Friday, December 30, 2005

[285.1] GOOD NEWS AT LAST FROM GAZA

Wonderful news came through less than an hour ago that Kate, Hugh and Win Burton have been released by their captors in Rafah, Gaza, after two days of no news and frantic diplomatic and security activity. There is, of course, no connection between this abduction and those of the four Christian Peacemaker Team activists in Iraq - but it will nevertheless be good and encouraging news in the midst of their continuing ordeal. The strenuous Muslim and Palestinian calls for the release of abductees have echoed once more across the region, and this will be picked up in Bagdhad and elsewhere as efforts to free Norman Kember, Tom Fox, Jim Loney and Hameet Singh Sooden go on.

I had an additional reason to be thankful, in that I have met Win several times. She worked for the European Union's 'Soul for Europe' programme in Brussels for a number of years, and cooperated with both ecumenical Christian organisations (including the one I worked for, Churches Together in Britain and Ireland) and various interfaith networks. A marvellous woman. She is pictured here with Michael Taylor, former Christian Aid director and professor of development studies at the University of Birmingham.

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[23.15 GMT] Release of human rights worker in Gaza announced, Ekklesia, 30/12/05

Thursday, December 29, 2005

[17.00 GMT] Keep hostages in your prayers (Baptist Times, UK); France pleads with hostage takers (Middle East Online, UK); Hostage takers' silence likely a good sign for Canadians (National Post, Canada); Search for kidnapped Gaza Britons continues (Guardian Unlimited, UK - picture of abducted aid worker Kate Burton); Security chiefs hold talks with Scottish woman's kidnappers (Scotland Today, UK); German ex-envoy missing in Yemen (Chicago Tribune, United States); Kidnapping rife as anarchy rules (The Herald, UK); Language of the Heart By Cindy Sheehan (The Nation, United States); The Assassins' Gate: America In Iraq By George Packer (Christian Century, United States).
[16.45 GMT] Canadian Muslims Appeal for Release of Iraq Hostages (Islam Online, Qatar); Threat against French engineer seized in Iraq (Radio New Zealand); Canadians Imagine an 'Army' of Peacemakers (Inter Press Service. Italy); Kashmiri activists back Harmeet Singh Sooden (Greater Kashmir.com - beware pop-ups); Bethlehem hosts nonviolence conference with 350 attendees (Palestine News Network, Israel-Palestine); Silent vigil for hostage Kember (BBC News, UK); Radio appeal fails to move kidnappers (Ottawa Sun, Canada).

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Saturday, December 24, 2005

[14.00 GMT] Watching and waiting with the Christian peacemakers in Iraq, by Lee McKenna duCharme (Ekklesia); 'Waiting has taken on a whole new meaning' by Rose Marie Berger (Sojourners, well worththe free registration).

Please note that FinS may be infrequent over the next few days, but will try to keep up with major developments. With good wishes and prayers to you all for the Season of Christ's birth and renewed hope in the midst of darkness. Simon Barrow.
[13.45 GMT] Questions asked about God and tsunami one year on, 24/12/05
[GMT 13.10] New appeal for release of Iraq peace workers (Ekklesia, 24/12/05)

Updated full chronological list of related articles on Ekklesia as of 24 December 2005 PM: Features - Christian Peacemaker Teams full briefing (with links to features and stories on CPT's work); Christian peacemakers - a lesson to the peace movement (by Mark A. LeVine); A culture of Christian citizenship (Pat Gaffney, CAFOD, Advent inc. Iraq); Why are we here? (by CPTer Tom Fox). Advent hope for Iraq, captives and Limbaugh (Sojourners magazine). What on earth are we waiting for? (Simon Barrow, Advent and Iraq). Updates: FaithInSociety; News - Churches Urged to pray for Iraq hostages this Christmas 24/12/05; United Church of Canada calls for an end to detention and occupation in Iraq 21/12/05; Christians and Muslims show continued support for Norman Kember 21/12/05; Christian Peacemakers say they will carry on their work 18/12/05; Lack of evidence for Iraq negotiator abduction claim 17/12/05; Fears 'unfounded' over Iraq hostage negotiator 16/12/05; Search goes on for missing Christian peace workers 16/12/05; UK envoy remains hopeful on Iraq captives 16/12/05; Muslim envoy to Iraq returns as al-Jazeera publicizes mercy pleas 14/12/05; Christian peacemakers demand entry to Guantanamo Bay 14/12/05; Canadian churches pray for missing peace activists 13/12/05; Cardinal joins pleas for Iraq peace workers; Praying for a miracle amid Iraq hostage silence 12/12/05; All faiths candlelit vigil in London for Norman Kember 12/12/05; Officials and families seek news on Iraq Christian peace workers 12/12/05; Lobbying goes on as Iraq hostage deadline passes 11/12/05; Hope continues as Iraq captive deadline looms 10/12/05; Embattled Hezbollah backs Iraq 'doves of peace' 09/12/05; UN secretary general calls for release of all Iraqi captives 09/12/05; Former Guantanamo Bay detainees call for release of Christian peacemakers 08/12/05; Jack Straw says he will talk on Iraq hostages 08/12/05; Abu Qatada pleas for Iraq captives as deadline is extended 08/12/05; Christians criticize UK Iraq war budget increase 08/12/05; Christian peacemakers say the work must go on 08/12/05; Last minute appeals made for Christian peacemakers 07/12/05 ; Muslim detainees plead for lives of Christian peacemakers 06/12/05; Faith groups in the US unite to back Iraq captives 06/12/05; French engineer seized in Iraq 05/12/05; Norman Kember's wife pleads for his life 04/12/05; Iraqi, Muslim and Palestinian support for peace hostages grows 04/12/05; Insurgents say they will kill Christian peacemakers 02/12/05; WCC calls for freeing of Christian peace workers 02/12/05; Vigils and messages of support for abducted peace activist 02/12/05; Palestinian bishop seeks mercy for Iraq peace workers 02/12/05; Anti-war campaigner flies to Iraq to plead for Christian peacemakers 01/12/05; Muslims urge release of Christian peacemakers missing in Iraq 01/12/05; Al-Jazeera releases film of Iraq peace hostages 30/11/05; Search goes on for Christian peacemaker kidnapped in Iraq 28/11/05. Key book: Patricia Gates-Brown (ed.), Getting in the Way: Stories from Christian Peacemaker Teams, Herald Press]Christian Peacemaker Teams full briefing (with links to features and stories on CPT's work); Why are we here? (by CPTer Tom Fox); Christians criticize UK Iraq war budget increase 08/12/05; Christian peacemakers say the work must go on 08/12/05; Last minute appeals made for Christian peacemakers 07/12/05 ; Muslim detainees plead for lives of Christian peacemakers 06/12/05; Faith groups in the US unite to back Iraq captives 06/12/05; French engineer seized in Iraq 05/12/05; Norman Kember's wife pleads for his life 04/12/05; Iraqi, Muslim and Palestinian support for peace hostages grows 04/12/05; Insurgents say they will kill Christian peacemakers 02/12/05; WCC calls for freeing of Christian peace workers 02/12/05; Vigils and messages of support for abducted peace activist 02/12/05; Palestinian bishop seeks mercy for Iraq peace workers 02/12/05; Anti-war campaigner flies to Iraq to plead for Christian peacemakers 01/12/05; Muslims urge release of Christian peacemakers missing in Iraq 01/12/05; Al-Jazeera releases film of Iraq peace hostages 30/11/05; Search goes on for Christian peacemaker kidnapped in Iraq 28/11/05. Key book: Patricia Gates-Brown (ed.), Getting in the Way: Stories from Christian Peacemaker Teams, Herald Press.
[12.40 GMT] Message of peace plays out in Iraq (Toronto Star, Canada); Kember: 'A man of peace' and Kember 'may still be freed' (both BBC archive).
[00.40 GMT] Churches Urged to pray for Iraq hostages this Christmas (Ekklesia, 24/12/05) ; Kember family's new appeal (BBC). The family of Iraq hostage Norman Kember are to make a new plea for his release in radio and newspaper adverts; Hostages' families issue joint appeal (ABC Online, Australia); Plea for hostages to be released (Scotsman, UK Families of Western hostages take out ads in Iraqi papers (CBC News, Canada).
[284.1] WHY DISORGANISED RELIGION IS BEST

