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May 9 - May 11, 2002



Saturday 11th May, 2002


More from Novelist Nicholas Blincoe on Christianity in Palestine

On Thursday I posted an email (scroll down) I’d received from British novelist Nicholas Blincoe with comments on Christianity in Palestine. I replied asking for more, and have received the following from him:


The Arab Christians of Palestine are called 'the living stones' in the Latin Church - they are the founders of Christianity, the first people to translate the holy texts and look after the holy sites. The danger now is that they may not survive for much longer. The greater part of the Palestinian Diaspora is Christian - there are more Arab Christians in America than in Palestine.


The problem is not divisions within Palestinian society - the Muslims and Christians are united in their desire for national liberation. The problem is the brutal occupation - the destruction of the economic base, of the schools, the closure of borders, the arbitrary curfews.


Schools, along with hospitals, were a particular target of the Israeli army in the two invasions this year. All this means that parents cannot offer their children a future. Christians have had more opportunities to study abroad than Muslims and, when they go, they either do not or cannot return. Palestinians routinely have their ID cards confiscated and are forbidden from using the Israeli airports.


Nicholas also sent a copy of a letter from an Arab priest, Father Labib Kobti, now working in San Francisco, who is appalled at the impact of the Israeli occupation and the response of the West. The letter is long (and the English is not perfect) and angry. Some excerpts follow. The entire letter can be read here.


Most American Christians and the Christians of the West are ignorantly being fed lies that they accept as a God given truth—which Israel's war is simply against Muslim Palestinians using the same logic of the Taliban /Afghanistan. They are ignoring that the problem is the ISRAELI OCCUPATION and it is not a war against terrorism but a resistance against Occupation. And Palestinian resistance is Christians and Muslims.

Palestinian Christians of the Holy Land who have been living in harmony with Muslims for centuries feel abandoned and alone. They feel angry against the Christians in the West and specially the American Christians.


…Palestinian Christians are angry with Western Christians who have abandoned them. Palestinian Christians feel that Western Christians have left them alone to face this brutal Israeli occupation simply because they are Arab Christians. This at least what many Arab-Christians have said to me as their pastor. If we were Italian, English, Irish, Americans, Germans, French would they do the same? Imagine if Jews would besiege Notre Dame of Paris, or the Vatican, or St. Patrick in New York. Or imagine if a group of any people would besiege Jews for days inside any synagogue in the world and deprive them from food, water, and electricity and kill them with snipers. Would it be tolerated and accepted, would it take that long to save them and stand with the innocent Jews in a place of prayer? Wouldn't the whole world move to do immediately what is fair, right and just? Why they are doing this to our Arab Palestinians people? Why the West hates us that much? What did we do to deserve all this, what did the Palestinians do to the world? Who are we as Arab-Christians for the Christians of the West? Aren't we the Christians of the first centuries? The Christians who translated the Bible into different languages; the first who have created monarchism, and religious orders; the first fathers of the Church; the first missionaries?


-posted 8:55pm



Everybody Needs Neighbours. Do We Need Church Buildings?

The phenomenonally successful Australian soap opera “Neighbours” screened its 4,000th episode last night, though that’s not the reason I watched it for the first time ever.


“Neighbours” was launched in 1985, and it’s filmed at a studio that’s about a 10-minute drive from my home here in the Eastern suburbs of Melbourne. The actual street used for outdoor scenes is also nearby. It’s shown in 57 countries, and has made international stars of such names as Kylie Minogue and Natalie Imbruglia. Even Russell Crowe has appeared.


The reason I watched is that the theme of the 4,000th episode was a fire and dramatic rescue at a church, and the actual church used for location shooting was Holy Trinity in Doncaster, where my family currently worship.


Holy Trinity is an Anglican church with a strong evangelical tradition. We moved to it two years ago because of the powerful biblical preaching, of a quality we had not encountered before in Melbourne. Others are being attracted too, and the church is steadily growing. Construction has just begun of building extensions.


The original church is a lovely stone structure, more than 100 years old, and much in demand for weddings and christenings. It is also used occasionally by “Neighbours” when someone on the show gets married or dies, or a baby needs to be christened.


I guess I should be proud of that, but somehow I’m not. Because it is clear that nowadays for so many Australians—especially young Australians—that is their image of “church”: an old stone building that you visit for christenings and weddings and funerals. That is presumably why “Neighbours”—an unimaginative show that deals in stereotypes—chooses Holy Trinity for church location shooting.


How wonderful if we mentioned “church” and young Australians conjured up images of love and forgiveness and healing and reconciliation. There’s a spiritual emptiness among so many people, but the traditional church does not seem equipped to respond.


When Holy Trinity launched its church expansion appeal I declined to contribute. I can’t say I really know what to do about the spiritual problems of our society, but somehow I feel that right now larger church buildings are not the answer.



