Past Spirit Sightings (The Archives)
From Sandra Rooney
We’ve moved beyond the Advent candles and carols, beyond the Holy Family in the stable, beyond the Wise Men. But we can’t move beyond the news. Last month the U. S. Senate Intelligence Committee released its damning report on the Central Intelligence Agency’s program to detain and interrogate terrorism suspects in the years after the September 11 attack. The next day, the Rev. Susan Russell, Episcopal priest and activist from Pasadena, Calif., wrote these words in her blog:
It’s been a particularly dark Advent… the “breaking news” of the day echoing in our ears and in our hearts: the Ferguson Grand Jury decision, Eric Garner’s poignant cry of “I can’t breathe,” the Torture Report released by the Senate Intelligence Committee, the anniversary of the Newtown tragedy and the reminder of the scourge of gun violence in our nation.
Then she went on to say that it had gotten a little lighter for her that day, when she heard the words spoken by Malala Yousafzai upon receiving the Nobel Peace Prize:
“Dear brothers and sisters,
Russell said that in Malala’s words – “words of a young, Muslim schoolgirl targeted for violence by extremists of her own faith for daring to both aspire to and speak out for the education of women” – she heard the echo of the words attributed to another young girl, a Jewish girl, who extolled the greatness of God in the timeless words we call “The Magnificat.”
He has shown strength with his arm;
Russell titled her blog that day “Malala’s Magnificat.” She reminded readers and reminds us that faith can produce courage, a courage that can take on the powerful and raise up the lowly.
In a speech in the Senate, shortly after the torture report was released, Senator Dianne Feinstein, the Intelligence Committee’s Democratic chairwoman, called the CIA interrogation program “a stain on our values and our history.” She said, “History will judge us by our commitment to a just society governed by law and the willingness to face an ugly truth and say ‘never again.’”
While there has been widespread condemnation of the CIA torture methods, there have also been denials from former CIA personnel, national security justifications, and questions by some of the value of information gained by torture. A New York Times editor put it well, saying the report “should be the start of national soul-searching.”
Jeremiah speaks his words of hope against the background of systems of power of his day.
God of history and of our everyday lives, we pray that you will overcome our fears and use our lives and our voices to proclaim a new day, a day of justice, compassion, and love.
From Ray McGinnis
The Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization (OCTA) is an intergovernmental organization formed in 1978 by nations along the Amazon Basin. Typically, citizens don’t look to international organizations to be on the forefront of positive change. However, at the recent United Nations Convention on Climate Change hosted in Lima, Peru, from December 1 to 12, 2014, the member states of the OCTA stepped up to the plate. Bolivia, Brazil, Columbia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Suriname, and Venezuela will cooperate in monitoring deforestation in the Amazon and efforts to regenerate the Amazon rainforest.
The effort is the outcome of the lead taken by Brazil, together with its Brazilian Development Bank, to train 150 technicians and to purchase equipment to allow each member nation to monitor efforts to reduce deforestation and to regenerate the Amazon forest. In 2014 alone, Brazil has been able to reduce deforestation in its part of the Amazon rainforest by 18 percent.
Recent successes are part of an encouraging trend that has seen deforestation of the Amazon reduced by 82 percent in the past decade. At the same time there has been research showing a 23 percent recovery of the forest in this same timeframe.
An amount equivalent to $8,000,000 in US funds has been spent to advance this effort. It comes from a larger fund of $800 million US funds. Some of the interest generated from this fund can be delegated toward projects of any nation in the Amazon Basin area to help stabilize the environment.
The announcement was one of several that were welcomed at the close of the recent United Nations Climate Change Conference and give hope to those planning the next conference in Paris in 2015.
Explore… Isaiah 61:10-62:3
God of righteousness, we long for your spirit to be born again and again. When we no longer have eyes to see or ears to hear, help us open our whole selves to the new thing you are doing in our midst. Help us care for this, your planet, one step at a time, so that the land itself may rejoice in your creation and the nations not stand in the way of your abundant gifts of life. In Christ we pray. Amen.
From Ray McGinnis
In July, a church in Chicago received a real estate windfall of $1,600,000. In early November, the senior pastor, the Rev. Laura Truax, let those attending the La Salle Street Church know that the church was giving them each $500.
Back in 1979, the church had helped begin a low-income residence along with three other churches and a private developer. Over the years the property had grown in value. It was time for the property to be redeveloped to accommodate more low-income families. This would involve a larger development. As a result, the current primary developer wanted to sell the property. La Salle Street Church was one of the beneficiaries of the windfall of money from the sale of the property to the new developer, who wanted to take on the larger emerging project.
On that first Sunday in November, those at the worship service were each invited to take a cheque for $500 and to think about what it means to bring good news to the world. Then they were invited to do something with the money not to harm, but to help move the world along.
Church members are meeting into the new year to prayerfully determine what they will do with the remaining $1,440,000.
