Past Spirit Sightings (The Archives)
From Fraser Macnaughton
Since his surprise election as the leader of the official UK opposition Labour party, left-winger Jeremy Corbyn has had to endure the unrelenting scrutiny of the media over his every move and comment. Originally nominated for the leadership contest, Corbyn was viewed as a rank outside, but to the chagrin of the establishment he won with almost 70% of the votes. This caused apoplexy amongst the political classes of all hues and their media sponsors, resulting in bizarre headlines over such trivial issues as Corbyn’s choice of necktie [or not].
In the latest scenario, the scene is the Cenotaph in Whitehall in the heart of London, where the Royal Family and political leaders lay poppy wreaths on Remembrance Sunday. As reported, the burning issue seems to have been whether Jeremy Corbyn bowed low enough when he placed his wreath against the war memorial. Some felt he hadn’t bowed at all; others felt that it was “half hearted.” “For others, the uproar itself on Remembrance Sunday was a cause for dismay, with supporters of Mr Corbyn mocking attempts to provide a “microanalysis” of the Labour leader’s actions,” the UK’s Independent reported.
Only a few papers picked up on the fact that after the service when the other dignitaries had left for an official VIP lunch, Corbyn stayed behind to applaud the march past of veterans and serving armed forces personnel. He also spent time helping groups of old comrades take photos of the occasion.
This and other episodes highlight a growing divide in the UK between the established worldview of tighter public finances, slashing welfare budgets while wishing to spend £100 billion on renewing UK nuclear weapons, and an alternative vision espoused by Corbyn of a more equal society and a fairer world. Even within the higher echelons of his own party, Corbyn is seen a maverick who won’t play the political games. But for the party’s grassroots who voted him as leader in overwhelming numbers, he is seen as being far more in touch with ordinary people than with the political elite.
There seems little doubt that for Jeremy Corbyn to be in office long enough to make a difference he will have to show extraordinary levels of endurance and develop the skin of a rhinoceros. But equally he may just be displaying an alternative to the economic orthodoxy of the day.
We don’t need to pray to be told of the chasm between the way of world and the way of Christ. We do need to reflect more deeply on how we can change hearts and minds and convince ourselves and others that the way of Jesus way, while the road less travelled, is a way to life in all its fullness. Amen.
From Fraser Macnaughton
The ongoing refugee crisis facing Europe is throwing up some interesting stories in terms of how the different groups involved react to the situation. For the refugees, having the chance to move to Europe invariably is viewed as a sign of future hope. For the recipients of refugees in Europe, there are mixed reactions, from welcoming and compassion, to uncertainty and anxiety, to downright hostility and an appetite to accept the fear card played by politicians. For example, in Germany, government officials have compelled a small town with just 102 people to take in approximately 750 migrants from Syria and other countries. Sumte, a small town in Lower Saxony, was informed by its local authority that it had been designated to accept over a thousand of the asylum seekers that have come to Germany over the course of 2015. The number was so high that mayor Christian Fabel first thought it was a joke, but after a storm of local protest, the figure was lowered to 750, because it was thought 1,000 would overwhelm the town’s sewage system.
The plan is to use an old office building for accommodation, but beyond that there seems to be no planning for other services to be put in place. The village of Sumte is so small that there is not even a school, let alone any shops, and public transportation is scarce to say the least.
Authorities say that the plan is to house the refugees for up to a year in the old office block while their applications for asylum are processed. However, many of those who live in Sumte believe that the lack of facilities for the refugees, who are disproportionately young men, could result in boredom, and with that comes the fear that some may resort to criminal activity. But according to some journalists, it may not just be a fear of perceived crime or sewage or infrastructure issues that are the biggest problem facing local and national government authorities. The underlying tension created by such a large influx of refugees into such a small community could well make locals question the wisdom of near limitless immigration.
In Sumte, while there has been some tub thumping by local neo-Nazis who seek to preserve Germany’s “genetic heritage,” others condemn such behaviour stating such views are incompatibly with democracy. It would appear, thus far, that tolerant values seem to be winning out in Sumte, which gives future hope to not only the refugees, but also to locals too.