Pet Therapy

On Wednesday I posted “ABC – Going to the Dogs” (scroll down), in which I suggested that ABC television should investigate the massive pet healthcare infrastructure in this country—at a time when millions around the world are sick or starving—rather than devoting its resources to a documentary on the Korean dog meat industry. I gave several examples of the costs involved in looking after pets.


An article on pet surgery in The Age this morning shows the situation is far more extreme than I realised. A local couple has paid $2,000 for brain surgery for their cat. A man spent $3,000 on a pacemaker implant for his dachshund. A hip replacement for an animal is $4,500. A decade or so ago it would have been considered ridiculous to spend such money on medical care for a pet. How quickly nowadays the ridiculous becomes the accepted.


-posted 3:40pm



Friday 10th May, 2002


Christian BlogList

I have finally finished adding comments to all the blogs in the Christian BlogList. There are now more than 150 blogs listed, and almost every day I get emails telling me of more. I am glad I abandoned my original plan to write a fairly comprehensive review and critique of each of the blogs. It would have taken forever. Instead there’s just a line or two on most of them, often taken from the blog itself. My sincere thanks to Joyful Christian Jeffrey Collins for writing some of the comments.


It was a labour of love. I got to visit many interesting blogs. Several were intriguing. One was Praying the Post, which comments from a Christian perspective on items in the Washington Post.


Here’s part of the latest posting:


CNN online has a story about an Irish priest who has resigned because he doesn't believe in God. The headline reads, "Heresy charge Irish priest quits." We pass over the grammar in silence to note that the subject of the story, Andrew Furlong, is -- or was -- Anglican.


We know this because the seventh of nine paragraphs tells us that this "Irish priest" "was ordained in the Anglican Church of Ireland in the early 1970s."


Admittedly, the second paragraph mentions that his resignation "was accepted by Church of Ireland Bishop Richard Clarke."


Naturally, everyone in America knows that the Church of Ireland is Anglican, not Roman Catholic, and everyone in America knows that, when they read of an "Irish priest," the first question to ask is whether he's with Canterbury or with Rome, and everyone in America reads at least the first seven paragraphs of every article.


One of my hopes when I established my own website was to provide comment like that on the media. It would be great if more Christian bloggers could do the same.


I got an email from the Rationalist blog asking to be included on the list:


Hi! I don't know if you'd be interested in a blog about religion by someone who has no religion, but there are a few of us out there...Cheers and keep writing!


Most of the site focuses on Christian trends (particularly here in Australia), and it is all pretty balanced, even if it’s written by an atheist. I decided not to include it in the list on my home page, but I’ve put it in the other list, inside, with a brief comment. Please let me know, anyone, if you object to its inclusion, and I might reconsider.


A lovely site that I would urge people to visit is, run by Richard Hall, a Methodist minister in South Wales.


Here is his posting for May 5th:


Jayne did a spot of tidying the shed and garage today. She came across a box containing some bottles of home-brewed beer, that must have been at least 12 years old. Remarkably, they were still as drinkable as when they were made (which isn't very!), but even more remarkably, we've obviously been dragging them round the country with us without knowing we'd got them. It's four changes of house since I last brewed any beer - in my misspent youth, you understand. Anyhow, I've recycled them on the compost heap, where I hope they'll do a bit of good.

But it made me think of the other stuff I carry around but don't know about or remember, the hurts and regrets that I've got lurking in the dark recesses of my psyche waiting to be discovered by accident. In the ordinary way I don't have too much time for the vogue for introspection - self-indulgent and ultimately self-centred is my instinctive feeling about it - but this chance encounter with some long-forgotten beer has made me think. Perhaps that's why the 'collect for purity' is (I think) such an important prayer:


Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open, all desires known and from whom no secrets are hidden; cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you and worthily magnify your holy name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


It’s a lovely blog with a treasure trove of such reflection.




The Age this morning carries two articles on the disgraceful conditions at the refugee camps. It shames us here in Australia that this is happening, and it is saddening beyond words that the camps are under the control of a Minister of Immigration and a Prime Minister who like to make it known that they are Christians.


-posted 8:45pm



An Email from UK Novelist Nicholas Blincoe: “I Question Your Motives…”

Back in mid-April I posted an item “The Liver of the Israeli Soldier” (now in my archive), in which I expressed concern that prominent Christians in the Middle East seemed so viscerally hateful of Israel. I noted that Yasser Arafat’s Christian wife had endorsed the suicide bombers, while his wife’s Christian mother had apparently published a poem with the words, “I want to eat the liver of the Israeli soldier and to bore my teeth into his flesh”.


While doing research on this topic I came across a fascinating online article, “Writing The Dope Priest,” by British novelist Nicholas Blincoe. It was an insider’s account of life in Palestine.


The night before Arafat spoke from the roof of the church, I met his much younger wife, Suha, at a party. No one doubted that their marriage was an act of political necessity. But no one knew its true significance. Perhaps the fact that she was a Christian was intended to calm Christian fears about living in a predominantly Muslim society. But there were other, wilder theories about the relationship - including rumours about the shadowy influence of Suha's mother.


