended Davis, a star of Sex in the City, as a spokeswoman because she serves Ahava.

Code Pink’s Nancy Kricorian announced the "Stolen Beauty" boycott campaign in the spring:

Mitzpe Shalem, built on occupied land in 1970, is an illegal settlement, as are all Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Ahava’s capture of Palestinian natural resources from the Dead Sea is, according to the Fourth Geneva Convention, a patently illegal use by an occupying power of stolen resources for its own profit. To add insult to injury, Ahava’s labels claim that the country of origin of its products is “The Dead Sea, Israel”—this type of labeling has been decried by Oxfam, among other human rights groups, as blatantly misleading.

You may recall that when the Israeli consulate had a "beach party" for Israel in Central Park a few weeks back, dragging in truckloads of sand, Code Pink protesters showed up in bikinis with Ahava scrawled on their tummies with mud. Says the New York Post:

"This has been a huge thing," one source told us. "Ahava has factories on disputed land. From Ahava’s perspective, they are not doing anything wrong. From an Oxfam perspective, Ahava is a polarizing company and Kristin shouldn’t be involved with it."

Read more here

Friday, 7 August 2009

Golf Lessons for Life

The current best-selling golf book on Amazon is Dream on: One Hacker’s Challenge to Break Par in a Year by John Richardson. It is closely followed by The Golfer’s Mind by Bob Rotella and Bob Cullen. Keep scrolling down and you’ll find the occasional biography or history among the 11,487 books listed, but you’ll be overwhelmed with ‘how to’ books.

Clearly there are many of us who long to consistently drive the middle of the fairway, hit the green in regulation, get out of sand traps in decent shape, and sink those birdie putts. And we are willing to spend serious money on the latest clubs, clothing, lessons, books and videos to achieve that.

Whether you play golf or not, here are 12 simple lessons I am learning about golf which equally apply to marriage, to family life or relationships generally. They are adapted from Jack Canfield’s, Chicken Soup for the Golfer’s Soul. They may not improve your game of golf but they will certainly improve your game in life.

1. Golf teaches that we all have handicaps … and that hardly anybody knows what they really are. In marriage you get the chance to discover what those handicaps are in yourself and in your partner and in love help improve one another’s game.

2. Golf teaches that the best courses are the ones that hardly change at all what God put there in the first place. As they say, play the ball where it lies and play the course as you find it. Fulfillment comes in accepting each other the way God has made us, handicaps and all, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part.

3. Golf teaches that although there are a few people who are honest in golf but cheat in life, everybody who cheats in golf cheats in life. Marriage, like the rules of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of Saint Andrew, requires total honesty. In marriage you never need to lie about your handicap. Share everything with one another, openly and honestly and then together you will find an answer to every hazard ahead of you.

4. Golf teaches that even though we need strict rules, we also need a leaf rule. Because we all have a handicap, we all need a forgiving partner. The most important words to use in marriage as in golf are ‘I am sorry’ ‘what do you think?’ ‘Its your honour’, ‘please’ and ‘thank you’.

5. Golf teaches that even people who wear green tartan plus fours deserve a place where they can get a little exercise and not be laughed at. Marriage is the place where you can be yourself and not have to follow a dress code. Instead of competing with each other all the time, marriage is the place to support and protect your partnership and improve your game together.

6. Golf teaches that even though you probably don’t have a shot at being the best, you do have a good shot at being the best you can be. Start each day with a fresh score card and aim to be the best partner you can be. You will be surprised how far your strokes will go.

7. Golf teaches that both success and failure are temporary and that success is a lot more temporary. You can start a game in glorious sunshine and by the second hole you are have to change into all-weather gear. Marriage is about the long haul and the greatest rewards are for those who persevere and make the whole round. Winning at golf, as in marriage is about finishing well. Golf rewards those who forget what lies behind, the mis-hits, the bunkers and the double bogeys - and press on to a strong finish.

