Monday, May 21, 2007


A boy and his Dad stopped for a sandwich.

After buying their food, they sat down together at a table.

"Let's just bow our heads for a silent prayer" said the Father.

Some moments later he looked up and noticed that the lad was still sitting with his eyes closed. Eventually he looked up.

"Goodness," gasped the man "whatever were you praying about?"

"No idea." came the reply "You said it was a silent prayer."


Wednesday, May 16, 2007


I have just been delivering envelopes for Christian Aid as this is Christian Aid Week. I have been involved in this door-to-door collection for more years than I can remember. Each year I have the same feelings of despair and not-wanting-to-do-it-ness, but then each year delivering leaftlets reminds me of the year I spent delivering Her Majesty's Royal Mail. And although repetitive, it isn't too bad - you can learn a lot about people from their letterboxes. Collecting is another ballgame, but I'll have more more help then.

Collecting copper coins in the face of global hunger seems so futile. When someone I know is dodging bullets in Gaza it seems a crazy response. I don't mean to criticise the work of Christian Aid - nor even to suggest that it is worse in Gaza than in other areas of conflict and hunger.

But really. And the crazy thing is that there are so few people who are even prepared to be involved in something as simple and as stupid as walking around a few houses and collecting coppers.

Is this the glorious gospel we proclaim? That the people of God go to work to earn enough money to have a large TV? That they can share in the collective grief of the loss of a small child they don't even know and yet meanwhile the community around them dies. And people around the world go hungry for the sake of a few coppers. And people kill each other because all hope is lost.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

hells bells

Another grim day in Gaza.

It is said that some militants are preparing to launch projectiles into Israel this evening. This is not a good day to be remembering the Nabka.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Torture of Palestinian prisoners in Israel

B'tselem recently released a report about human rights abuses in Israeli jails. Based on interviews of 73 ex-prisoners in the West Bank, B'tselem conclude:

These measures are defined as torture under international law. Their use is not negligible, even if not routine. The HCJ did rule that ISA interrogators who abused interrogees in "ticking bomb" situations may be exempted from criminal liability, but this only when the ill-treatment was used as a spontaneous response by an individual interrogator to an unexpected occurrence. In practice, all evidence points to the fact that "special" methods are preauthorized and are used according a preset regulations.

It is interesting to note the Israeli response to the report in the media.

The Israeli Justice Department is reported to have labelled the report as 'full of inaccuracies' and 'does not include the full details of witnesses so the allegations can be investigated' and that the sample has been 'tendentiously selected in a way that distorts reality'.

Of course, Palestinian ex-prisoners are highly likely to travel to Jerusalem or Tel Aviv to report abuses suffered by them during incarceration.

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Thursday, May 10, 2007


I came home from taking a church group on retreat to find a large group of young people huddled by a bus shelter in pouring rain, all with candles and flowers. I drove past about half an hour later, having found out that the night before a fifteen-year-old girl had been run over there and killed by someone driving recklessly in a stolen car. I stopped and joined them; there were about thirty young people, none older than sixteen. There were no adults apart from me. They all had candles and had laid flowers and had written tributes to Sian all over the bus shelter. I listened to a few of them and looked at the flowers. I even told them what I was (a vicar). They told me some of them had prayed, but mostly they were just being there where it happened. One of my churches is about two hundred to three hundred metres down the road from that bus stop. I considered opening it for them. But they needed to be at this spot. They didn’t need the church, and though they were glad I’d come and joined them, they didn’t really need me. So I left after about half an hour. They were there for three nights running, often in the rain. But they kept vigil and they sought light for the dark.

Peter Cruchley-Jones, a United Reformed Church minister working on a big housing estate in Cardiff via For the fainthearted...

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Northern Ireland Assembly

I will let others blog with more informed opinions about yesterday's events in Northern Ireland. As an Englishman, I don't think I really have anything helpful to say one way or the other.

To be honest, I have big trouble with the all-new cuddly Ian Paisley and computing the idea that he is seen as a fraud by some sections of the unionist community. Is anyone seriously suggesting that this guy has given up his views - very strongly held for 40 years or more - simply to hold the reins of power in the First Minister's office?

As I hold a low opinion of the man, I suppose anything is possible. On this side of the water we can only hope that bitter enemies will grow to be wise leaders.

BTW, couldn't they have thought of a better name for the thing? Assembly sounds like a bunch of schoolkids being forced to sit still and sing ancient hymns in a dusty hall

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Tuesday, May 08, 2007

A tale of two cities

We spent our Bank Holiday Monday visiting the museums of Birmingham.

First we visited the main Birmingham museum. This is particularly known for the large collection of Renaissance and Pre-Raphaelite paintings. The museum represents the wealth of the city, collected by the good and the great.

We have been before, and sometimes the temporary exhibitions are excellent. Yesterday, however, we were uninspired and did not stay too long.

Instead, we went to the Birmingham Jewellery Quarter, which is an area of jewellery factories and shops unrivalled in the UK, though strangely silent on a bank holiday.