I went to my local public library and borrowed The Dope Priest. It’s a marvellous read. Nicholas has done a masterful job in catching the exhilarating atmosphere of life in modern-day Israel that I saw in the six months that I lived there—the swirling mix of races, the drugs, the sex, the history, the religion, all set against a backdrop of thousands of years of conflict.


As Nicholas writes in his article:


In The Dope Priest all kids are drugged to the eyeballs all the time. There is also a fear in Israel that all Russians are criminals - in The Dope Priest, most of them are. Maybe in future years I will regret these caricatures. I don't know. All I can say, I did not invent them. And in the way I have portrayed them, with enthusiasm and vitality, and the place I have shown them, in the city of Tel Aviv, I have at least shown a modern, pluralist society comparable to any of the world's great cities.


So I sent Nicholas an email:


Nicholas, while researching Palestinian Christianity and other topics for a posting on my website…I came across a fascinating article by you, "Writing The Dope Priest" in Crime Time magazine. Have you written any other articles on Palestine? Is Christianity in Palestine as messed up as it appears to be? (I'm concerned that I may have been too harsh in my website piece.) Cheers, Martin Roth.


Since then I have done another posting on Mideast Christianity (also now in my archive). It was based on translations from the Middle East Media Research Institute, and was a collection of vile statements from Christian leaders in the region, expressing their hatred of Israel, of the West and of Western Christianity. I titled that piece, “Read, Weep”.


I have just received an email from Nicholas:


Dear Martin,


I received your email while I was living in Bethlehem during the last invasion. The Israeli military occupation is thirty-five years old. Few people have any idea how degrading, how obscene military occupation is. It is brutal and relentless. In Orwell's words, a jackboot stamping on a human face for all eternity.

Against this background, I question your motives for providing the quotes from Christian leaders on your website. All are taken out of context. Many are from Copts, and there are no Copts in Palestine.

Palestinian Christians are aghast that they have been abandoned by those who claim to share their faith. Christianity emerged from this region; if one forgets its roots and its history, it is nothing. Very soon, it is likely that Christianity will have been eradicated in the Holy Land, after a continuous two thousand years history from the time of Christ. A majority of Israeli Jews believe the Palestinians should be expelled. What are Christians in the West doing about this?


I set up this website hoping it might be an encouragement to Christians, to help them see God at work in the world. But I also wanted to hold Christians to account. For example, I am appalled that Australian Christians can spend so lavishly on praise and worship CDs and Prayer of Jabez merchandise while virtually ignoring the plight of suffering Christians just over the water in Indonesia.


And I was equally appalled when I read the statements of Mideast Christian leaders, in a report from the Middle East Media Research Institute, which I assume to be a responsible organisation. That is why I wrote my posting “Read, Weep”.


Christians know the love of Jesus. I believe they have a higher duty of care than do other peoples, who do not know that love. Christian leaders in the Middle East should be the peacemakers, not hatemongers. Nicholas says that all the quotes in my posting were out of context. I simply cannot imagine what context can justify such venom from Christian leaders.


But having said all that, it’s kind of cool to get an email from a novelist I admire. Thank you, Nicholas. I’d love to hear more about your experiences in Bethlehem.


-posted 10:10am



Thursday 9th May, 2002


Our Love Is No Love

Abandoning the truth, and seeking instead to become useful, the Australian church is dissolving into irrelevance. Sydney Anglican Archbishop Peter Jensen states it bluntly, in a significant article in this morning’s Sydney Morning Herald:


What is truly alarming is that we are not alarmed. We have accepted the secular world's verdict that we have nothing of importance to say, and we have adjusted ourselves to this reality. We have become domesticated. It has all the sadness of seeing a great cat of Christian theology turned into a house pet….Our aim has been to demonstrate our usefulness to the community by pointing to our good works; the end result is that we are seen by many and see ourselves often enough to be merely charitable organisations.


Please try to read this article.



Is Anti-Catholicism the New Anti-Semitism?

Adelaide priest and journalist Father Ephraem Chifley asks the question in The Age this morning.


Considering that most instances of paedophilia involve not priests but live-in step-fathers, clerical celibacy cannot be considered a significant element in this tragedy. Strange, isn't it, that cartoonists and comedians don't make jokes about paedophilia and mum's new boyfriend, or that there are so few voices calling for a royal commission into marriage break-up and child protection? That, of course, would call for society to examine its substitution of personal fulfilment for duty - far easier to attack a large and slow-moving target, like the church, especially as it is apt frequently to say inconvenient and frightening things.




Cranky Professor emails me:


Last year I saw a well-dressed woman get out of a Jeep in Atlanta and go into a jewellery store. Her jeep had two bumper stickers - "Free Tibet" and "Stop Theocracy Now." Honest. I felt like leaving a note about god-kings for her.



Tim Blair Sighting

If, like me, you keep clicking on Tim Blair, looking for the latest updates to his witty blog, you’ll be pleased to find him in The Australian this morning.


-posted 10:35am