Some church members have talked about pooling their funds among maybe 40 or 50 people to establish a fund to help people in need or to provide no-interest loans. Others wanted to establish emergency relief programs. Some gave to those helping to deal with the Ebola epidemic in West Africa. One woman wrote on the church’s blog how full of angst she was now that she had to decide what to do with the money. The woman admitted she never liked dealing with finances and left all those decisions in her life to her husband. News of the La Salle Street Church’s novel decision led one woman in Oklahoma to make her own donation of $500 to the ministry at the Chicago church.
Explore… Luke 1:46b-55
God of reversals, we are a people of habit and routine. So often we are mired in what we expect and we forget to expect the unexpected. Shake us up that we may imagine shifts in how we live that are signs of love and grace for your church and the world. In Christ we pray. Amen.
From Paul Turley
This is the crucial question asked in our text for this week. The answer that each person and group of people give to that question will shape the future of John the Baptist and his movement.
The answer to the same question is determining and will determine what happens in Ferguson, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis in the United States of America. Who is Michael Brown, the young teenager who was shot and killed in that city on August 9, 2014? Was he an innocent young black man, the victim of police brutality? Was he a violent criminal with a hatred of authority? Who is Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown? Is he a violent racist with too little training in correct police procedures? Is he a young, inexperienced police officer who, afraid for his life, acted in self-defense?
Or is it all much more complicated than that? Brown was black so in the minds of many he stands in for all of the pain and abuse, the disenfranchisement that the black community has suffered in St. Louis and beyond for generations. Wilson is a white man in a position of authority so in the minds of many he stands either for the thin blue line between chaos and order, or for the abuse of authority of white over black. And all of this is taking place in a nation where inequality is worsening and where guns remain central to many dreams of what it means to be American.
The Rev. Michael D. Kinman of the Episcopal cathedral in downtown St. Louis, in a sermon two weeks ago, encapsulated the issues this way:“This past Monday night, for the second time this year, we watched parts of our beloved city burn on live television. For nearly four months, we have heard powerful, young, nonviolent demonstrators cry out that black lives matter. We have heard terrible stories of the treatment of people of color at the hands of the police, which many of us have had to hold in painful tension with the relationships we have with beloved friends and family who are those police.”
Whatever the answer is to the question “Who are you?” it is never a simple one. Michael Brown led a complicated, conflicting life; so too Darren Wilson. We know this because both men are human and all human life is complicated and conflicted.
John the Baptist answered his questioners not with a simple statement – a box in which he could be contained – but with a response that opened up possibility, defied categorization, and engendered hope. It must be our prayer that as the citizens and authorities answer this same question they will do the same.
Explore... John 1:6–8, 19–28
God, we pray for the soul of Michael Brown and for his family and community.
From Paul Turley
During a televised address to the nation two weeks ago, U.S. president Barak Obama told Americans that deporting millions is “not who we are.”
In his address, Obama promised to reshape the nation’s immigration system by executive action in order to give an estimated five million illegal immigrants the opportunity to live legally in the country.
The president has been heavily criticized by the Republican opposition for his actions. In the words of House of Representatives Speaker John A. Boehner, President Obama “has cemented his legacy of lawlessness and squandered what little credibility he had left.”
Other critics have called the President the “deporter-in-chief.” Two million people have been deported during Obama’s time in office – 400,000 in the past year alone.
The president is said to have taken the Executive Action route out of frustration with a Congress that is unable or unwilling to pass an immigration reform act. “To those members of Congress who question my authority to make our immigration system work better, or question the wisdom of me acting where Congress has failed, I have one answer: Pass a bill,” the president said.
Toward the end of his address, the president quoted some ancient words held sacred by Jews and Christians and of deep importance to those of the Muslim faith. Specifically, he quoted a version of Exodus 23:9, an instruction to the people of Israel as to how they should treat strangers or aliens in the land of Israel: “You shall not oppress a resident stranger; you know the heart of a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
The president went on to say, “My fellow Americans, we are and always will be a nation of immigrants. We were strangers once, too. And whether our forebears were strangers who crossed the Atlantic, or the Pacific, or the Rio Grande, we are here only because this country welcomed them in, and taught them that to be an American is about something more than what we look like, or what our last names are, or how we worship.”
In our text for this week, the pain of separation and alienation is so very evident. For the people of Israel to hear the repeated word “comfort” is to begin to experience the world as God intended it to be. Perhaps President Obama’s words, too, can be the beginning of a new and more humane world, at least for the five million illegal immigrants who will be impacted.
Explore... Isaiah 40:1–11
God, teach us your truth that we are all strangers in a strange land.
from Fraser Macnaughton
The plight of the Arab world as a whole in the face of Isil (Isis) and their brand of Islamic fundamentalism can in some ways be viewed as a waiting. But also a sense of longing for freedom. Now there are beginning to be voices of protest against the barbarity perpetuated in the name of Islam. Recently, Queen Rania of Jordan used her opening speech at the Abu Dhabi Media Summit to condemn the atrocities committed by the group across swathes of Syria and Iraq. Isil militants have capitalized on social media as a way of constantly spreading propaganda, recruiting fighters to join its self-declared “caliphate” and distributing horrifying videos showing brutal executions and beheadings.