An excerpt from my end-of-term Ekklesia colum on The case for disorganised religion. It incorporates, by happy accident, references to other material I have written throughout the year.

Jesus may well have caused division, kicked up a bit of a fuss. He certainly wouldn’t have found himself on trial before the ruling authorities if his only crime had been to be too blandly reassuring. However the real shock of Jesus was not that he rudely pushed forward his own interests and his own tribe through his confrontations with authority – but that he didn’t.

Instead, in words and actions that disturbed the comfortable and comforted the disturbed, he showed that God’s ‘weapons’ against wrong are disarming love, unadvertised truth, difficult peace, costly forgiveness and indiscriminate table fellowship.

None of these Gospel gestures is undemanding or un-political. But the demand they make is not for recognition, influence, privilege and power on our own behalf. It is for transformation, starting with us. The tough virtues which Jesus exhibits are ones which dis-organise and re-orient our natural human disposition towards self-interest. The movement he creates is not an Imperial guard, it is an odd group of misfits and unfortunates (described in the Beatitudes) who are prepared to see in one another, and in the God who loves without favour, the hope of a new world coming.

The church is supposed to be made up of those who recognise Jesus’ transformative agenda and are willing to implement it – not by seizing power, but by redistributing it and turning it into something that gives rather than takes.That is what I mean by ‘disorganised religion’ – a movement among God’s people which resists what doyen US economist John Kenneth Galbraith called ‘institutional truth’: that version of events which makes sure that ‘we’ end up being the winners. [Continued]

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Friday, December 23, 2005

[283.3] HATING PEACE ACTIVISTS MORE THAN TERRORISTS

Reading Mary Gabel's response (Praying for Light to Reach Peacemakers' Captors, Embassy, Canada) to CPTer Greg Rollins' letter from Iraq made me think. In addition to such gestures of solidarity, there is a good deal of vitriol out on the web (especially among bloggers) about Christian Peacemaker Teams in general, and the four captives in Iraq in particular. People with jerky-knees doubt their integrity, their sanity, their grasp of reality - and, in the US especially, accuse them of being mere ideologues in religious garb.

Much of this is as unfair in selection as it is nasty in tone. There are legitimate questions to be asked about the politics, theology and tactics of CPT. But they are not to be found in the mean distortions that circulate in some quarters, often introduced with the prefix 'so-called' to deride and dismiss a costly vocation. Besides, other analysts have a different perspective on the politics of peace. (See also Denying reality, by Dave Warnock, who has discovered the curious, alternate universe that is SoCal).

On the Canadian Christianity website, there is a rounded piece by David F. Dawes, Hostage-taking provokes international outcry, which examines a range of reactions, including those from people suspended in Limbaugh (a state which, ahem, I thought had been abolished by the new Pope). As Ted Olson and Rob Moll of Christianity Today observe, "the only thing some people like less than a terrorist is a peace activist." Discuss! See also the different responses to Michelle Goldberg's Salon article, Love Your Enemies, about Tom Fox.

Among the other pieces of spleen currently circulating is an article called Pray for captives, not the captors in the Toronto Star - a normally reliable paper which sadly has not distinguished itself with concern for verifiability in some aspects of its coverage of the Iraq hostages situation. There are many misunderstandings in this piece. Tim Nafziger of CPT UK, the Anabaptist Network and the London Mennonite Centre [enough seasonal plugs for you there, Tim?] says:

Rosie Dimann's call to pray only for "our side" and not the captors goes against everything that the men being held stand for. She draws on a Christendom theology that claims God for "us" and ignores the clear [injunction] of Jesus to pray for those who persecute us. She claims to support the hostages but belittles their friends, family and supporters for following God's call to love our enemies. It is not relativist compassion, but a radical commitment in the transformative love of Jesus that is at the core of the work of Christian Peacemaker Teams.