Explore… Mark 13:1–8
May we have the courage of faith to speak a word of hope to those who are fearful, a word of welcome to those who are strangers, a word of comfort to those who are lost. Amen.
From Sandra Rooney
Bill Moyer’s Facebook page recently linked viewers to the story of Ursula Le Guin accepting the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters at the 2014 National Book Awards. The eminent sci-fi writer had this to say: “I think hard times are coming when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom. Poets, visionaries – the realists of a larger reality.…”
Over the last month or more, 35 leading Indian authors and poets have returned awards from India’s National Academy of Letters in response to actions of the Hindu nationalist government of Prime Minister Narendr Modi. Novelist Nayantyara Sahgal returned her award, saying it was in sympathy with “all the dissenters who now live in fear and uncertainity…” In her words, “The tide of violence against freedom of speech is rising every day.” Short story author G. S. Bhullar returned his award in protest to what he called, “The violent retrogressive forces dictating terms in the field of literature and culture.”
This action by writers, described as a “revolt,” is in response to the shape of Modi’s administration, which is seen as condoning increasingly violent intolerance. The revolt had its beginnings in September, when M. M. Kalburgi, a 76-year-old critic of Hindu idolatry, was gunned down in his home and no arrests were made. More recently, Modi failed to condemn the killing of a Muslim man by a Hindu mob, because they suspected he had killed a cow and eaten its meat. Modi is an avid Twitter user and critics point out that he has not used one Twitter post to offer condolences to the man’s family.
These incidents and others point to a growing pattern of violence against freedom of speech. Modi’s failure to confront intolerance is seen as giving tacit permission for more violence. Noted author Salman Rushdie recently spoke out in support of Sahgal and the writers’ revolt on a Twitter post, saying, “These are alarming times for free expression in India.” He reported receiving thousands of outraged responses.
At the same time, only last month, during a visit to the United States, Mr. Modi was warmly welcomed by members of the high-tech community and praised as a modernizing, progressive, open-minded leader of the world’s largest democracy.
God of the small and the large, when just doing our small part doesn’t seem to be enough, may we find the courage to confront intolerance and injustice, to speak up and show up, to be witnesses for that which is life-giving. Amen.
From Sandra Rooney
Across the United States, Americans continue to struggle to understand and respond to the all-too-frequent mass shootings taking place, particularly in school or college settings. In a recent Christian Science Monitor report, a number of folks recently weighed in on the topic following the October 5 shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon.
Christopher Kilmartin, professor of psychological science at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia, suggests that one factor he and others feel is not getting enough attention is masculinity. “The elephant in the room with…mass shootings is that almost all of them are being done by men,” he says.
Michael Kimmel, who has done extensive research on masculinity, says, “Every time it happens, we talk about guns. We talk about mental health. But we don’t talk about how all these mass shooters are male. We need to understand how masculinity affected their experience.” While mass shooters are often seen as “outliers or oddballs,” he says, “we should think of them as conformists…over-conforming to masculinity, because they perceive themselves, in some way or another, as emasculated.” They may see shooting as a way to demonstrate their masculinity. In a New York Times letter to the editor, Kimmel writes, “Unless we confront the equation of masculinity and violence, the deeper truths about school violence will elude us.”
Professor Tristan Bridges, a sociologist at The College of Brockport, State University of New York, suggests that the problem “goes straight to our culture with its changing definitions of gender roles,” with no clear milestones as there used to be as boys transitioned to men. Combine that with recent economic woes, which have derailed hopes of economic security and upward mobility, and we see men who are frustrated, angry, and feeling alienated.
Jon Davies, director of the McKenzie River Men’s Center in Eugene, Oregon, suggests that men are raised to be stoic, to suppress their emotions, and when they struggle, often the only emotion they see as sufficiently masculine is anger. Peter Langman, counselling psychologist and author on school shootings, adds that some cultural messages suggest to men that violence enhances their status, and “for people who feel powerless, getting a gun is seen as a way to suddenly have that power.”
Loving and forgiving God, we pray we may know ourselves to be loved by you and so accept and love ourselves that we are empowered to reach out to others with compassion and love. Amen.