The group most recently uploaded the beheading of U.S. aid worker Peter Kassig and 17 Syrian servicemen on YouTube, from which images were rapidly circulated across Twitter and Facebook.
Queen Rania urged the audience to harness the same tools used by Isil to spread its agenda and use them instead to push forward a more progressive one from the Arab world. She warned that Isil is attempting to “drag the Arab world back to the Dark Ages” and was using social media as a tool. The irony that Isil, in the process of dragging Islam back to savagery and the Middle Ages, is using such a modern means of communication to make its point was not lost on her media savvy audience. She was also careful not to exclusively identify the Arab world only with Islam. Referring to the horrific images of beheadings she said “These images don’t represent me anymore than they represent you. They’re alien and abhorrent to the vast majority of Arabs – Muslims and Christians. And they should make every Arab across this region seethe. They are an attack on our values as a people and on our collective story. This is their version of the Arab world’s story, their plot, their narrative, their heroes, and the rest of the world is listening and watching.”
She was clear that it was education that was the key to defeating Isil rather than a cycle of further violence. In the well-crafted speech, she came over as a clearly intelligent person who is also thoughtful and caring in the way she suggested better education facilities to discourage young Arabs from extremism and barbaric, backward ways. She presented the audience with a choice: “We either develop our region, or we let others dismantle it; find solutions to the challenges, or watch the challenges avalanche; harness the tools to drive the Arab world forward in the 21st century.”
In our waiting times, may we be more aware that we do not wait alone, that others wait longer in more trying circumstances for their freedom from injustice and oppression. Amen.
From Fraser McNaughton
Just as the Ebola crisis in Liberia appears to be starting to improve, the outbreak in neighbouring Sierra Leone takes a turn for the worse. Of all the examples of what Jesus was talking about in his parable of the sheep and the goats, in the contemporary context, the Ebola virus and how it is dealt with has to be one the most challenging. Some countries have reacted in extraordinary ways, while others have sought imaginative solutions. As British forces withdraw from fighting in Afghanistan, military medics are being deployed in a much more positive and peaceful way, setting up specialist Ebola hospitals in Sierra Leone. Their action and their dedication in putting themselves in harm’s way is no less dangerous than firefights with the Taliban. It is hoped that these interventions may stall and reverse the spread of Ebola.
To help check the spread of Ebola in Sierra Leone, Britain has pledged £20 million to build and run three new medical laboratories, which will be used to test blood samples and virus swabs.
The first lab opened in Kerry Town recently, immediately doubling the country’s testing capacity. Two more labs are planned in Port Loko and Makeni under the direction of UK Royal Engineers, Public Health England, and the Department for International Development.
When all three are finished, it is expected that Sierra Leone’s testing capacity will be four times what it was and will be able to turn around blood samples in 24 hours instead of the current four days.
International Development Secretary Justine Greening said, “Tackling Ebola at the source is key to beating it and stopping the spread. Some of Britain’s best and brightest scientists will be at the forefront of our UK-funded testing facilities ensuring that people with Ebola are isolated and then treated as soon as possible.”
Sierra Leone’s rural areas are worst affected by the virus, but the situation seems to be escalating in capital city Freetown, where there are six times the number of cases per day as there were during the summer.Laboratory results for patients in Freetown, which include the new British army-built Ebola hospital, showed 40 new cases a day. Only in the northern region of Bombali has the outbreak begun to slow. There have been more than 1,500 Ebola fatalities in Sierra Leone, around a thousand fewer than in Liberia, the country worst hit. There are also reports that another doctor in northern Sierra Leone has tested positive for Ebola prompting concerns over how the medical operation in the region can manage after four doctors died in recent months.
Explore… Matthew 25:31–46
May we have the discerning Spirit flowing through us as we stand alongside the suffering and support those victims of injustice and conflict. Amen
Three weeks ago, the sixth Oslo Freedom Forum brought together dissidents, journalists, authors, artists, philanthropists, photographers, musicians, students and many others from 81 countries. They came together to share their stories, brainstorm ideas, and experience solidarity as they individually challenge arbitrary powers. Speaking to the issue of human rights, Thor Halvorssen, the forum’s founder said, “Things are unquestionably getting worse.”
Halvorssen went on to say, “People say the truth will out, but it needs a little help.” Those gathered for the forum are among those who, with their lives, seek to proclaim the truth and to give it a little help, some in dramatic ways, others more quietly.
There was Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the Russian billionaire turned dissident, and Bangladeshi women who campaign against the forced marriage of teenage girls. From Egypt there was Bassem Youssef, his country’s Jon Stewart, who told of his show being canceled under pressure from the current military regime.
There were many stories of the dangers faced by journalists and artists expressing new ideas and trying to tell the truth. One appearing recently in the news was of the Greek investigative journalist Kostas Vaxevanis, who, back in 2012, published a list of some 2,000 possible Greek tax evaders who held Swiss bank accounts – a list that officials claimed to have lost. The named included politicians and wealthy businessmen. Within 24 hours a warrant was issued and 50 police officers were deployed to arrest, not the tax evaders, but Mr. Vaxevanis. He was ultimately acquitted , but the efforts to stop him and other journalists from digging too deeply into corruption are all too familiar in many countries. Vaxevanis says he has no regrets. “I’m a journalist, and I did my job,” adding, “I want to be a journalist in a country that is not afraid of the truth.”
