theology and cars

personal, politics 1 Comment »

For whatever reason I’ve been basking in assorted versions of theology these days. Maybe it was because of my recent, and temporary, assertion of Protestant rights over at Mere Comments, which is really the home of assorted theologies gathering and uniting together in opposition against Evangelicalism. Most of the time it was a nice conversation, but then there were a few folks who felt it necessary to renew the Reformation debates and declare me and mine apostate for not being part of the True Church (the True Church being either the Catholic or the Orthodox depending on the debater of the moment, this wasn’t settled so I don’t know which it is). Curiously, in both contexts the person was a former Evangelical who found Truth in the Mother Church (which is either the Catholic or the Orthodox church depending on the debater of the moment).

Part of my doing this was to get at the heart of the conversation with people who really believe what they are arguing for. I have little interest in apologetics as commonly developed, partly because I don’t trust commentators who form the argument on both sides. Playing chess against oneself is a tricky business and rarely comes off with success.

That all being the case I woke up this morning (in the living room, on the couch) thinking about the complexities of the various historic churches and how their theology affects their ecclesiology. In other words, cars and churches seem to have a lot in common.

The Baptists own a chevy pickup. It’s not the full size version, and really can’t tow that much, but it’s practical, useful, can be beat up, and driven into the ground. You are popular with a pickup because you can move couches, and refrigerators, and haul sand. The baptists use their pickup and help out where they can. But it’s not a good looking vehicle, and doesn’t drive fast, and the handling isn’t very good, and it has a terrible turning radius. Plus, a pickup isn’t an expensive car, and so anyone can own one and start driving. They come in automatic and stick shift, with various other options making the pickup as complex or as bare bones as desired. Some even fill the back with a really good sound system and have the best music around. Some don’t have any stereo at all, cuz listening to music is for pansies.

The Catholics own a limousine. It is a long car, a very eminent car. It is a rich car, with a very, very well apportioned interior and tinted windows. There’s a mini bar, a dvd/tv, a very nice, if not very loud, stereo, and some of the bigger ones have a jacuzzi in the back. Nothing beats a limo for either celebrating a momentous occasion or for mourning a sad moment. Limos are just as appropriate at a prom as they are at a funeral, and that’s saying something. However, you can’t drive a limo. Your friends can’t drive a limo. No one you know is allowed behind the wheel. Limousines use chauffeurs. These are men wearing black suits, hats and gloves who take you right where you need to go, and worry about all the details of driving so you don’t have to. You are a passenger along for the ride, and it is a good ride indeed. The Chauffeurs fill up the tank, know the maps, fix the engine, and keep the chrome shiny. Limousines aren’t generally fast, and they’re very unmaneuverable but when they go, they go in style and comfort and luxury. Not as good for daily concerns but at those treasured times in life they can’t be beat.

The Presbyterians own a Mercedes SUV. They are stylish and popular, well apportioned and really safe. It’s a masterwork of fine engineering, and all your respectable friends own one or want one. It’s a wonderful car, if not particularly interesting to look at. It’s nice to own, nice to drive, safe in an accident, all without standing out.

The Eastern Orthodox own a 1961 Ferrari 250GT. It is a beautiful car, an amazing car, fast, stylish, and it makes your mouth water. It is a dream car really, and those who own it have what almost certainly is the best car in the neighborhood for all around dreaminess. It’s so nice, they keep it in a garage, and know exactly what the mileage is, and hardly ever drive it, let alone use it for day to day commuting. It’s a race car that never races, because it is so nice, it’s too precious for actual use, and thus no one really knows how amazing it would be if it were only allowed the freedom to really test its limits. Instead, it’s kept under lock and key, and those with the keys are very, very protective, saying some people have driven it and it’s even better than we can imagine, but we’re not allowed to talk to them.

The Methodists drive a Model T. It was originally made as the “everyman’s” car, and helped make car sales take off in this country. It could be adapted to all sorts of situations and built this country in a way. But, times have changed, and now the only running Model Ts are owned by old collectors who take great pains to keep their old car running and looking sharp for the occasional car show. They were great cars, life changing to countless folks, but there are not too many on the road today, and the ones still running likely won’t be around for too much longer.