From Paul Turley
Two weeks ago, government representatives from a group of 20 nations met and formed a “V20.” This group of nations includes some of the poorest and least-developed nations across Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Latin America, and the Pacific, and are home to approximately 700 million people.
The V20 is the “vulnerable 20,” nations who understand themselves to be in immediate danger from climate change and who feel that their voice is not being heard by the big nations of the earth.
In a statement made at its forming, the group said, “We unite for what we believe is the fundamental human rights issue threatening our very own existence today. In the absence of an effective global response, annual economic losses due to climate change are projected to exceed $400 billion by 2030 for the V20, with impacts far surpassing our local or regional capabilities.”
The V20 has formed ahead of the Paris Climate Conference, or COP21 (Conference of Parties), which will be held in Paris, France, from November 30 through December 11, 2015. Government representatives from more than 190 nations will gather to discuss a possible new global agreement on climate change that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions to avoid the catastrophic consequences of global warming.
Among that 190, some of whom are members of the V20, are the low lying coral atolls and islands of Pacific nations, many of whom are in such immediate danger that one of them, Kiribati, is actively pursuing strategies for the mass migration of its people. A little over a year ago, Kiribati – a nation of 102,000 people inhabiting 33 close-to -sea-level coral atolls – purchased 20 square kilometres of land in Fiji, 2,000 kilometres away to the south west.
There is little doubt that the small nations of the Pacific, even those with the slightly amplified voice of the V20, will have a very hard time being heard in Paris. Their plight is amplified by the stance of the two largest, most powerful and richest nations in the region – New Zealand and Australia.
During a recent meeting of the Pacific Islands Forum, New Zealand and Australia both refused to endorse a proposal by the smaller nations of the Forum for global warming to be limited to 1.5C above a pre-industrial baseline. Both larger nations are unwilling to go below the internationally-agreed limit of 2C.
At the same time, The United Nations has, thanks to Australian opposition, dropped a plan to help relocate Pacific nations peoples affected by climate change. A “climate change displacement coordination facility” that would provide “organized migration and planned relocation,” as well as compensation, to people fleeing rising sea levels, extreme weather, and ruined agriculture has been removed from a communique to be presented to the Paris conference.
It seems that getting a fair hearing if you are small, poor, or of no consequence to the rich is as difficult today as it was in Jesus day.
Explore… Mark 10:46–52
God, our technology means that we
From Paul Turley
Pope Francis is far from the most powerful person in the world. He is the leader of a tiny city state of 44 hectares (110 acres) with an armed forces with a little over 100 members. However, it is possible that the Pope is currently the most influential person on the planet.
Spiritual leader to a community of more than 1.2 billion people spread across most of the world's countries, a spiritual influence on millions more, and, since his election in 2013, a significant contributor to the important global events of our time, the pope surely understands the influence he can have.
During his recent visit to the USA, the Pope said the following at a mass in New York City, that quintessential big city: “In big cities, beneath the roar of traffic, beneath the rapid pace of change, so many faces pass by unnoticed because they have no ‘right’to be there, no right to be part of the city. They are the foreigners, the children who go without schooling, those deprived of medical insurance, the homeless, the forgotten elderly. These people stand at the edges of our great avenues, in our streets, in deafening anonymity.”
During an address to the US Congress, the pope urged the Congress to reject “a mindset of hostility”toward immigrants. And, while he did not address “hot button”issues such as same-sex marriage directly, Francis did urge US bishops to use less harsh language, be less critical, and offer a more welcoming approach. The pope encouraged the bishops to focus less on such issues and more on pastoral care.
However, it was not just what the pope said in his formal addresses; it was his wordless gestures, off-agenda meetings, and spontaneous his responses to people that indicate how well he understands his influence.
On his visit to the White House, in a country responsible for the consumption of about a fifth of the world’s total oil, the pope arrived, not in the kind gas-guzzling SUV favoured by the security services with which he was surrounded, but in a small, energy efficient Fiat. Nothing needed to be said; volumes were spoken.