Among the forum’s recipients of a prize for “creative dissent,” one, a Tibetan film-maker is serving six years in prison. Another is a Turkish performance artist who attracted attention by standing still for many hours in Istanbul’s Taksim Square in June 2013 while protests and brutal police action took place nearby. And there are the two Russian punk-rock artists from the group Pussy Riot, who served 21 months in a Russian prison camp after their protest in a cathedral. The list goes on.
We pray, O God, that we may hear the still small voice that reminds us who we are and whose we are. We pray for the courage to speak and act in ways consistent with the values of our faith and always on behalf of those who are oppressed by the systems of this world. Amen.
From Sandra Rooney
Ebola has become a main focus of the news in recent weeks. Here are just a few headlines at the time of this writing: “In Homeland Liberian Finds Resilience Amid Horror,” “Fear of Ebola Closes Schools and Shapes Politics,” “How to Defeat Ebola,” “Ebola Quarantine Serves as Barrier to Volunteers.”
The picture changes daily as we receive new information and wait – for clarification about how the virus is spread, for reports of new cases of the virus in our own countries, for news of new treatments and possible vaccines, for the announcement of new safety procedures, for signs the epidemic might be waning. And as we wait, rumors abound, anxiety increases, fears rise.
In an Op-Ed piece, Nicholas Kristof says, “An alarming new symptom of Ebola in America: It seems to make brains mushy and hearts hard.” The quarantine use grows daily, with repercussions reaching far beyond any one individual’s isolation, time lost from work, and anxiety, possibly affecting our ability to stop the virus at its source. Responding to the announcement by the governors of New York and New Jersey that all people arriving at their international airports who had direct contact with Ebola patients in Liberia, Sierra Leone, or Guinea, would be quarantined, many medical professionals are expressing concerns. They fear that such restrictions may seriously affect volunteers’ efforts at the front lines of the epidemic. Dr. Rick Sacra, who contracted Ebola in Liberia and was treated in the US in September, said he believes that the new rules in New Jersey and New York will reduce the number of people willing to volunteer their time to treat Ebola patients.
In the West African countries where the number of cases is still doubling every two to four weeks, it’s clear they can’t defeat the outbreak on their own. Volunteers are critical to the care of patients in these countries. The medical community seems in agreement that, as Larry Gostin, Georgetown University Law School, said on the Diane Rehm Show, “Our risk is directly tied to the source of infection in West Africa.” Also speaking on the show, Dr. Rajiv Shah, administrator for the U.S.. agency for international development, added, “Our immediate priority is to stop this problem at its source and to make sure we get the technical leadership and support in the region to be able to do that.”
Syndicated columnist Mark Shields, speaking on the PBS News Hour, reminded us that, “These are people who actually put themselves on the line to help strangers they don’t know, their knowledge, their careers, themselves, not for money, not for power, but just for humanity…and that is the most admirable development in this whole terrible panorama.”
Explore Matthew 25:1–13
If this passage is not really about staying awake and “lamp oil” is a metaphor for righteousness, what does this passage say about the state of “waiting”?
Prayer links. . .
God of all our days, and nights, in our waiting, for opportunities or outcomes, quiet our fears and move us beyond anxiety to continue to work with compassion for the health and well-being of all, that together we might experience your kingdom. Amen
Learn more. . .
From Paul Turley
When both The Economist magazine and the United States Federal Reserve start talking about inequality you can be sure that the issue is firmly on the front page.
At least once a month during the last year, The Economist has featured an article on the issue of rising inequality in western economics.
Just last week, United States Federal Reserve Chief Janet Yellen, in one of her first major speeches since taking on the role, addressed a conference on inequality in the U.S., in Boston.
Inequality in income between the richest and the poorest is growing. The fabled 1% now see their incomes and their share of wealth in stratospheric figures, while those at the bottom end of the income pool have stagnant or falling incomes.
“By some estimates, income and wealth inequality are near their highest levels in the past hundred years,” Yellen said in her Boston speech.
And now it’s not just people who study these figures who are worried. Nor is it just those who are reading Thomas Piketty’s book Capital in the Twenty-First Century, the biggest selling economics book in decades. According to new studies by the Pew Research Centre, Americans and Europeans both rank inequality as a greater threat than pollution and the environment, religious and ethnic hatred, and nuclear weapons.
Surely it is inequality that is at the heart of our text from Matthew’s gospel this week. Leaders who say one thing about how life should be led and then lead their own lives in a totally different way come in for Jesus’ intense criticism.
Leaders in our communities who call for people to get off benefits and to work hard but who, at the same time, reduce the funding to support services for the unemployed and increase the red tape and taxation burden on small business who might be able to offer employment are, in Jesus’ understanding, hypocrites. Those who insist on tax breaks for the rich and for corporations while loading tax onto the poor and the middle class are those who would be condemned by Jesus.