8. Golf teaches that although practice does not always make us perfect, no practice always makes us imperfect. Marriage is all about being a learner and always seeking new ways to improve your stroke, your pitching and your putting. Make it your aim to be teachable and a learner in marriage and your game will improve.

9. Golf teaches that no matter how good you are, there is always someone better and that person will usually find you and tell you. Resist the temptation to be like someone else or be with someone else. The grass may be greener on the other fairway but you will still have to mow the grass or pay the fees.

10. Golf teaches that even though the best golfers have the most chances to win, we all have the most chances to improve. Marriage is about the joy of improving your partners game. Keep practising and you will keep improving.

11. Golf teaches you to hand in your score card because the aim is to lower your handicap. I am still waiting to get a card worth handing in. The third person in a good marriage, as in a game of golf, is having a pro play along side you, the person who modelled the rules perfectly - Jesus Christ.

Imagine playing someone with a perfect score - a hole in one on every fairway, every time, better even than a Tiger Woods. Would it put you off or improve your game? But imagine as you walk away from the 18th, he takes your card, puts his name on your card and your name on his. That is what Jesus did for us on the cross. A perfect score. In marriage as in golf, God would have us remember he thought up the rules because he designed us with a purpose in mind. If we ask for his help he will show us how to play the only game that matters, the game that need never end, if we invite him to be our pro.

12. Finally, golf teaches that, on some dewy morning or golden afternoon, with the sun warming the world, we can find ourselves walking through an improvised meadow and realize we are not searching for a little white ball, but for a glimpse of eternity where the world of nature and the world of play are one. And then in the dew and sunshine we can understand that even though we can make a ball perfectly white, only God can make a meadow perfectly green.

May you experience that sense of wonder in God’s presence every day of your life.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

A Third Palestinian Uprising?

Are we about to witness a third Palestinian uprising? Professor Gary Burge raises the question in the following report, based on his recent visit to Israel and Palestine, published on The Electronic Intifada, 3 August 2009.

"I recently returned from the Holy Land after leading about 40 Presbyterians from Galilee to Jerusalem. This isn't new territory for me. I've been in the country many times leading students, working at archaeology digs, speaking at conferences, and occasionally taking a church such as this. And this time what I saw and heard was worrying.

Many important developments have taken place over the last six months. There was Israel's winter invasion of Gaza and a few months later, right-winger Benjamin Netanyahu became prime minister. Even recently US President Barack Obama has called for a change in America's posture toward Israel's settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. For Middle East news junkies, these have been solid months.

But there is something else going on behind the scenes. One day last week I drove with Yahav Zohar into a neighborhood inside Jerusalem. Yahav is a staff member at the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD), an advocacy group that researches and publicizes discriminatory policies in Jerusalem and the West Bank. Yahav wanted me to see a village he used as a case study. Jabal Mukabber is typical of the many small Palestinian villages that dot the landscape. Tourists never go there. Israelis avoid them. When Israel formally annexed East Jerusalem after the war of 1967 in violation of UN Security Council resolutions, it claimed Jabal Mukabber as part of the municipality of "Greater Jerusalem," and its residents suddenly paid new taxes and had a world of new opportunities open to them. Or so it would seem.

Then Yahav had me look closer. Jabal Mukabber has no sewer system. And it has an antiquated water system that usually runs dry. Its streets are broken, there are no libraries or parks. The school is falling down. In other words, Jabal Mukabber's infrastructure is broken because since 1967 the Israeli-controlled Jerusalem municipality spends 10 times more on Jewish neighborhoods and settlements than this one.