This was part of our (largely accidental) historical education of our family of the British industrial heritage which has so far included cotton mill, mine, farm and scottish bothy. We went to visit the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter.

The story is basically that a company was setup in 1899 manufacturing gold bracelets. In 1981 it closed one Friday afternoon and nobody went back. Six years later the city bought the factory as a relic of the jewellery industry.

Smith and Pepper had remained largely unchanged for nearly 100 years, much of the original equipment was still being used, many of the workers worked in hard manual labour all of their working lives in the factory. It is truely a fantastic place to visit and a credit to the city.

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Friday, May 04, 2007

Daring to think differently

Laila El-Haddad is an international journalist from Gaza. Her blog is an travelog, mostly of time spent trying to enter or leave Gaza. Recently she conducted an interview with Ali Abu Nimah, a Palestinian thinker.

Abu Nimah suggests that it is time to consider a different way - rather than the much trumpeted two-states of mutual hatred in Israel-Palestine, how about a one state bination, similar to Belgium? It sounds pretty crazy, yet it is something I have heard mentioned several times by Palestinians - a nation where all Israelis and Palestinians live alongside each other in peace, including any refugees and anyone else that wants to live in their ancestoral lands, in a non-religious secular state.

Of course, it is pretty obvious that the Israelis have a lot to lose - given their history of oppression, it isn't really very surprising that they want to live in a Jewish and Democratic State where the Jews always are in the majority because they feel oppressed almost everywhere else in the world. On the other hand, it is pretty obvious that the Palestinians are also giving up a lot to even contemplate this idea.

I don't know what the answer is. If the Jews could be guaranteed security in this state (how would you actually do that?) why would they not want it if it led to peace?

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eat pie

Typically, given what I said yesterday, there is an article in the free paper about a kerbside recycling collection. The council is going to be trialling a scheme in 21,500 houses, out of a total of more than 120,000+ across the city.

Quite what there is to trial when virtually every other council in the country has a recycling collection is beyond my understanding. The paper says

The council refused to do business with any contractor offering to export the waste to Asia - because of environmental concerns and labour exploitation. At the moment there is no UK-based outlet for PET plastic bottles available - such as plastic used for soft drinks bottles and water bottles. But if one can be found, the council has pledged this material will also be collected. The council hopes a new processing plant to handle PET and other plastics will soon be established in the West Midlands.

So are they seriously telling me that every council in the country which is collecting PET is sending it to China? Why does that sound highly unlikely? It is suspected that the council will attempt to do a really bad job so they can claim that a recycling collection is inefficient and not worth the effort.


Thursday, May 03, 2007

Voting and the BNP

Across the nation, it appears, BNP candidates are standing in the local elections held today. In some places, they might even win seats. Tom Allen has written the following briefing sheet in his capacity as Vicar of Oakworth.


May 3rd will see local elections in our community for both the Bradford and Keighley Councils. For Christians this is an opportunity to vote positively for the values and teaching of Jesus Christ.

1. We should reject the poisonous policies of the British National Party which are not the answer to the issues and problems of our communities. We should highlight the racist attitudes and political pedigrees of the national leaders of the party that lie behind the facade which presents local BNP candidates as “ordinary Yorkshire people”. Ignorance of this reality is no excuse for a “protest vote”

2. We should make plain the Church of England understanding that confirms racist beliefs as inherently “sin” which as the Bishop of Blackburn has put it: “In the Christian community it (sin) is the strongest word we can find. In terms of racism it means something not only off limits to people, but also to God.”

3. We should as Christians exercise our democratic responsibilities by voting. Seats in the elections will be won by very small margins (of perhaps ten votes), it is essential that all Christians use all their votes in favour of any of the parties which are committed to constructive co-operation between people of all races creeds and colours.

4. We should reject all attempts to misrepresent the Christian faith as being “traditionally” the faith of white or “indigenous” British people. We belong to a faith community which is worldwide, diverse and multi-national (and now predominately non-white - as was its founder and Lord!).

5. We should support the rights of all legitimate asylum seekers in the UK, - we have at Christ Church Oakworth supported financially the work of a local community group who work with asylum seekers in their search for secure legal residence, homes, jobs and an education. We believe such people of whatever faith, (far from being a threat or a drain) and when offered a warm welcome can enhance our society with their experience, insights and commitment to family life and community.

6. We should work with all people of other faiths and none to ensure that peace and justice are key features of our society.

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus”. Galatians 3:28

Revd Tom Allen (Vicar of Oakworth)

There is an election today in our ward for a councillor to sit on Coventry City Council. This is the official statement of candidates I downloaded from the Council website (actually I've removed their home addresses and other personal stuff which seems a tad unnecessary in this context).


The following is a statement as to the persons nominated for election as Councillor for the


AKHTAR Bilal - The Labour Party Candidate

ALLEN Julie Margaret - British National Party

CLIFFE Christian Michael - The Conservative Party Candidate

HOWARTH Stephen - Liberal Democrat

Now, unlike in other parts of the country, there is zero chance of the BNP candidate getting anywhere close to being elected. But my problem is this: I believe that my role as a voter is to vote on my conscience. I cannot in all good conscience vote for any representative of a national political party in this local election, where elected members to Coventry City Council are totally self seeking and ignorant.