Pentecostals drive a 1973 Volkswagen Van. It’s a great car, lots of fun, able to fit a lot of people who can have all sorts of wild adventures. You can paint it as wacky as you want, and take it to work, or camping, or out for a great road trip. It’s affordable, and has a reputation for being especially loved by hippies past and present. It’s a great vehicle, that is, unless you look at the engine. The great thing is anyone can work on a Volkswagen engine, and it’s a wonderful exercise to learn automotive skills, but it’s not really dependable now, and there’s just not that much to them. Own a Volkswagen Van and expect to get your hands dirty. But that paint job, it’s groovy.

Non-Denominational Churches drive a mini-van. There’s no flash, nothing really stylish, and anything good inside is really a feature nicer cars had five years ago. But, they hold a lot of people, are quite dependable for getting to the soccer game, and to work, and to the supermarket. They hold all the kids, and their friends, and their sports equipment, and the dog. They are affordable, and so if you don’t mind how bland they are, they are quite a good thing to settle on for their wonderful practicality. Lots of people make fun of mini-vans, but when they have two kids of their own, and a mortgage to pay each month, they generally will go out and buy a mini-van, even if they secretly wish to have a convertible Mustang. They learn to hide their disappointment by railing against the young bucks in the Emerging Church and their fancy red sports cars that go way too fast and are often the causes of accidents.

Quakers drive a Toyota Prius. It’s kinda boxy, and doesn’t look that interesting but despite all of that it’s also very trendy, because it reflects the kind of sensibilities we should all have in this era. It’s good for the environment, and it says, “I care.” Lots of other cars are influenced by the technology, so while Prius ownership itself will never be huge, they will have a great deal of respect and the key features will be copied by other manufacturers. You have to pay a little more for its features, but despite that it’s not really an exclusive car, just a car that reflects certain priorities and values. It also has carpool privileges in several states.

–This is all I can think of now. Feel free to add your own suggestions.

alumni duties

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As a alumni of Wheaton College, I feel it is a duty of mine to make note of the new movie, End of the Spear, about missionaries who journey to South America, get killed, and whose families follow them to the same place, and convert the same folks who killed the men. Apparently, the movie is not necessarily about the white men who go down there, but has an excellent focus on the natives who receive them, and who become ardent missionaries themselves.

If CS Lewis is the patron saint of Wheaton College, these are its martyrs. I don’t know about the quality of this movie, but the tale, and the testimony of all those involved is certainly eminently inspiring.

I’ll likely get it on netflix when it comes out, but I urge anyone closer to a real theater to have a look at it.

“One shot over the bow there, Mr. Pullings”

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In a Jeffersonian tale, the US Navy captures a pirate ship off the coast of Somalia.

I don’t know what it is, but this is a cool story.

thoughts on nationalism

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I don’t want to spend a lot of time on this but I was thinking about it this morning for whatever reason and feel interested in noting it now.

I find it a curious thing that I come down on one side of the political fence, and a good many of the people I would call friends come down on the other side. Indeed, there are people who I would agree on all manner of topics who would become quite angry at me when I talk about certain issues relating to war and patriotism.

Patriotism is a mixed word these days, no one wants to deny having it, but a good many people are suspect of those who seem to have too much of it. Patriotism, in this way, is really our civil religion. Pull it out for holidays and parades, but leave it at home for the most part and don’t make a show of it for others who think differently.

I, however, like waving the Flag, value the Pledge of Allegiance, and think the Star Spangled Banner is a rousing tune. I don’t think America is a force of evil, nor moving that direction, and I think a show of patriotism is a wonderful thing, even when others may disagree with the sentiment.

Having a civil fervor seems a dandy delight, so I wonder why some are so suspect. I think it has to do with having a different understanding of what it is such people like me are about when we wave the flag and rouse the American conscience.

Europe had a bit of nationalism over the last several hundred years, and it caused all manner of problems. That I think is how America is understood. European nationalism was defined in terms of contrast. I am German, you are not German. I am Italian, you are not Italian. I am Russian, you are not Russian. And with this contrast comes an attempt to define their being in some way, which gets tricky when everyone basically looks alike. Sure there are language differences, but sometimes these aren’t firm lines, and people move around to different locations. The uniting force then became this vague since of national identity, where one is not just part of a nation but birthed from a Nation, and it is the vague understanding of Nationhood which forms the identify for the people within. Thus Germany is the Fatherland, and a patriotic resident of Moscow speaks of Mother Russia. People are defined by their national identity, and thus protection and defense of the national identify in contrast to other national identities forms the basis of each person’s own understanding of being and value.