Explore… Matthew 23:1–12
God, in our hearts we know that if we live well while another starves, we do not truly live well. We know that if we ignore the inequalities of wealth, opportunity, and safety in our world, none of us will ever truly live in peace and harmony. Give us courage to face the truth and to change our world. Amen.
From Paul Turley
This week, as we read of the arrival of the Hebrews (who had escaped Egypt) into the land of Israel, the war in the Middle East over the tiny bit of land known as the Gaza Strip goes on.
“They keep on trying to kill us, every day, all day, this is their one and only goal. They want Israel to be Palestine with not one Jewish person alive.” These are the words of Mati Bloomberg, a resident of the illegal Jewish outpost of Esh Kodesh in the Palestinian Territories – Territories that Bloomberg and her fellow Esh Kodesh residents refuse to acknowledge is anything other than the ancient home of the Jews, as promised by God in texts such as the reading for today.
Less than two kilometres from Esh Kodesh is the Palestinian town of Kusra. In 2007, two boys from the town were chased from the vineyards of Tsviki Strouk by the owner. One of the boys escaped; the other, 16-year-old Imran Farach, was caught by Strouk and beaten.
Farach’s brother says, “They caught him and they started hitting him using weapons, their hands and sticks until he lost consciousness. Then they carried him in the car and they took him to the settlement Esh Kodesh, and there they continued to beat him even more. And after that, he woke up and he heard one of them tell the other, ‘Kill him!”’
Strouk was convicted by an Israeli court and spent 20 months in prison for the crime.
The most recent round of fighting between Israel and Hamas lasted for 50 days and left over 2,000 dead, the majority of them Palestinian civilians. Over 100,000 Gazans remain homeless.
Now, in the last week, a conference in Cairo has concluded with the international community pledging $5.4 billion to rebuild the shattered province.
But what will this rebuilding mean for Tsviki Strouk, Imran Farach, Mati Bloomberg, and the neighbouring settlements of Esh Kodesh and Kusra?
Explore... Deuteronomy 34:1–12
God, no matter our age, we have been aware of the troubles in the ancient lands on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea all ofour lives. With so much past pain, so much current hurt and damage, it is easy to despair. Remind us, God, that your plan for this region was delivered, in our great story, by an angel: “Peace on earth and goodwill to all people.” Amen.
From Paul Turley
Research by the Jet Propulsion Lab, published in the last week, has concluded that the upper 701 meters or 2,300 feet of the Southern Hemisphere’s oceans may have warmed twice as quickly after 1970 than had previously been thought.
We are used to getting bad news about our climate. Perhaps we are too used to bad news; sometimes it rolls over us while we shrug and feel helpless to do anything about it. We know, too, in the back of our minds, that those who for their own reasons continue to deny the human impact on global warming have sown a seed or two of doubt for us.
We also know that what we truly believe is what we actually do, rather than what we say or think. And we know that those of us in the wealthy West make the greatest per head contribution to global warming. Yet we often feel powerless or we lack the motivation to change our habits in meaningful ways.
The Jet Propulsion Lab research tells us that the temperatures in the upper levels of the world’s ocean have been rising 24% to 58% faster than previously thought. Warming oceans effect fish stocks and melt polar ice quicker. Sarah Gille, a Scripps Institution of Oceanography professor describes the result: “Extra heat means extra sea level rise, since warmer water is less dense, so a warmer ocean expands.”
What do we do with this new truth, one that only confirms the worst of the information we have been receiving from science? Will we bury it deeper into our minds and let it fester there as we begin to dread that we will never be able to pass on what we have received to those who come after us?
How do we live in the harsh truth of this new information without succumbing to despair? How do we live with the still mostly-invisible truth of global warming and let it shape our lives?
How, in our text, do the people of Israel live with the mostly-invisible presence of the God who promises to be present, but whom they cannot be seen? How do they and we now let this presence shape our lives?
Explore… Exodus 33:12–23
God, the world is a confusing place. We know some truths so clearly, and some are so difficult for us to grasp. Teach us how we can understand your presence with us, and in all the world. Amen.
From Ray McGinnis
The Hundred-Foot Journey is a movie about the Kadam family, who have fled their native India after their restaurant was burned down during a political protest and the mother killed (presumably a Muslim-Hindu clash). After spending a year in England, the family heads to France, where it wanders around the countryside while Papa (Om Puri) looks for the right place to open a new Indian restaurant in Europe.
When the van the Kadam’s are driving breaks down in a picture postcard village due to break failure, the location of the restaurant falls into place as they get the van fixed. Papa discovers an empty restaurant for sale right across the street from Madame Mallory’s (Helen Mirren) top flight classic French restaurant Le Saule Pleureur. Papa’s son, Hassan, has an innate gift for cooking. Hassan makes an omelette for Madame Mallory, which results in her offering Hassan a position as chef in her kitchen. Hassan is also fond of one of the chefs at the restaurant, Marguerite. When Marguerite learns that Hassan is to join the kitchen at her restaurant another competition and mixed emotions cloud their budding relationship.