One can, of course, support the captives without agreeing with them. And one can find their commitment too one-sided or radical. That's an arguable position. But it is sad that those who feel this way often resort to little more than insult and innuendo.

[On the tricky question of relating principled Christian nonviolence to realpolitik, see - as one starting point - Of Bishops, bombs and ballast. Also the post below on the UCC statement]

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[283.2] THE NEED FOR SAPIENTIAL DOVES

UPI has just put out a brief statement (Canadian church pressures PM on Iraq) about the letter from the United Church of Canada calling for the withrawal of troops from Iraq and an end to illegal detentions, covered more fully on Ekklesia. I don't dissent from their basic stance, though the 'when' and 'how' of military disengagement is a complex question which needs to be related to the development of a peacemaking force on the ground, the role of the UN, aid and development. (On theological grounds I am deeply committed to principled non-violence as the form of engagement and witness required of the Body of Christ, but I don't think we should duck the policy issues pressed upon those who have to manage the reality of the situation.)

What worries me more, however, is the UCC's rather stark rooting of blame for the whole Iraq quagmire on US and British intervention - as if the forces of violent insurgency, militarised jihadism, criminality and malignant Baa'thism could be ignored, or were mere epiphenomena of (undoubted and long-standing) Western failings which will disappear when "we" choose to "go home". As if.

A sound political understanding of the situation, and of how the difficult peace of Christ might be brought to bear in the midst of it, cannot in my view be sustained on the basis of such a thin analysis. As they say, "its a long conversation", but I have tried to boil down some of the issues here, starting from the war-on-terror question.

Without the dove the serpent lacks the capacity for redemption, but without the serpent the dove lacks the means to face the world's wiles.

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[283.1] RIGHTS, WRONGS AND REASONS

There is a typically thoughtful piece [Managing tension] by Gamil Mattar (formerly director of United Nations Radio and Television in New York) on Al-Ahram, the respected Cairo weekly. The backdrop is the parliamentary elections in Engypt, but the scope is the wider concern about terror, rights and security in an uncertain global environment where states are easily deformed and deforming.

The relationship between state and individual (in the shape of governance) and aid and human rights (as mechanisms of development) is perhaps a little more demanding than the perspective Mattar sets out, but he is dealing with extreme circumstances. His intentions are also noble. And he is 100 per cent right in saying that "under no circumstances should emergency laws be used as instruments of governance, except in times of war and for a very limited period."

He goes on: "Complex political agendas, coveted trade relations, and strategic interests often stand as barriers between ideals and action. But it should be clear too that our increasing concern over, and losses to, global terrorism are linked to human rights violations at the national level. Violations are a fertile breeding ground and build supply lines for terrorist actors and activities. To the extent that we continue to view terrorism as a security rather than a political problem we will gradually lose the battle against it."

That too is a vital warning. But the underlying question, which liberal advocates do not often ask, is: what underwrites the international human rights agenda, given that - in practice - human value systems often vary fatally?

You do not have to subscribe to some simplistic 'clash of civilisations' thesis to see that this is a crucial issue. The fact is that different religious 'theologies' and secular ideologies have different estimates of what it is to be human and what flows from that. The imposition of one of these views is untenable, and when pursued by force is simply totalitarian. But how do we sustain the necessary and inevitable argument (as distinct from war) about this? What mediating frameworks are available to us in the global political, social, cultural and economic arenas? And how are competing interests and perspectives to be negotiated in a tense, unjust and unequal world?

No-one has easy answers to such questions, and an admission of this is a good starting point. The other good starting point is a basic willigness to negotiate, even with what repels us. But the negotiation should be grounded not on lowest common denominator realpolitik, but by a search for highest common factors. And, at the same time, those of us who belong to specific moral and narrative communities - like followers of Jesus Christ - have the concomitant task of developing and offering visions of 'the good' which lure us away from either personal despair or the wider politics of fear and death. The latter in very much part of FinS's agenda. Ekklesia (church-as-people's-forum) ought to be social and political praxis - not in isolation from the broader agenda, but as a hopefully transformative and transpositional element of it.

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Thursday, December 22, 2005

[23.00 GMT] Just getting in the way? By Charlie Gillis (Macleans, Canada) Critics Question Senate’s Supposed ‘Anti-torture’ Stance (The NewStandard, NY); US increases air attacks in Iraq (Aljazeera.net); Families lose Iraq inquiry appeal (BBC Internet News); Iraq election body rejects fraud claims (Aljazeera.net).
[18.35 GMT] Blair makes surprise Iraq visit (BBC) - UK PM Tony Blair tells British troops during a trip to Iraq he is proud of the work they are doing to build democracy - but no mention of Norman Kember in reports so far.
[17.30 GMT] Close Up: The fate of Harmeet Sooden (TVNZ, New Zealand); Bush avoids charges (Georgia Straight, Canada).
[09.50 GMT] Friends of captive in Iraq await word (Richmond Times Dispatch, VA);
Pacifist Group Experienced in War Zones (Minneapolis Star Tribune - subscription, MN); Congress Bans Harsh Treatment of Suspects (Guardian Unlimited, UK); Saddam's Victims Take Stand, Recount Torture (New York Sun, NY).
[282.1] PREPARING FOR CHRISTMAS WITH HEROD

This from Glynn Cardy (who has also contributed the fine "Why the Lion Isn't Safe" Narnia piece on Ekklesia). It arose from a dialogue with a New Zealand journalist, who was astonished that he could think that Jesus might legitimately be linked to any kind of subversive political impulse. On which, see Jonathan Bartley ("Putting which Christ back into Christmas?"), from whom Glynn borrows at one point. Of course this also looks forward to Holy Innocents later this month...

In an inscription from 9 C.E. found in Asia Minor, Caesar is spoken of as “our God” and “saviour” whose birth was “good news” to the world. Around the time of 1st century the festival of the Emperor as “Saviour of the World” began to be celebrated. Rome’s public relations machine made much of these claims in order to legitimate its regime of suppression and exploitation (so called ‘law and order’).