Now here's the catch: When the Palestinians try to build and improve their lot, they are denied building permits in places like Jabal Mukabber. And if they build anyway, Israeli bulldozers destroy the building. I saw the rubble of one. In the last 10 years, the Israeli army has demolished 300 Palestinian homes within the city limits of Jerusalem. According to ICAHD, the goal here is to so frustrate the Palestinians, that they will leave. And this is to maintain an explicit racial quota in the city: the Israeli government's publicized goal is to keep a 72 percent - 28 percent ratio of Jews over Arabs at all times. The explicity made me dizzy. I couldn't imagine imposing a racial quota on an American city like this.

But Jabal Mukabber is a good case study for another reason. Because right next door is the new Jewish settlement called Nof Zion. It is spectacular and looks like the townhouses I've seen in San Diego, California. It will be a gated community or as its sales office calls it, a "private residence." And as I watched, they were laying sewer systems and water mains for the settlement right alongside the village of Jabal Mukabber! Imagine that: Jabal Mukabber will be going dry while water in huge cement pipes is rushing under its fields to feed a nearby settlement. While Jabal Mukabber buys water off trucks, Nof Zion will be watering gardens and filling swimming pools.

What is going on here? As aid workers told me, this is economic strangulation. The Palestinian villages of Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank are quietly having the life strangled out of them. In many, the water comes on only once per week. In the village of Beit Jala, it came on once in June. And Palestinians are forbidden by law to dig wells into the aquifer while at the same time enormous machines pump massive amounts of water from the same aquifer to feed the Israeli settlements. If you get behind the scenes, the frustration in these villages is boiling over.

Additionally, a village can be strangled by the building of Israel's separation fence or wall. Villages that for centuries anchored their economy to Jerusalem now find themselves -- like ancient Bethany -- outside the wall. They sit alone, strangled in the desert. And quietly their culture is dying. Now add to this what is happening to Gaza. Since the war in January in which 1,500 Palestinians in Gaza were killed, Israel is quietly doing the same thing. No building materials are being permitted into the destroyed region to rebuild it. Cement, pipes, electrical, machinery -- Gaza is living today in the squalor of its broken buildings.

The leader of a major non-governmental organization (NGO) in the region expressed his frustration to me: "We are permitted to organize convoys of trucks filled with food and take them to Gaza. Then at the border, the soldiers deny our authorized entry and the food rots in the sun." One major NGO leader in Jerusalem complained vigorously this spring to the Israeli government. His visa was promptly withdrawn and he was forced to leave. This has silenced the other NGOs who don't want their work stopped.

One day I happened to be standing at the great Western Wall where so many Jews pray. And as I stood, a young man handed me a flyer from the conservative Chabad-Lubavitch foundation. Many men were reading it and so I joined them. A lead essay described a strategy for how Israel can "settle the entire land." And the outline stunned me. "Do not announce to the gentiles what you are doing." "Do it quietly without noise or publicity." The essay fleshed out these aims and my mind went immediately back to Jabal Mukabber and the countless villages like them. They were being destroyed quietly.

After my tour group departed for home, I remained in Jerusalem and talked to some of my Palestinian Christian friends, asking, so what is going to happen? Their answer was telling. There will be another uprising. It is inevitable. But then I asked if it would work, since the previous uprising in 2000 failed. The despair that followed was disarming. We will rise up, organizations like Hamas will become more popular, there will be violence, and we'll be presented to the world as a crazy, violent people once again -- and Israel's severe policies will look legitimate once more. I stood on a hilltop on a Palestinian-owned farm on 26 June and heard many of these sentiments once again. This farmer, Daoud Nassar, holds a 100-year-old deed to his cultivated land. And I witnessed how three settlements were cutting away at its edges, where at night settlers come and uproot his young olive trees; I saw the water pipes now turned off by the government and how electricity was taken from him. "Will you leave?" I asked. "This is my family's land," he said. "How can I abandon it?"

Gary M. Burge is professor of New Testament at Wheaton College in Chicago. He is author of Whose Land? Whose Promise? What Christians are not being told about Israel and the Palestinians (2003). He will soon release Jesus and the Land. How the New Testament Transformed "Holy Land" Theology.