This silent message is the natural outworking out of his plea to priests in 2013: “It hurts me when I see a priest or nun with the latest-model car,”he said. ”You can’t do this. A car is necessary to do a lot of work, but, please, choose a more humble one. If you like the fancy one, just think about how many children are dying of hunger in the world.”
As The New Yorker has it, “What has lifted Pope Francis above the political fray and reinvigorated his office in a way that could barely have been imagined under Pope Benedict, is his peerless ability to convey to ordinary people of all religions and political views his version of Catholicism –a version based largely on the life and teachings of Saint Francis of Assisi, the founder of the Franciscan Order. From choosing to live in a modest guest house, rather than in the Apostolic Palace, to washing the feet of a young Muslim prisoner, to inviting dozens of homeless people to tour the Sistine Chapel, Pope Francis has lifted up the papacy by puncturing its grandeur, infusing it with humanity, and, where necessary, cleverly exploiting the power of imagery.
Not power; influence.
God, teach us that greatness
From Paul Turley
When have we done enough? That is the question being asked by the young man in our scripture text. It is also the question being asked around the world with regard to the current crisis which is seeing more people on the move across the world than were displaced during the Second World War.
In the last few days the United Nations Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR, has warned that the current flow of refugees into Europe will be “the tip of the iceberg”unless there is an end to the civil war in Syria.
Syrian civilians have been caught between the civil war being fought by and against the Assad regime and the brutal crackdowns by the Islamic State as it seeks to hold and expand territory there and in Iraq.
As The Guardian has it, “Amin Awad, regional refugee coordinator for the UN high commissioner for refugees (UNHCR), said Europe needed to prepare for millions more migrants as well as work to bring an end to the Syrian conflict to prevent a bigger movement of people.”
For those of us who live in countries who are signatories to the United Nations refugee conventions, our issue is not about information about the extent of the problem. Even if we ignore conventional media and its coverage of the geo-politics that is affecting so many nations, social media is alive with the brave and heartbreaking stories of individuals in desperate plight.
We know what is happening. The question is, how much is enough? To what extent should we be following the letter of the conventions to which we are signatories, and to what extent should we be living up to the letter of those conventions?
In recent days, under intense public pressure, the Australian government, having previously declared that Australia was doing its fair share (a statement that is verifiably untrue on any number of measurements scales), has agreed to take 12,000 Syrian refugees.
The USA to has agreed to an increase. Currently, that nation has accepted only about 1,500 refugees from the Syrian crisis. According to The New York Times, "The Obama administration will increase the number of worldwide refugees the United States accepts each year to 100,000 by 2017, a significant increase over the current annual cap of 70,000."
While Germany leads the way in acceptance of refugees, its policy is of necessity being made on the run and is contradictory at best. At the end of August, government leaders were saying, “There can be no upper limit set on the intake of people who are fleeing persecution and need protection.”Three weeks later, Germany temporarily closed its borders with a Munich police spokesman saying, “Given the numbers from yesterday, it is very clear that we have reached the upper limit of our capacity.”
For people of faith and people of goodwill who may take this text as a guide, surely our response must be a willingness to do all that is necessary to provide safe haven for all who need it.
God, let us not sleep through this crisis, pretending that we are not a part of your great world and the one human family. Give us compassion for each other, courage to speak up for truth and human dignity and grace to welcome all. Amen.
From Ray McGinnis
In Trainwreck, American stand-up comedian Amy Schumer plays Amy – a variant of one of her flawed characters in her stand-up show. Her character seems to have no idea how much of her life is one big train wreck. She works as a writer at a New York men’s magazine called S’nuff. It is a smutty, superficial magazine intended to titillate and distract. Amy is dating a buffed gym-built guy named Steven, who keeps dropping unconscious clues that he may be attracted to the same gender. He also isn’t happy when he learns that Amy has been sleeping with other guys. Amy drinks, smokes marijuana, makes wisecracks about anything and everything, and hooks up with guys for casual thrills. Her sister, Kim, is happily married with a son and pregnant with a second child.