Then, like with individuals, the assertion of being often becomes the assertion of oneself over another. To be approved one must conquer, and to be supreme one must vanquish. The national identity is challenged by other national identities, and thus wars result from this curious nationalistic psychology. Thus, to recover its own sense of being and value after World War I, the Germans felt it entirely right to do so by invading others, and seeking to rid their society of anyone who did not meet their understanding of what it meant to be German, which was, above all, a dedication to Germany as the height of identity. Any other identity, whether it was Jewish, or French or Russian, was rejected and anathema, so must be destroyed in order to affirm the fullness of German being. Paternity does not like being challenged.

So, when Americans wave their flag, and invade other countries, and assert that we are, in fact, #1 not only in warfare, but also at the Olympics and in strip malls per capita, people get worried. The Brits, and the French, and the Spanish all had a go at this and affected global politics profoundly. The Germans got their national identity together a little late to join the carving up of lines of longitude and so when they tried to do what the others did, they mucked up the whole show, but it wasn’t because they were doing something new. Now, each of these countries had various levels of success in their attempts to assert their Alpha Nation status upon the world, but all have been marked by that arrogance and attitude of master and slave, which the master finds quite all right but the slave would rather do without thank you very much.

Now, people think we think it’s our turn. We’re the Alpha Nation now, and when we wave our flag people think we too want our little stars and stripes in the corner of the Iraqi or Afghani or Korean flag.

This is where the trouble in understanding each other can be found. Some of the people think this is how we think, the rest, including me, understand America in rather entirely different terms. Ours may be nationalism and patriotism but it is entirely unlike the German, or the Spanish, or even the British form of such.

I, for instance, can be entirely patriotic, but it would be entirely awkward for me to say or hear “Mother America” or speak of returning to the Fatherland when I am overseas. I am entirely American, however, with my roots being here as thoroughly as can be found, with only the occasional sprinkling of new blood from the old countries mixing in during the past hundred years or so. One side can be traced back to Texas, the other back to North Carolina. Records do not say where Oden comes from, nor my maternal side McBride, though supposition suggests a Celtic land for the latter and a Nordic for the former. My identity is American, and a Western American at that, which in my opinion is a particularly American sort of American.

But, I don’t think in terms of American forming my reality, inspiring my devotion and forming my being. I don’t think of being part of this overarching reality called America, to which I am just part of a long line of participants in the Form of America, to which I must conform or be rejected. European Nationalism is a top down sort of reality, starting with National Identity in which participants must attune themselves in order to assert their being.

American Nationalism is something different. It is a bottom up sort of nationalism, defined not by assertions of America as forming a people, but as a people forming America. Waving the Flag is not an expression of Nationhood, as much as it is an expression of allegiance to my neighbors, in space and time. America is a symbol of the people who make up America, which is why we are a changing sort of people, contentious with ourselves, and adaptable to new realities. Our identity is not formed in contrast to other identities but in the sharing of particular values and emphases and struggles. America is not diminished by there being a Mexico, nor weakened when Japan has an unhealthy trade imbalance. Because we do not form our identity in contrast with others, we have the inherent abilitity to working well with others, if they want to work with us. Indeed, the American consciousness values the assertion of others. We do not want to make a little America in Iraq, rather our American values and sense of identity wants to assert our being by helping Iraq become fully Iraqi, letting the people there define their reality in their way as we define ours in our way.

We the People is the hallmark of American patriotism, not the fatherland or the motherland or antipathy towards other identities. Ours is a bottom up nationalism, and in my estimation this kind of nationalism is thus far entirely new to the stage of World History, and thus comparisons of past versions of nationalism may show similarities, but have a different sort of heart at the core. Our language, our singing, our flag waving may look eerily similar to societies past, but we approach this all entirely differently, which makes us confusing and threatening and hopeful all at once. Democracy, we showed, can work for a people used to a king. And maybe, just maybe, our form of nationalism may also work, which is a nationalism rejoicing in other nations finding themselves, because we are whole in who we are, and want others to find the same wholeness.

some pictures

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holding on
sunset in the mountains

on stillness

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Stillness is a curious thing. For being defined as it is, it is not a static thing. Indeed, I dare say there are few aspects more dynamic than the art of stillness in the life of a spiritual person.

This is because stillness is not equivalent to doing nothing. It is a profound state of being in relation to this world, which because it has let go of all things is able to become attuned to all things. And, you may have noticed this, not all things in this world are good.

The still and whole person becomes a tuning fork of sorts, emanating and receiving tones which may or may not reflect the divine chords.