For example. Coventry City Council owns the local incinerator. This is where most of the city's waste is destroyed. When the incinerator ends its useful life - which will be in around 10 years - the city has already decided that it is going to build an even bigger incinerator on the same site with the expectation that other local authorities will also deposit their waste there. Meetings about this waste strategy are held in private - and you have to use powers under the Freedom of Information legislation to find out anything about what is being talked about.

At the same time, Coventry has a doorstep paper collection. Metal is removed at the incinerator. There is no other recycling collection, nor any effort by the council to start one - simply because more recycling means less rubbish to the incinerator, which means that it runs less efficiently and therefore takes longer to pay back the investment put into it. Council members regularly put out nonsense to justify their position - such as suggesting that the nearest plastic recycling facility is in Newcastle (or somewhere sounding a long way away) so shipping the waste there would cause a lot of carbon dioxide release wouldn't it?

Actually, no, there are several plastics companies who use post consumer waste in the West Midlands.

I do not wish to see the BNP elected. But I'm not sure if I can vote for anyone else instead.

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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Christian persecution in Palestine

Over on the Ruth Gledhill blog a conversation about Christians being executed in Turkey has turned into the same old Israel-Palestine discussion. Several posters, in particular Irene Lancaster of the University of Haifa, have made allegations concerning Christian persecution in the Palestinian Authority controlled West Bank.

My position is this:

Whilst there have been reports of discrimination of Christians in the West Bank, attempts to characterise the PA as a whole as practicing ethnic cleansing of Christians is unfounded. The last time I was in Bethlehem, I spent time asking Christians about their experiences. Of all the people I spoke to, only one poor carpenter complained that he was forgotten by Christians abroad and discriminated against by Muslims. Everyone else claimed that the Christian-Muslim relations were good.

Claims that Sharia law is being rigidly forced onto Christians are not correct. One example is that women regularly wear their heads uncovered in the Bethlehem area. Whilst there are some very religious Muslims, the majority seem fairly secular and wear western clothing.

Furthermore, there are no reports of religious discrimination in the West Bank by Amnesty International, B'tsalem - the Israeli human rights organisation or Human Rights Watch. In fact, HRW have recently published a report detailing human rights abuses against women in the West Bank and the others have condemned the practice of hanging people who co-operate with the Israeli occupation. If this discrimination was occurring, one would think that these organisations would regularly report it.

I will detail below some of the responses by Church leaders and other Christians to the reports of persecution in the West Bank.

"As an Arab Palestinian Christian I never consider myself to be part of a minority group, nor do I expect to be treated as “dhimmi,” part of a group formally protected under Islamic law. Arab Palestinian Christians are an integral part of our Arab Palestinian society.Some have asked: “Why are the Palestinian Christians emigrating from their homeland where they have lived for two thousand years?” My reply is that the unstable political situation, the continued illegal occupation and the unbearable economic hardships are the reasons for that. Palestinian Christians do not see that they can have a future in the midst of war and violence. They want to see a future based on justice, peace, reconciliation, in which they live together with other religions, cultures and nations. They follow what Our Lord Jesus Christ taught: “I have come to give you life, and life abundantly.”

Bishop Dr Munib A. Younan,
Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land and the Vice-President of the Lutheran World Federation.

"Christians are part of Palestinian society, and the Palestinians are Christians and Muslims. No one is going to flee because of Islamic influence, but because of the lack of work, or the political tension provoked by the curfew. But there is no Muslim persecution of Christians, and in fact they share the same hope of one day having an independent state".

Michel Shabbah, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem

"Christian Palestinians face the same harsh occupation as Muslims: movement
restrictions, withholding of tax receipts by Israel, discrimination, land
confiscation, powerlessness and oppression through the bureaucracy (visas,
permits, planning permission, etc.). Apart from a few isolated incidents,
they have not been persecuted by Muslims. They have been particularly hard
hit by the economic decline, especially the collapse of tourism and the
restrictions in working outside Palestine, and because they have generally
had better contacts outside Palestine it has been easier for them to

Jerry Marshall, Transformational Business Network - frequent visitor to Bethlehem and particularly the charismatic evangelical community.

"Yes Christians are being persecuted in Palestine. There are sporadic
instances from Islamists but these are usually family feuds not religious in
origin but these are exploited by Israeli propagandists and Christian

The majority of Palestinian Christians who have left Palestine have done so
because of Israel's occupation - the annexation of their land, demolition of
their homes, destruction of their livelihoods and erection of the Separation
barrier denying them access to their land, jobs, schools and hospitals. In
Hebrew it is called Hafrada - meaning separation. The Dutch Africana word is
the same - the parallels with Apartheid South Africa are obvious except in
South Africa the white government subsidised the Bantustans."

Stephen Sizer, Vicar of Christ Church, Virginia Water, UK

More to follow.