The movie begins with Amy and Kim’s father, Gordon, trying to describe to his very young daughters why he is leaving their mother for another woman. He asks them, “Would you like to play with one doll for the rest of your life?” Giving them the option of all the other dolls they could play with or buy at a store, the girls agree that they would never want to play with just one doll for the rest of their lives. In making that argument their father concludes that monogamy is a vacuous idea.
The movie skips forward 20 years and Kim is living a monogamous married life, while Amy is playing the field. “I’m just a sexual girl,” she explains. Then Amy is given an assignment to do a story about a sports medicine doctor and she faces a crisis of leaving behind her casual ways and making a commitment.
Director: Judd Apatow
Film Company: Universal Pictures
Release Date: July 17, 2015
Starring: Amy Schumer, Bill Hader, Brie Larson, Tilda Swinton, Gordon Quinn, John Cena
Focus: Amy’s boss at S’nuff Magazine gives her an assignment to do a spread on a sports medicine doctor named Aaron. Amy doesn’t know anything about sports. She doesn’t even like sports. However, once she meets Aaron she finds him different and begins to have feelings for him. She introduces him to her very difficult father, who now lives in a care facility. Her dad actually likes Aaron. Aaron is a nerd and socially awkward and hasn’t been in a relationship for six years. Later in the movie, when her father dies, Aaron is there for Amy. The ensuing crisis and emotional volatility they experience as a couple requires that Amy grow up in order for the happy ending that delights audiences and leaves them cheering.
God of brokenness and blessing, you are present with us from youth to old age. You are there nudging us toward community and relationships. Help us to be mindful of the ways that we shape our lives so that we may live in ways that open doors and keep us in tune with your spirit’s guidance. In Christ we pray. Amen.
From Ray McGinnis
It is said that, in 441 in Ireland, Saint Patrick ascended Croagh Patrick Mountain barefoot at nightfall, when he could not see the mountain trail. It was then that Saint Patrick reputedly fasted on the summit for 40 days and 40 nights during the season of Lent, following the practice and example of Jesus.
In the intervening almost 1,600 years, a tradition of repeating the climb has been marked on the last Sunday in July. More than 100,000 people visit the mountain every year, including 30,000 hikers who ascend the mountain on the last Sunday in July.
The ancient custom for the most devout climbers has been to make the pilgrimage up the 45-degree slope of loose shale and stones of the mountain “barefoot and blind” – at night and not wearing any footwear.
Most climbers start their ascent before dawn arriving at the top before the first of a series of masses takes place. The climb is 764 meters (or 2,506 feet). The Archbishop of Tuam leads the climb each year. Over 300 personnel from 11 mountain rescue teams are also involved. It typically takes two hours to ascend the mountain and one and a half hours to descend. The day of the climb is traditionally known as “Reek Sunday,” or garland Sunday.
In California, the Sierra Nevada mountain range has suffered its lowest recorded snowpack in over 500 years. For millennia, the snowpack of the Sierra Nevada mountain range has provided California with essential water. Without much snowpack, there is little runoff, and that results in a reduced flow into creeks, streams, and rivers. The result is a reduced water supply and a shortage that has caused some small communities in the Sierra Nevada to have to truck in bottled water, when water ceased to flow from kitchen and bathroom taps.
Explore… Isaiah 65:17-25
God of the mountains, you offer us a vision of harmony and peace, of abundance and blessing. Help us to consider the mountains around us, to study them, to learn from them, to enjoy and revere this part of your creation. May our eyes look unto the hills and see the work of your hands. In Christ we pray. Amen
From Ray McGinnis
Klaus Winter is a plant physiologist. He works at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. A few years ago, at a laboratory in Panama, Winter conducted an experiment on plant species. He planted ten seedlings of different tropical plant species and placed them in protective greenhouses. In some of the greenhouses, the plants were allowed to grow in a setting with daily high temperatures of 79F/26C.
In other greenhouses, he exposed the seedlings to temperatures in the range of 95F/35C to 102F/39C. At the conclusion of the study, Winter found that most of the seedlings didn’t die at the higher temperatures. Instead they thrived. Three tree species – fig, balsa, and coralwood – proved the hardiest in adapting to the higher temperatures. However, there were species of trees that didn’t do well in a tropical forest that had daily highs between 95F to 102F. This indicated that many species of insects, rodents and birds that are more sensitive to the places that they nest would have a harder time adjusting to a hotter climate.