In Luke 2 some shepherds watching their flock by night are surprised by an angelic announcement: “I bring you good news of great joy for all people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah the Lord…” And the angelic choir declared: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom God favours.”

Forget the tinsel, wings, halos, and other paraphernalia. These subversive angels were deliberately using Caesar language, the language of power. They were challenging the sovereignty of Caesar. The theme of two sovereignties is central to the biblical tradition as a whole. Who will we follow – Caesar or Christ, the mighty emperor or the humble prophet, the rich and powerful or the poor and powerless?

In Matthew’s account of the birth we are introduced to King Herod. In 37 B.C.E. the Romans appointed Herod as King of Judea. The Jewish populace saw him as a Roman puppet, and a ruthless puppet at that.

Herod built up his bank balance and built up his kingdom. Architectural projects, many of them exhibiting engineering excellence, sprang up. These included the port of Caesarea, the walls of Jerusalem, a royal palace, and the Temple. Ostensibly to win the hearts of his subjects, the building programme was financed by severe taxation and the forced labour of ordinary Jews.

Twice a day the Temple priests were paid by Rome to sacrifice on behalf of the Emperor. Herod controlled the priests by placing a lackey in charge. In any of his appointees was foolish enough to displease him, Herod killed him and replaced him with another.

Herod established an enormous secret police force, using mercenaries and spies, brutally killed anyone suspected of plotting against him, and created Roman peace by slaughtering all dissidents. And there was plenty of dissent.

In Matthew’s Gospel, King Herod, in his fear and need for control, kills all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under. He hopes that Jesus, the alleged new king, will be killed along with the other innocents.

Last week a Wall Street Journal columnist, Sonya Brundidge, stated, “Yet this young child [Jesus] who was the epitome of love and peace was not a threat to Herod. And that same young child poses no threat today.”

Such ignorance is astounding. Of course he was a threat. That’s exactly why Herod killed people. Even if you doubt the historicity of slaughtering all the babes, the intention of Matthew was to leave us in no doubt that Herod should be afraid of Jesus. Jesus’ vision was of overturning everything Herod believed in – power, privilege, violence, and the morality that went with it.

Despots, dictators, and other bullies in any age have good reason to fear Christians who take the message of Jesus seriously. By and large, throughout the last twenty centuries, Christians haven’t been killed on a whim. They have been killed for good reason. They have died for holding up, believing in, and working towards an alternate vision for the world.

There are two Christmas stories. There is the nice one, with the odourless stable, the tranquil Mary, and the smiling newborn. Like in a C.S. Lewis novel you might meet Santa there too, handing out generosity and encouraging everyone to do the same. This is the Christmas package for the populace, apolitically appeasing, and something that we all can enjoy. Throw in supporting the retail industry, a sumptuous feast, and a happy family myth, and we have it: ‘Christmas just as it’s always been’ [sic].

When politicians talk about putting Christ back into Christmas this is the Christ they usually mean. [This is an excerpt. The full article, and more, is here]

Pic: No, that's not Christ, it's Herod. Point made.

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[05.30 GMT] Hostages' families hopeful as silence continues (CTV.com, Canada); CPT on home invasions in Hebron (via BBS); CPT Signs of the Times (Fall, 2005); Comment from Alive in Baghdad; Italian ecumenical reconciliation site with coverage of the Iraq captives.
[01.15 GMT] Still hopes that Western peace group will be freed (Radio New Zealand, New Zealand); Schulz's fate still unknown (Wahpeton Daily News); Poignant Christmas for hostage's family (Stuff.co.nz, New Zealand).

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

[19.30 GMT] United Church of Canada calls for an end to detention and occupation in Iraq Ekklesia, 21/12/05; Statement by the trustees of the Fellowship of Reconciliation (of which Norman Kember is one); Ba'ath leader calls for peace talks (Uruknet.info); good coverage and updates on Free the Captives Now; Hope has been expressed by Tom Fox's former professor, Lisa Schirch, of the Peacebuilding Program at Eastern Mennonite Unversity. She was speaking to a local TV reporter from the Harrisonburg, Virginia campus.
[281.1] THAT LOVE MAY TRIUMPH OVER FEAR

Tonight's vigil for Dr Norman Kember - abducted in Iraq 25 days ago, along with fellow Christian Peacemaker Team colleagues Tom Fox, Jim Loney and Harmeet Singh Sooder - began at 6pm in Trafalgar Square, London. It continues for one hour, but friends and supporters in the UK and all over the world are invited to remember the abducted (all of them, international and Iraqi) over the Christmas period. Pax Christi is inviting people to pray daily at midday wherever they are, and collective vigils are being organised every ten days. See also the updates on the excellent site Free the Captives Now.org. This pithy reflection, highly appropriate to this painful moment, is from Australian poet and artist Michael Leunig (c):

There are only two feelings.
Love and fear.
There are only two languages.
Love and fear.
There are only two activities.
Love and fear.
There are only two motives,
two procedures, two frameworks,
two results.
Love and fear.
Love and fear.


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[15.30 GMT] Christians and Muslims show continued support for Norman Kember (Ekklesia, 21/12/05); Still hope for Kember (Harrow Times - NK's local paper); Pax Christi - Middle East Focus. (Last week's Kember vigil on Sky News.)
[03.15 GMT] Iraq peacemaker describes the agony of waiting (Ekklesia, 21/12/05 - letter from Iraq CPTer Greg Rollins); Behind the steel curtain. By Sabah Ali (The Free Press); Trade in torture. By Stephen Gray (Le Monde Diplomatique).
[01.00 GMT] READER INFORMATION. For the past five days FinS has provided links and supplementary information for those following the CPT Iraq captive situation on Ekklesia and elswhere. This will continue until 23 December 2005.
International non-violence conference (supported by a range of NGO and faith groups, 27-30 December 2005 in Bethlehem). Related to the story yesterday about refusal of visas. What's at stake in the torture debate? By Anne-Marie Slaughter (TPMCafe); The courage of peacemaking (A Quaker dialogue on Embracing Complexity); MERIP (Middle East Research and Information Project) Iraq files; Victory, defeat... or negotiation? (TomPaine.Com); and From freedom fries to Marine funerals, a Southern Republican’s road to Damascus (Mother Jones). Both by Robert Dreyfuss. Germany deny Hammadi release tied to Osthoff (Independent Online, South Africa) and Germany grants reprieve to Lebanese plane hijacker (Daily Star, Lebanon).