Director: Lasse Hallstrom
Film company: Weinstein Company
Release date: August 8, 2014
Starring: Helen Mirren, Manish Dayal, Om Puri, Charlotte Le Bron
Papa Kadam believes he’s found the perfect spot to open an Indian restaurant in France. The only problem is he’s selected a location that’s only 100 feet away from Le Saule Pleureur,one of best-reviewed restaurants in the region. Madame Mallory is tenacious in her purpose to earn a second Michelin star, a prized rating for restaurants in France. At one point, she orders all the shellfish and salmon in the village market to prevent the upstart Indian restaurant from being able to prepare many of the dishes featured on their menu. A feud begins between the restaurants, which is finally ended when an attempted arson of the Indian restaurant reveals elements of racism within the wider community.
God of journeys large and small, the steps we take are ours to make. As we journey, help us to discern our path and the places where spiritual qualities will infuse our living each day, so that our journey may not be in vain. In Christ we pray. Amen.
From Ray McGinnis
For one day, on September 23, the United Nations held a Climate Summit to bring attention to issues regarding climate change. Many in the worldwide scientific community have produced research the past few decades warning that human reliance on fossil fuels is a key factor in changes in temperatures around the globe.
Changing one’s behaviour is never easy, even when we want to make a change. To make a change as a global village takes even more determination.
On the occasion of the United Nations Climate Summit in New York City, there were efforts to address climate change through campaigns focusing on where dollars are invested.
In January 2014, 17 foundations with combined assets of $2 billion committed to divesting from fossil fuel stocks and move their money to invest in clean energy. This is part of the Divest-Invest Philanthropy initiative. Among these 17 foundations are the Russell Family Foundation, the Educational Foundation of America, and the John Merck Fund. Since that time, dozens more have committed to do the same. The names of these additional foundations are to be announced on September 23, during the United Nations Climate Summit.
Individuals can also play a role by hastening the transformation of business-as-usual by increasing demand for fossil-free financial products and other alternative economic vehicles,” said Lisa Renstrom, co-chair of Divest-Invest Individual.
It is one thing to encourage people to change, but without viable alternative energy sources, individuals can’t change their habits.
Meanwhile, this spring, the Norwegian government created a panel to review whether the country’s sovereign wealth fund should be invested in fossil-free products. Major religious denominations in the United States and the General Synod of the Church of England are also reassessing where to place their investments, such as ethical uses for church pension funds.
Explore… Exodus 20:1–4, 7–9, 12–20
God of all, long ago you sought ways to instruct us to how to live so that we could thrive in relation with one another and with you. Help us to discern how to respond to the ecological challenges in our times as one way to listen again for your words of life. In Christ we pray. Amen
From Ray McGinnis
In the movie Tracks, Mia Wasikowska plays an Australian loner named Robyn Davidson. John Curran directs this beautifully photographed account of Davidson’s 2,700-kilometre trek across the Australian desert in 1977. She is accompanied by her dog and four temperamental camels. She reluctantly allows National Geographic photographer Rick Smolan to meet her every six weeks to chronicle her perilous quest. It is a price she has to pay in order to get the funding for her journey.
There’s no love story here, although Adam Driver is convincingly dorky as thephotographer and might be nursing a crush. There’s minimal dialogue. Wasikowska’s convincing performance conveys all you need to know about how solitude can chip away at the mind. And there’s virtually no attempt to psychoanalyze Davidson’s motives for taking the journey; the script only hints at a tragic backstory and, in a voice-over, Davidson differentiates herself from being a women’s-rights activist or an environmentalist, exclaiming only that she longed to “feel free,” and to “be by myself.”
Despite, or because of, the minimal dialogue, what’s on screen will leave you in a state of wonder. The sweeping cinematography surveys the cracked earth and Davidson’s chapped skin with equal intensity, as if to remind us how vulnerable we mortals are. There’s a powerful message about human endurance in this movie and our yearning for a vision or experience that can transform our lives.
Director: John Curran
Film company: Weinstein Company
Release date in North America: September 19, 2014
Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Adam Driver, Rainer Bock
Haunted by abandonment issues from her childhood and a pattern of condescension towards her from family and neighbours, Davidson seeks the shelter of the Australian wilderness. She prefers it to the dysfunction of human interaction in her community. Setting herself on a quest across the outback, her destination is the ocean. On the way, she learns how to stay alive: remaining still while a snake slithers over her neck one night, learning some of the secret techniques aboriginals have used in order to make a life in what seems an inhospitable setting.
The very different approaches or responses humans have to “wilderness” makes a uniform statement about how we view it virtually impossible. These perceptions are at the heart of how humans view “stewardship” of the earth. For example, a recent story tells of how “great stretches of Europe’s last wildernesses risk being damaged and polluted as the international mining industry gears up to develop northern Finland, Sweden, and Norway” in search of valuable rare earth minerals.
“The prize for British, Australian, Canadian and other companies is billion-dollar mega mines in Lapland, a region which covers all three countries and Russia, able to supply burgeoning industry in Asia.”