The truly still person is able to listen, and because of their own Spirit enabled stillness are able to differentiate the chords and trust the music of the Spirit within. They are able to discern right from wrong, God from not-God, clean and unclean, not with a list of rules and regulations (which the undiscerning are dependent on), but with a musical instinct. They know what is in tune and what is out of tune because they are attuned to the work of the Holy Spirit and have trained themselves to filter out the noise and chaos to listen to this most glorious tone.

This training is the work of our response to God’s grace, and his empowering efforts which enable us to let go of that which used to enslave us, and embrace that which is holy, and heavenly, and full (see Colossians 3). Because God has worked we can work and because God works we must work, both in embracing the call upon our life and the call within our life.

Half stillness on the other hand is quite disconcerting. It couples the awareness of good and evil with the inability to stay distant from it. This is the storm which tosses us to and fro, unable to be settled even as we see the shore because we are not properly tied to the dock.

Half stillness has some sense but cannot penetrate through the shadows of the half frenzy, being a lot like trying to stand still after being spun around repeatedly. Yet, even with the half stillnes one can indeed learn the right direction, even if this learning also involves stumbling about.

For a long time I have known why I came to the mountains, for there is beauty here, and the balm of nature which soothes the soul. I was reminded yesterday, in a state of quarter stillness, why I left Pasadena. I step in certain directions and the storms increase, my faulty knots come undone, and I begin to drift in a state of frustrated listlessness. I seek certain causes and my stillness departs, though I ignore this emptied state thinking ambition is a worthwhile substitute for wholeness.

I run down the hallway headlong into closed doors, and then turn to run into yet more, not considering there is only one way to freedom and that is back the way I came, because this hallway I am in has always been locked to me, and there is no “drink me” bottle upon the table.

Is there a key? Maybe, but I have not been given the key. So, in my frenzy I try each door again, all the while missing out on the cool breeze and gently dancing limbs of the trees from where I came. I commit to the frenzy, ignored by all and sundry, my calls pouring out into what must be a vacuum for all the response I get. I stay and pound, and jump and scream, forgetting the fragrant blossoms of flowers newly bloomed and dismissing the soothing strains of a flute played alongside a mountain stream.

“That is not where I am supposed to be,” I cry, ignoring the state of things, not cognizent of the Spirit’s work or how the Spirit works or when the Spirit works. I want what I want, to be and to be become, to embrace personhood for myself, thinking I only want a conversation when I really want affirmed being.

That is not offered, for that can only be found in the state of stillness which comes within the tender course of the Spirit, who teaches through stillness and encourages through wholeness and promises fullness for those who walk upon the water.

I have lost my stillness over this last month, and I wonder why, and I consider why, and I listen why, wondering in the absence of prayed for response where the Spirit is and why the Spirit does not let me do what it is I want to do.

Once again, then, I can renew my embrace of the frenzy and attack the ramparts of my frustrations, overcoming through strength of will and persistent assault to make come to pass that which is in my will to accomplish.

Or I can let go of my self, and my being, and my frenzy, exiting the the current which takes me out to the open ocean by swimming perpendicular to its strangling hold. There I will find the still sea, and the calm breeze which heals rather than kills.

I can let go, or I can hold on. That is the choice of this day. The world says one thing, the Spirit says another. Who has the stronger voice?


nature 1 Comment »

I came across this today, and I have to make note of it. It is far too perfect in connecting the various parts of to pass up.

I present you with: The Stations of the Raven

the Raven

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It’s Edgar Allen Poe’s birthday today, and to celebrate here’s a fitting poem he wrote in 1845:

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
” ‘Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door;
Only this, and nothing more.”

Ah, distinctly I remember, it was in the bleak December,
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow; vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow, sorrow for the lost Lenore,.
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore,
Nameless here forevermore.

And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me—filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating,
” ‘Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door,
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door.
This it is, and nothing more.”

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
“Sir,” said I, “or madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is, I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you.” Here I opened wide the door;—
Darkness there, and nothing more.

Deep into the darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortals ever dared to dream before;
But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word,
Lenore?, This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word,
“Lenore!” Merely this, and nothing more.

Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping, something louder than before,
“Surely,” said I, “surely, that is something at my window lattice.
Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore.
Let my heart be still a moment, and this mystery explore.
” ‘Tis the wind, and nothing more.”