Scientists argue that there are rare species of plants in tropical rainforests that could provide clues to sustainable future tropical forests in a future with much warmer temperatures. This will mean putting a stop to wholesale clear-cutting of rainforests. Cutting down the existing forests may prevent learning what species can best survive climate change.
In other data, scientists have observed a shift in the types of fish that survive near underwater vents that spew carbon dioxide. In studies by Vulcan Island in Italy and White Island in New Zealand, scientists learned that larger fish like tuna and marlin disappeared in these waters. If the acidity in the ocean continues to rise, it seems that the kinds of fish that humans like to eat will continue to decrease. The fish that thrived in this carbon dioxide environment were gobies and blennies. These fish are under four inches in length when fully grown. A person would have to catch a lot of these to have a filling meal, as well as get used to the bland taste.
Another study in the Lancet indicates that the impact of wildfires has a negative outcome on air pollution quality. Action by governments to reduce the carbon footprint of the human species on the world could aid health outcomes for the next generation as well as for the species that we share our planet with.
Humans may adapt and evolve. However, our relationship with the land, air, sea and the species we share the planet with will require that we learn more about the impact of our actions as a human species on the ecosystem we all share.
Explore… Jeremiah 4:23-28, Psalm 19
What does the prophet Jeremiah see when he looks ahead? What is God telling Jeremiah about what is in store for God’s creation? What is pictured in the relationship between God and creation in Psalm 19? What are scientists like Klaus Winter discovering from their laboratory experiments? How do you feel about these findings described in the summary above? What can you point to that gives you hope in the face of climate change?
God of earth, sea, and sky, you have created a world intended for harmony and balance. In the face of environmental upheaval, help us take stock of the changes in our environment at home and around our planet. Keep us mindful of our actions, large and small, as a human race. Help us imagine the generations that come after us and the legacy we will leave them. In Christ we pray. Amen.
From Fraser Macnaughton
With the advent of the Internet, the sheer mass of information about planet earth has become mind boggling. Coupled with that are the competing interests concerned with the pressing environmental issues of the day. Headlines like, “Tropical forests totalling the size of India at the risk of being cleared,” or “Carbon credit scheme increased emissions by 600 million tons,” or “Food production shocks will happen more often because of extreme weather” only serve to confuse the ordinary person. Whom to believe? It’s one scare story after another.
Perhaps one answer is to stop looking at all these conflicting media reports and go out and experience the world for ourselves. This has happened to an extent in the UK, where the ancient skills of foraging have been rediscovered. Spurred on by a mass of cookery programs that explore seasonal food and how to find delicious ingredients on your own doorstep at certain times of year, a new affection for wholesome food that grows naturally and wild (and that does not cost anything in monetary terms, only time) has been spawned. Woodland berries, nuts, mushrooms, plants with bizarre names like Fat Hen, wild fruits, and, if one lives near the coastline, shellfish like limpets, and various kinds of seaweed. All of these are heralded for their nutritional properties. Much wild food has not been tampered with or had sugar added. Nor has it been genetically modified. It has not been subject to thousands of food miles, or been transported around the world. Being out in the open and spending time close to nature, reconnecting with the natural world, has resulted, say foragers, in a marked improvement in mental health. In the words of one convert, “I could feel a connection to every animal and plant around me and it was then that my hearing and eyesight suddenly felt more acute.”
Forager Martin Denny says, “They’ve been doing it since day one in mainland Europe – in southern France families make a living from picking mushrooms. Foraging properly is like an animal grazing, plants regrow.Foragers say it can help us become more in touch with our food, and where it comes from, and that it attracts people who respect their environment. “Everyone wants fresh and local,” says Denny. “It puts people in connection to the world around them.”
May we learn to focus more on our faith story of respect for creation and all living things. May we learn from Jesus, who talked about lilies and sparrows, about seeds and figs, who engaged people’s senses with the world around them. Amen.