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

[280.2] BEYOND OUR EXPECTATIONS

A letter to pastors and others from Gene Stoltzfus, a founder of Christian Peacemaker Teams. See also his Who did it? (about the Iraq kidnappings) on Ekklesia.

"As I write this you are preparing your Christmas and New Year sermons. During my years as the Director of Christian Peacemaker Teams I grew in my understanding of violence, terrorism and the "fight" for freedom. When we began I believed that a tiny organization would only make a slight inroad into our common task of ending organized killing. But I believed that the spiritual and practical power of the world wide church would eventually be the pivotal force in changing the outcome.

"Two years ago I was in Baghdad where I spoke with many Muslim leaders in the mosques. For some it may have been their first contact with Christians. We listened to each other explain our work and our needs. Some understood that Christians thought of all of them as terrorists. Many were outraged by the disappearances of people in their community and the residual effect of the occupation which to them was terrorism. We were also concerned about these matters and found common ground. When we described our work in nonviolence and refusal to accept armed protection they listened and said, "That is what Islam is about. We can do that." Others said, "It wouldn’t work here."... Continued here.

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[18.30 GMT] US captives in Iraq show peaceful courage (Kennebec Journal Online); Sunnis say Iraq vote was fraudulent. By Jason Straziouso, (Associated Press); Peace workers denied access to Bethlehem (International Solidarity Movement, Palestine); Christian Peacemaker Teams Respond to Presidential Address (Political Affairs Magazine, NY) Hostages' families both heartened, horrified (Vancouver Sun - subscription - Canada); Jesus' birth proves the power of vulnerability (National Catholic Reporter, ref. to Jim Loney); Fate of hostages in Iraq still unknown (Dallas Baptist Standard, TX).
[13.00 GMT] On a slightly lighter note, Peacenik Doctor Who to ruin Blair's Christmas Ekklesia, 20/12/05.
[08.50 GMT] Letter to President Bush from CPTer Maxine Nash (SooToday.com - whose coverage has been excellent. Its 37 articles related to captor Jim Loney, who is from Sault Ste. Marie, are indexed at the bottom of this page); Hope flickers for relatives of hostages in Iraq (Stuff.co.nz); Jordanian embassy employee abducted in Baghdad (Al-Bawaba, Jordan); Iraq: Abducted peace activists appeal Blair to pull out (Sify, India); Abducted German woman drawn to warmth of Iraqi people (Monsters and Critics.com, UK); Fears grow for Briton as US hostage shot dead (Glasgow Daily Record, UK); Video 'shows cold-blooded killing of kidnapped US contractor' (Telegraph.co.uk, United Kingdom).
[01.20 GMT] 'Hope' for British hostage in Iraq (Scotsman, United Kingdom) - comment from Anas Altikriti, the Muslim envoy; Four women are shot dead in Iraq (Gulf Daily News, Bahrain); Friends of Christian hostages oppose military rescue operation (BosNewsLife, Hungary) - a subscription-only service, unfortunately, though the CPT site has for some time carried a statement to that effect; On Iraq and the Anishinaabe, by Jim Loney (David Helwig, SooToday.com, from 11/12/05); Christians, Muslims Continue to Pray for Captured Peacemakers (ChristianToday, UK/Korea); Two years of American occupation of Iraq: a dismal scorecard (Milli Gazette, India); Concern expressed for Assyrian Christians in Iraq (Ekklesia). Cynthia Tucker: "For all his rhetoric about planting the seeds of democracy in the Middle East, Bush has no great appreciation for it here at home. Why should theocrats abroad heed his message when theocrats here appear to be running the place?"
[280.1] TRANSFORMATION BEYOND EMPIRE

"The truth is that Christianity has been hijacked by an ideology of empire which is backed by huge financial resources. Language about being born again is actually entirely appropriate to the transformational theology of mainstream Christianity; but it has been co-opted and distorted by a pernicious crusading ideology which paints itself as being the guys in the white hats at war against an 'axis of evil'.

"There are radical alternatives to this triumphalist religious ideology, but they get precious little air time. Norman Kember and his friends, in doing peace and reconciliation work in Iraq, knew that they would always be in danger, but they did it in the name of a Christ who said that whatever was done to the least of men and women was done to him.

"The word 'martyr' means 'witness to truth'. Mr Kember and his friends may well have experienced a more deadly martyrdom – or may yet do. A pre-Christmas season which has Wallace and Gromit on the Advent calendars doesn't get anywhere near the heart of the matter."

(Ron Ferguson, writing in The Herald, Scotland)

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Monday, December 19, 2005

[23.10 GMT] Kember supporters urged to keep hope alive, (Ekklesia) Video reportedly Shows Killing of Hostage [American contractor Ronald Allen Schulz], Guardian Unlimited; Summary of hostages in Iraq (AP); People pray for CPT workers held in Iraq (CTV.com, Canada); US Presbyterian leader is CPT supporter (PC USA News - 08/12).
[18.20 GMT] Hope flickers for relatives of hostages in Iraq (Reuters, Canada). Also, A lecture from the University of Hell, by Dr Norman Kember, one of the CPT captives in Iraq. This was originally given as a dramatised talk at Greenbelt Christian arts festival in 2002 - a passionate reflection on the church's peacemaking vocation, and what detracts from it. Greenbelt's Kember page on vigils and action is here.
[16.10 GMT] Cathedral service for hostages. By Sarah Green (Tornoto Sun, Canada).
[279.2] KEMBER VIGIL, LONDON, 21 DEC 2005

Keeping Hope Alive: Vigil for abducted peace-workers in Iraq.