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately raven, of the saintly days of yore.
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
But with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door.
Perched upon a bust of Pallas, just above my chamber door,
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
“Though thy crest be shorn and shaven thou,” I said, “art sure no craven,
Ghastly, grim, and ancient raven, wandering from the nightly shore.
Tell me what the lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore.”
Quoth the raven, “Nevermore.”

Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning, little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door,
Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
With such name as “Nevermore.”

But the raven, sitting lonely on that placid bust, spoke only
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing further then he uttered; not a feather then he fluttered;
Till I scarcely more than muttered, “Other friends have flown before;
On the morrow he will leave me, as my hopes have flown before.”
Then the bird said, “Nevermore.”

Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
“Doubtless,” said I, “what it utters is its only stock and store,
Caught from some unhappy master, whom unmerciful disaster
Followed fast and followed faster, till his songs one burden bore,—
Till the dirges of his hope that melancholy burden bore
Of “Never—nevermore.”

But the raven still beguiling all my sad soul into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird, and bust and door;
Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore —
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt and ominous bird of yore
Meant in croaking “Nevermore.”

Thus I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl, whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom’s core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
On the cushion’s velvet lining that the lamplight gloated o’er,
But whose velvet violet lining with the lamplight gloating o’er
She shall press, ah, nevermore!

Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by seraphim whose footfalls tinkled on the tufted floor.
“Wretch,” I cried, “thy God hath lent thee — by these angels he hath
Sent thee respite—respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore!
Quaff, O quaff this kind nepenthe, and forget this lost Lenore!”
Quoth the raven, “Nevermore!”

“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!–prophet still, if bird or devil!
Whether tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate, yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted–
On this home by horror haunted–tell me truly, I implore:
Is there–is there balm in Gilead?–tell me–tell me I implore!”
Quoth the raven, “Nevermore.”

“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil–prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that heaven that bends above us–by that God we both adore–
Tell this soul with sorrow laden, if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden, whom the angels name Lenore—
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden, whom the angels name Lenore?
Quoth the raven, “Nevermore.”

“Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!” I shrieked, upstarting–
“Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken! — quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!”
Quoth the raven, “Nevermore.”

And the raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming.
And the lamplight o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted—nevermore!

pay for view

nature 2 Comments »

A few months back I signed up for netflix, thinking I would catch up on some of the movies I’ve missed since I came up to the mountains (such as, well, all of them… yes, even that one).

The nice thing about netflix is that they have everything, so it’s not like going to the video store and looking around for just anything. One can be, and should be, particular.

Oddly enough it’s not the movies that I’ve seen thus far that have stood out, it’s the television shows. For instance, I just saw episodes four through eight of Firefly, which, in my estimation is one of the best shows ever on television, and I’m not kidding when I say that. I was one of the six people who watched it when it first came on, mixed order and all, and in watching the show now I see even more than when I loved it the first time. I’ll finally get to watching the movie when I get through all the episodes, and likely will post something at some point on exactly why I think it the best show ever (namely that it is the quintessential show about America). Indeed, I even love the theme song.

The other show I got, and I’m not sure why, has been Wonderfalls. Apparently this show was on last year or the year before, and I never heard of it. Not the best show ever, but wonderfully entertaining and insightful, and different. I like different. Not depressing and morose different, but quirky and creative different. It got cancelled after four episodes, Fox again repeating what it did with Firefly, which is to put a show on the air with seemingly the intent being to have it fail. They kill the show by where they put it, don’t give it a chance, and seem committed to its death. Why do they put it on the air in the first place I wonder.

Well, these shows got me to thinking about the next stage on the information superhighway. We need to encourage the demise of the networks. Rather than depending on programming planners, and the silly whims of executives who have no idea apparently what is good or what could even be successful, we should have a system that allows us to choose pilots from a list each year, then if enough people choose the pilot, the show gets broadcast to each subscriber.

This cuts out the middle man, encourages creativity, and most certainly would do much to end our vast wasteland of television viewing.

Critics could see pilots, and there could be good marketing to promote what looks good. You could have ways of narrowing searches according to category, writer/director, or actor.

The fact is in our entertainment industry the folks charged with censoring the art for our consumption are terrible at their jobs. The ability to choose our own television content and schedule would be amazing, and it would do wonders in keeping really good shows continuing on to the many seasons they deserve.

I’d pay for this real a la carte television, and I suspect at least a hundred million other people would as well.


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Interesting interview about Palestinian Christians.