Increasingly around the world, a dangerous dichotomy is developing between conflicting human perceptions of the natural world. Some see Nature as wilderness, totally untouchable and sacred; others see it as a wasteland open to development and exploitation. Neither of these views fosters a healthy relationship between humanity and our environment. They also depend upon one another. Wilderness areas are areas that lack humanity and the influences of humanity. They are areas defined by our absence. However, there are very few surviving areas that lack human influence. So to what extent should these vast areas be left alone, or how are they to be best managed. Indeed if they are managed at all, do they lose some of their “wilderness” by definition?
While debate rages about mining and degradation of land and habitat for wildlife, there is also the question of wilderness becoming a playground, or an escape, only for those who can afford it. The ability to access and experience wilderness areas is limited to those who have the knowledge, equipment, time, and financial resources to get there. Far too often, it is only individuals in the middle to upper classes who have these opportunities and resources, while the poor or marginalized, who lack these opportunities and resources, are left out, consigned to a different kind of “wilderness” – a “wilderness” without wilderness. Similarly our high standards of purity for wilderness preservation foster the idea that the land we actually live and work on is second class, inferior to wilderness. The forests in the U.S. state of Maine, for example, are all second-generation growth, so it’s acceptable to clear-cut them. Another facet, highlighted by Arctic mining, relates to human rights. As mining increasingly intrudes into Artic spaces, the Lapland and Sami indigenous communities,who live by reindeer herding and fishing, will be hit, along with the region’s tourist industry, which depends on pristine nature.
The God in whom we live and move and have our being can never be out of our reach or beyond our experience. Whether we are in a wilderness of spirit or in a place of activity and busyness, we know God is there. Amen
From Fraser Macnaughton
In the ongoing struggle between Israel and Palestine, the land issue underpins much of the tension.
Israel has announced plans to expropriate 400 hectares of land in the occupied West Bank in a move Palestinian officials claim will cause more friction after the Gaza conflict.
The announcement concerning land south of Bethlehem, inside what Israelis call the Etzion bloc of settlements, comes after Israel determined the land was not cultivated with enough intensity for the Palestinians to maintain their ownership rights.
The notice published by the military gave no reason for the decision, but Israel Radio said the step was taken in response to the kidnapping and killing of three Jewish teenagers in the area in June. The United States has criticized the announcement and branded it counter-productive to peace efforts. “We have long made clear our opposition to continued settlement activity,” a State Department official said. “This announcement…is counterproductive to Israel’s stated goal of a negotiated two-state solution with the Palestinians.”
Peace Now, which opposes Israeli settlement activities in the West Bank, said the land seizure was the largest announced by Israel in the West Bank since the 1980s. A local Palestinian mayor said Palestinians owned the tracts and harvested olive trees on them.
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat called for diplomatic action against Israel. “The Israeli government is committing various crimes against the Palestinian people and their occupied land,” he told AFP. “The international community should hold Israel accountable as soon as possible for its crimes and raids against our people in Gaza and the ongoing Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.”
Israel has been long criticized by the international community for its settlement activities, which most countries regard as illegal under international law and a major obstacle to the creation of a viable Palestinian state in any future peace deal.
We belong to the land, but does the land ever belong to us? Are we called in the way of Christ to a radical agenda of proper land stewardship which is held in common, a which will restore our right relationship to creation. Amen.
From Fraser Macnaughton
Britain is celebrating one of its earliest and most abundant harvests on record, say foragers, gardeners, farmers, and conservationists. In his poem “To Autumn,” John Keats observed that the season loads and blesses “with fruit the vines that around the thatch-eves run/To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees/And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core.”
Shrub and tree watchers around the country are eagerly anticipating the greatest abundance of fruit, seed and berries since 2006, with apple, haws (from Hawthorn), holly berry, rowan (Mountain ash), figs (sycamore), and blackberries all showing signs of unusually high yields.
The abundance is coming as a welcome relief for wildlife, which suffered badly from exceptionally poor crops of wild fruit last year as trees and shrubs were hammered by the poor weather.
Matthew Oates, a naturalist at the National Trust, said he was amazed by the prolific wild harvest, emerging three weeks earlier than usual. “It’s almost as good as it’s ever going to get. The hedgerows are already well-reddened. It’s been a stupendous year for nuts, seeds and berries, both wild and domesticated – so it’s good for the birds, the mice, squirrels and voles. The holly has done so well we should bring Christmas forward. The sloes will be great. Virtually all our trees and bushes flowered ridiculously early this year and produced nuts. In theory, there is plenty for everyone.
“It’s not because autumn is arriving early but because we had a very early and rapid spring on the back of a mild and wet winter. While 2013 saw one of the coldest and latest springs ever, this year was the absolute opposite.
“Nature is really good at fighting back. Most of this year’s comeback is down to the spring and early summer weather, but there may be other factors of which we are blissfully unaware. Wildlife has ways of compensating to make up for a bad year that we don’t fully understand,” Oates says.