This marks 25 days since their abduction.

Venue: Trafalgar Square (North side near National Gallery, opposite St Martin -in-the-Fields Church), Central London.

Time: 6:00pm - 7:00pm. Please bring candles.

Pax Christi say: Christians and Muslims, peace organisations, and friends and supporters of Norman Kember, the British peace activist abducted in Iraq, are invited to join a silent candle-lit prayer vigil on Wednesday 21 December. The others who were abducted are Tom Fox, Harmeet Singh Sooden and James Loney. They were in Baghdad as part of a Christian Peacemakers Team delegation. On December 21 they will have been held for 25 days. There has been no news of our friends since 8 December.

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[11.20 GMT] Super-powered Jesus. Will Braun looks at how George W. Bush's Jesus is invading Canada (Ekklesia); Pray for captives, not the captors. By Rosie Dimanno (Toronto Star) - a strong critique of the CPT service yesterday. She raises some valid points, but then confuses them badly - as the headline indicates. More on this later, though note my own comments on criticisms of CPT in Learning to put ourselves in the wrong (FinS); Bush bites bullet on torture ban proposal (Macon Telegraph, GA) Hostages' friends still 'waiting and praying' (London Free Press, Canada).
[09.15 GMT] Christian peacemakers challenge Bush claim that Iraq war is being won, 19/12/05.
[279.1] GENTLENESS AND HOPE

This from Justin Alexander in Iraq: "Christian Peacemaker Teams' guiding principle in conflict situations, a corollary of Jesus' Golden Rule, is never to dehumanise people.... One might think it strange that an avowedly pacifist Christian organisation receives such heartfelt support [over the hostages] from jihadist Muslims such as Hamas and the Al-Asqa Martyr's Brigade. Perhaps it is because they can see that CPTers like Tom Fox are among the few in the West who, while disagreeing with their actions, still treat them as precious human beings. My Iraqi friends tell me that people in Baghdad are beginning to refer to the CPT-four as the "mujahadeen" -- of course that is a term that they would all reject because of its connotations of violence; but it is nonetheless a deep affirmation that Iraqis recognise them as being radically aligned with the struggle for freedom and justice.

"Two articles out of the thousands published over the last week jump out. One is one of Jim Loney's final releases, describing one of our dear mutual Iraqi friends, a friend who has suffered unimaginably as a war-resister and yet retains a soft heart. The other focuses on Tom Fox, whose steady radical faith has been a firm support to me much of this year in Baghdad and I'm sure will be sustaining the whole group through this trial. Inshallah when I will see Tom free in a few days I'm sure he will give me his shy half-smile and ask in those gentle, measured tones what all the fuss has been about during his little hiatus, given than dozens of Iraqis go through a similar experience each day."

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Sunday, December 18, 2005

[21.40 GMT]: Message from Maxine Nash, one of Jim Loney's co-workers in Iraq. Courtesy of David Helwig (SooToday); Toronto prayer service to be held for hostages (CTV.ca); Profile in Courage: Peace activist blazes a Christmas story. By John Railey about Tom Fox (Winston-Salem Journal, NC); Violence Shatters Iraq Post-Election Calm. By Qassim Abdul-Zahra (AP, Kansan).
[21.15 GMT] More on Susanne Osthoff, who has happily been freed in Iraq. Married to a Jordanian, in her professional work she was engaged in documenting archaeological sites looted in Iraq after the US-led invasion. She was widely cited in the media during this period.
This from a 2003 NY Times article:
"In two weeks, they have ruined all the work that was done over 15 years," said Susanne Osthoff, an archaeologist who worked with a German team that excavated at Isin from the mid-1970's until 1989....
Ms Osthoff, who returned to Iraq shortly before American forces overthrew the government of [Saddam] Hussein, was alerted by local villagers who were horrified by the destruction at Isin.
Protected by old friends, Ms Osthoff waded into the mob of heavily-armed diggers four days ago and then escorted two journalists to the site again on Wednesday.
"They [the looters] are poor people, and they are desperate to make some money," she said today. "But they do not understand what they are doing."
[19.15 GMT] Freeing of German hostage brings hope to Iraq peace workers, Ekkesia, 18/12/05 - includes background (Susanne Ofsthoff picture here); Bush to cite Iraq progress in major speech (Reuters); Nur al-Cubicle: A weblog on the current crises in the Middle East and news accounts of events in Iraq as collected from stories and dispatches in the French and Italian media: Le Monde (Paris), Il Corriere della Sera (Milan), La Repubblica (Rome), L'Orient-Le Jour (Beirut) and occasionally from El Mundo (Madrid).
[16.15 GMT] Christian aid [sic] group vows to continue work in Iraq, (CTV.ca, Canada). And a darkly amusing exchange reported in The Montreal Gazette:
[T]he CBC reported a foreign hostages unit has been put together in Iraq to investigate the case of the western hostages.
A spokesman for the Iraqi police major crimes unit said people are giving them information and they're checking it.
The spokesman, who would only identify himself as a police captain, said this is case No. 1 right now in the major crimes unit.
"The people are giving, producing information to us," the spokesman said. "We are checking this information. We are doing our best."
"We cannot share this with the press because of the security of the hostages right now. All the information we have we are going to share directly with the Canadian Embassy," he added.
[And as he might well have added: "So could you please stop making stuff up when you hear a rumour". Ed.]
[12.00 GMT] Hostages' group urges US pullout (Ottowa Sun); Call to action issued to Jim Loney's supporters. By David Helwig (SooToday.com); New unit investigating Iraq kidnappings (CBC News) - the story claims that "details are emerging", but gives none. It has the appearance of yet more saloon bar gossip. Also wrongly calls the CPTers "aid workers", as does Premier Radio, which has been asked to change this. Friends pray for Indo-Canadian abducted in Iraq (Hindustan Times). [Pic: Missing CPTer Harmeet Singh Sooden on a farm outside Jenin, Palestine, where he was helping to plant olive trees. Click for more pictures]
[02.27 GMT] Sooden family know nothing of Iraq negotiator abduction claim, Ekklesia, 18/12/05; Christian Peacemakers say they will carry on their work, Ekklesia, 18/12/05; Petition reaches 50,000 - Freethecaptivesnow.org. This weekend CPT launched an ‘urgent action’ to encourage their supporters to contact US politicians and congressional representatives in advance of a speech which President Bush will make on Iraq policy today at 21.00 EST (-5 hours GMT) from the White House Oval Office.
[278.1] IN THE WAY AT GUANTANAMO

Sister Anne Montgomery, an associate of the Christian Peacemaker Teams, reads outside the "Witness Against Torture" camp at the military zone boundary near the US detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on 13 December 2005. The 79-year-old Sacred Heart sister has been among some 25 American activists who are praying and fasting to protest against the treatment of alleged terror suspects held at Guantanamo. Since 12 December they have been camped at a Cuban military checkpoint five miles from the US base. (Catholic News Service photo from Reuters) Full story here. See backstory on: Christian peacemakers demand entry to Guantanamo Bay 14/12/05

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Saturday, December 17, 2005

[20.40 GMT] Saturday statement from Christian Peacemaker Teams. By David Helwig, (SooToday.com); Sooden's family speaks of 'burden'. By Tim Hume (Stuff.co.nz, due 18/12/05); CPT IRAQ URGENT ACTION: Provide Support for Democratic Rebuttal on Opposition to the War; U.S. nun among protesters against treatment of Guantanamo prisoners. By Regina Linskey, Catholic News Service (Catholic Explorer); Material by other networks covering the situation: Ekklesia, Electronic Iraq, Harmeet Sooden Support Page, Resource Site on Tom Fox, Free the Captives, International Solidarity Movement, Beirut IndyMedia.
[14.30 GMT] People are asking about the hostage-negotiator-kidnapped story. At this stage, I can add nothing more than what's in the reports below. Except to observe that in the dangerous and rumour-filled world of abductions in Iraq, it seems best not to feed allegations unless they have at least two or three strong backers from known, reliable sources. Nothing of that kind has yet emerged on this one. But that doesn't stop news agencies spreading it. Meanwhile, back to the business of working and praying for a positive resolution of the CPT kidnappings, and others too. SB.
[13.35 GMT] Toronto Star silent about disputed Iraq hostage claim. By David Helwig, SooToday.com, 17/12/05.
[UPDATE 02.45 GMT] Lack of evidence for Iraq negotiator abduction claim, Ekklesia, 17/12/05. David Helwig, a reporter for SooToday online in Sault Ste. Marie, where captive Iraq CPTer Jim Loney is from, has also questioned the Toronto Star story, first in Think-tank refutes report about another abduction in Iraq (originally Conflicting reports about another abduction in Iraq). The Google newsfeed trail on this story is here. About 15 sources have syndicated it so far.]
[277.1] LOOKING BEYOND THE ABYSS

"Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided people." (Martin Luther King Jr., Strength to Love, 1963)

"What would happen if Christians devoted the same discipline and self-sacrifice to nonviolent peacemaking that armies devote to war?" Ronald J. Sider

Latest material from the Oxford Research Group: The Politics of War (International Security Monthly Briefing). ORG has published a vital new report on Iraqi Liberation? Towards an Integrated Strategy. This discussion document draws on the expertise of an international high-level consultative panel, including British, Iraqi, Middle Eastern and American experts from the military, foreign service, intelligence community and civil society. It brings together seven key elements of a positive alternative strategy for Iraqi stabilisation and development.

I.B. Tauris has published the ORG International Security Report 2005, Iraq and the War on Terror: Twelve Months of Insurgency, 2004/2005 by Professor Paul Rogers.

See also the provocative collected writings of Independent journalist Robert Fisk, including War is the total failure of the human spirit, by Justin Podur.

[Picture, the late Sue Rhodes, Christian Peacemaker Teams]

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[00.15 GMT] Last night's and this morning's news has mostly been taken up by a story from Canada that an anoymous local Iraqi negotiator has made contact with Swords of Truth Brigades, but has now ben missing since 8 December and is believed kidnapped. Ekklesia has it on good advice that there is no substance to this on either counts, but it has morphed across the web with predictable speed and little interest in fact-checking. Only one of the four core sources we queried about corroboration has even bothered to reply. True or not, it seems to fulfil the criteria for "news" when there is none. Meanwhile: Seattle couple recall man seized in Iraq. "He's a kind, gentle person," Christie Schmid says of Jim Loney (Seattle Post-Intelligencer).

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Friday, December 16, 2005

[276.2] THE STATURE OF WAITING

"Without the painful waiting, the joyful waiting could not be so. The biblical depiction of Advent is not a one-sided, easy anticipation; it is an anxious, hopeful, slightly fearful waiting, a knowledge of the danger ahead, of the challenges currently faced… but also of the tremendous opportunity coming - of the hope that waits on the doorstep." (Awake To Dream)