On some level, it seems that Nature is crying out “Enough” and defying science, experts say. After a prolonged period without enough food, wildlife needs to replenish itself and to build up energy levels for the future, while seeds need to be sown to build up the stock of trees and shrubs. And the result is a hugely bountiful supply of fruit, seed and berries to feed everything from blackbirds to door mice.
We celebrate the abundance creation has to offer at the same time expressing our regret at human wastefulness and destruction. May we live in God’s way and do what we can each day to be more conscious of our place in creation and act accordingly. Amen
From Sandra Rooney
Earlier this month the prayers of a grandmother were answered. And her 37 years of labour were rewarded. Estela Carlotto – founder of the Argentinian human rights organization Abuelas (Grandmothers) de Plaza de Mayo – learned that her own grandson had been found.
During Argentina’s 1976–1983 military dictatorship, some 500 babies were taken from young opponents of the regime and given to military families. Their real parents were murdered. In the case of Guido Carlotto, 36, who was raised as Ignacio Hurban, his mother, Laura Carlotto, Estela’s daughter, was two months pregnant when she was kidnapped, “disappeared,” in 1977. She was sent to La Cacha, one of the regime’s many death camps, where she was kept until her baby was born. Then she was murdered.
The mothers of “disappeared” children, like Estela Carlotto, began searching for their grandchildren, going to the courts, visiting orphanages and daycare centers. And they began demonstrating in the Plaza de Mayo in Argentina’s capital city Buenos Aires. In 1977, the non-governmental organization called Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo was established, its purpose to fight for the return of their grandchildren. The searching and the demonstrating have gone on for 37 years.
In recent years, as they realized that their grandchildren had grown up, the grandmothers have expanded their efforts to try to draw these young adults to Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo. To date, 105 grandchildren have been found, many of whom approached Abuelas directly in search of their origins. This was the case for Guido, who said he had doubted his identity. He approached Abuelas when someone suggested he might be the son of disappeared parents.
The abuelas have used many avenues to try to reach their grandchildren, including conferences and seminars on the topic of identity, literary and photographic contests and exhibits, and the arts. Two years ago, Guido (Ignacio Hurban), who is a pianist, took part in a concert called Music for Identity sponsored by Abuelas.
Through the grandmothers’ determined efforts, The International Convention of the Rights of the Child includes the right to an identity. And the government of Argentina created the National Committee for the Right to Identity, to assist young adults who doubt their identities, by investigating all existing documents and by referring them for blood analysis. The National Bank of Genetic Data has the power to perform such analyses without legal intervention. It is thanks to a DNA test that Estela Carlotto can be certain she has found her grandson.
Oh God, who calls each of us by name, strengthen our resolve as we seek truth and justice in a complicated world. May we not rest easy until each person is able to answer the question, “Who am I?” and “Where do I belong?” Amen.
From Sandra Rooney
All too often we hear reports of violence against women, including so-called honour killings, when women, or men, have violated local norms. Often they are risking their very lives by their actions.
Mohammad Ali, 21, and Zakia, 18, are two such people. They found themselves forced to flee their village in the Bamian Valley of Afghanistan, after being kept apart by their disapproving families and the taboo of their difference ethnicities and sects.
Their story was first reported back in March. The two had grown up knowing each other, and then had fallen in love. They repeatedly approached their families for permission to marry, but not only were they denied, each was badly beaten. After Zakia was beaten, Mohammad Ali took her to the Bahamia Women’s Ministry where she was given shelter and her case referred to court.
The court in Bamian ordered Zakia returned to her family, but the Women’s Ministry intervened because Zakia’s father, who maintained she was already married to a cousin, had publicly threatened to kill his daughter to avenge his family’s honour. Fatima Kazimi, head of the Bahamia Women’s Ministry, subsequently found herself dismissed from her position for protecting Zakia.
When Zakia’s case was transferred to Kabul, she feared the court there would side with her family and decided her only option was to elope. Mohammad Ali had managed to smuggle a cell phone into the shelter and the couple plotted her escape. A friend then drove them to a mullah who had agreed to marry them. The police arrested two women for helping Zakia escape and Ms. Kazimi was forced to flee for fear of retaliation against her and her family for helping Zakia.
The couple has been on the run since, sometimes staying with friends, sometimes sleeping in caves at night. Their whereabouts remains unknown. If they are found, they will likely be imprisoned while the courts try to sort out the dispute. The case illustrates the conflict between Islamic law, customary practices, and civil law. Zakia, legally an adult, can marry under civil law, but under Islamic law she still must have her father’s consent. In addition, it is possible that her father could have married her to his nephew without her actual presence or consent.
Some 75% of women in Afghan prisons are held on a variety of such so-called social offences. Ms. Kazimi, too, is worried about her future. Three of her colleagues in other districts have been killed by insurgents for their efforts on behalf of women. “I sacrificed everything because I thought it was what was right,” she said. “I’ve lost my job. I won’t be able to work anywhere in Afghanistan now.”
Loving, empowering God, it is all too easy to go along. May we be emboldened to speak up for what we believe and take such actions as may be required of us. Amen.
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