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[13.00 GMT] Related to CPT, the captives and Iraq - Iraq hostage negotiator story denied (Ekklesia, 16/12/05) Love your enemies: Peace activist Tom Fox has lived in Baghdad by the words of Jesus. Now he faces murder by terrorists. Was his mission in vain? By Michelle Goldberg (Salon.com); Heroism With a Difference. By Geov Parrish (Seattle Weekly); A Mission of Peace and Peril (With four colleagues kidnapped, a Minnesota activist is poised to return to Iraq. She goes to bear witness to those struggling with violence. By Stephanie Simon, LA Times); Peace on earth: Christmas, the captives and dialogue with Mulsims and Jews (Shanta Premawardhana, Associate General Secretary for Interfaith Relations, National Council of Churches USA); Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem slams West Bank separation fence (Haaretz/AP); An open letter written by the secret trial detainees held in Toronto, and sent to Arab media outlets around the world; Fighting for peace (Japan Baptist); On Earth Peace programme (Church of the Brethren). Also see regular OpenDemocracy columns by Paul Rogers, Professor of Peace Studies at Bradford University and a consultant to the Oxford Research Group. The second edition of his book Losing Control has just been published by Pluto Press.
[10.57 GMT] Latest on CPT captive situation and related - Fears 'unfounded' for Iraq hostage negotiator (Ekklesia, 16/12/05) and Iraq hostage negotiator is missing, source says. By Michelle Shephard (Toronto Star); Christian Peacemaker Team's Kidnapping: Who Did It? By Gene Stoltzfus (Common Dreams, via his weblog); The day Iraqis have waited for. By Zaid Salah, and Victory in Iraq? By Paul Rogers, inaugural professor of peace studies at the University of Bradford (both OpenDemocracy); The Bogus Blurring of Terrorism and Insurgency in Iraq. By Norman Solomon (Truthout) Honour prevails: McCain, Bush and torture (Idaho Mountain Express opinion); Talk about something serious (Elkhart Truth); Peace group prays for hostage’s safe return (London CPT, inc. Tim Nafziger quote, Hampstead and Highgate Express).
[276.1] LIVING WITH CONTRADICTIONS

God bless our contradictions, those parts of us which seem out of character.
Let us be boldly and gladly out of character.
Let us be creatures of paradox and variety; creatures of contrast,
of light and shade, creatures of faith.
God be our constant.
Let us step out of character into the unknown,
to struggle and love and do what we will.

© Michael Leunig, Common Prayer Collection

[Thanks for the link from St-Matthew-in-the-City, whose vicar - Glynn Cardy - has also contributed this valuable comment on the first Narnia film, Why the Lion isn’t safe]

Picture: Members of Christian Peacemaker Teams, from left, Jill Pritchard-Scott, Father Bob Holmes, Arunthathy Ratnasingham and Lyn Adamson hold candles during a vigil in Toronto, Canada, on Saturday, 10 December 2005. (AP Photo/CP, © Aaron Harris)

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[00.30 GMT] Search goes on for missing Christian peace workers 16/12/05; UK envoy remains hopeful on Iraq captives 16/12/05 (both Ekklesia); 'High turnout' in Iraqi election ; New 'torture jail' found in Iraq (BBC).
[00.01 GMT] They pray at the gates of Guantanamo, by Ron Ferguson of the Iona Community (Herald, Glasgow) ( Christian Peacemaker Teams began with a sermon in France, by Harold Jantz (Canadian Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches); Harmeet Singh Sooden: peace-maker, Christian, battler against injustice (stuff.co.nz). Mennonite World Conference appeal from 07/12. Don't Bomb Us - A weblog by Al Jazeera Staffers (including this earlier appeal for the captives). Message of support from the Peasant Association of Cimitarra River Valley - ACVC Colmbia. David Cook: The Story Of Tom Fox (The Chattanoogan).

Thursday, December 15, 2005

[Iraq captives update, 20.49 GMT] Gene Stoltzfus, a pivotal figure in Christian Peacemaker Teams, has his own weblog - Peace Talk - here. Worth comparing the poorly researched criticism circulating in articles like this. Against which, see: Living non-violence not for the weak,
by Nicole Langlois (London Free Press). Peace activist 'was betrayed by spy', Colin Freeman in Baghdad (Daily Telegraph) - pursuing the theory promulgated elsewhere on the web. Waiting for News: Days after deadline expires, friends of Tom Fox still hope for a peaceful resolution, by Amber Healy (Great Falls Connection). Muslims pray for hostages (CNews). The endless looting of Iraq, by Ghali Hassan (Online Journal).
[275.2] DE-COLONISING THE PEWS

The BBC had a special news feature on ‘filling the pews’ (or emptying them!) in London yesterday. The first section focussed on the sexuality argument, with the Anglican Bishop of London, the Rt Rev Richard Chartres, on film, and the Rev Joel Edwards (head of the Evangelical Alliance) and my esteemed colleague Jonathan Bartley from Ekklesia (pictured) in the studio. You can watch it via dial-up or broadband here until the end of the week – the first segment is straight after the weather forecast, appropriately enough. Hmmnnn... What was that Gospel saying about “the Spirit blows where it wills, and we know not where it comes from or where it goes”?

Anyway, it is a good encounter between Jon and Joel. Of course the stock premise of the interview, the interviewer and the film that precedes it is that those who oppose affirming lesbian and gay people in the church must have the Bible on their side, and that those who are inclusive must want to throw it out. Similarly, the media ‘script’ says that all evangelicals are on one side, and the ‘other side’ is made up of people called ‘liberals’.

Rooted in the radical discipleship tradition, one of the things we try to do on Ekklesia is to upset these false and settled assumptions. As on slavery, women, peace and war and much else, the issue is not about knock-down arguments buttressing unassailed rightness. It is about how Christians interpret their texts and traditions (and each other), how they are persuaded – and how they often discover that what they thought was ‘plain’ is actually more demanding than the first or surface reading suggests. That is, it concerns not only our theories about "received wisdom", but how we live and with what kind of responsiveness to the transcendent down-to-earthness of God.

Faithful reading and re-reading in context, through evolving communal understanding, critical reflection, and seeking the way of Jesus in the light of the Spirit isn’t, therefore, some “modern fad” or “easy option”. It’s actually the procedure of traditional Christianity, before that term was hijacked by what David Jenkins calls “certainty wallahs”, and by a fundamentalist refusal of the openness of the text – a stance which actually owes more to dogmatic nineteenth century rationalism than to the God of the Bible who is revealed in the vulnerability of flesh, narrative and sacrifical love.

It is this traditioned view (as I would put it, to distinguish from the rejectionist variety) which leads many of us to believe that the exclusion of gay people from full participation as baptised members of the Body of Christ is not just wrong on grounds of some abstract contemporary notion of rights, but wrong as a statement about the identity of Jesus' companions and the way this identity is apprehended in the prophetic biblical tradition -- which speaks of a changing future, not a fixed past. Not that it’s easy to put that into a sound-bite on TV. But Jonathan always does a pretty good job of it, I reckon.

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