From Fraser Macnaughton
Songs of Praiseis an iconic British television institution that has been running for over 50 years. It is one of the few remaining UK TV programs with specific Christian content. Now the BBC has decided to broadcast an edition of Songs of Praisefeaturing a segment from a migrant camp in Calais, amid a crisis in whichat least nine people have diedsince June while attempting to cross from France into England.
The camp and the desperate attempts of its inhabitants to use the Channel Tunnel to enter the UK have become symptomatic of a growing crisis in Europe. Thousands of refugees from Syria and Iraq, coupled with many more from Libya, Darfur, Somalia and other strife-torn areas, are poised on the borders of Europe seeking a safe haven and a new life.
Some segments of the UK press have been hysterical in their reaction and the news that Songs of Praise is to feature this camp is causing a degree of apoplexy. Right-wing politicians and journalists are calling this a waste of tax payers’ money (the BBC is a public service broadcaster) and an overtly political manipulation of the program. Social media was awash with fury, with one licence fee payer saying it was “the most ridiculous thing I’ve heard in ages. The BBC has lost the plot altogether.”
Meanwhile, the film crew and presenter Sally Magnusson were given a hero’s welcome by the camp occupants. They were shown makeshift buildings made from corrugated iron and canvas, which have been designated as churches. Small worship stations and altars are dotted about. A former canon of St Paul’s Cathedral, Rev Giles Fraser, is also involved in the program. He said, “They are not illegal immigrants yet. I have no problem with the BBC filming Songs of Praise here.” He added that the camp’s church was “the real thing.”
A BBC spokesman added, “Church leaders from the Pope to the Archbishop of Canterbury have spoken out about the human response to migration and asylum which is a subject of interest to churchgoers up and down the country.”
May our actions be our prayer, as we seek ways to demonstrate the love of Christ, not just among our own friends and fellow religionists, but also among “the least of these” to whom Christ calls us to serve. Amen.
From Sandra Rooney
The incarceration rates in the United States are all too familiar, but there is a growing bipartisan consensus in the U.S. Congress that it’s time to tackle criminal justice reform. In addition to proposals such as shorter sentences for non-violent offenders and early release for some, attention is already being given to the need for re-entry programs to help offenders prepare for a different life when they are released from prison, an opportunity to create a new identity, to think differently about themselves.
Louisiana’s Re-Entry Court program allows some younger inmates to learn a trade, such as plumbing, welding, or even culinary arts. There are classes on anger management and communication. In California, San Quentin Prison – one of the largest prisons in the country – is offering college-level classes to inmates through the Prison University Project. A National Criminal Justice Reference Service study in 2013 found that in-prison college education programs effectively lowered recidivism rates.
New York’s Prison to College Pipeline (P2CP) is an initiative of John Jay College of Criminal Justice, a partnership between The University of New York (CUNY) and the New York State Department of Corrections. The goal isto increase the number of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people who go to college and succeed there. To enroll, prisoners must have finished high school, pass a reading-and-writing assessment, and be eligible for release within five years. According to Baz Dreisinger, who founded the program in 2011 with just 14 inmates, the intent is “to seize on the high expectations, the high hopes, the anticipations of coming home, take advantage of that hope and turn it to education.” Like the study cited above, a report of the P2CP program cites several studies that clearly show the connection between higher education and reduced recidivism. The cost, about $3,500 per P2CP student, is covered by private and public sources. It costs New York State about $60,000 to keep a person in prison for one year.
In the words of one P2CP participant at the Otisville Correctional Facility, “It gives you a self-worth that is unspeakable.” As Dreisinger puts it, “They know that they’re redefining themselves via education and they take it really seriously.” Success inside means opportunity outside. Students who do well are guaranteed admission into one the 18 colleges that make up the CUNY system.
We seek to live lives worthy of your love and grace and we pray for all who seek purpose and hope in the face of daunting circumstances and difficult challenges. Empower us to share your love and work to promote justice in our world. Amen.
From Sandra Rooney
PBS NewsHour recently introduced viewers to the National Dance Institute of New York. For nearly 40 years, NDI has given free dance lessons to thousands of New York public school students. NDI was founded by Jacques d' Amboise, considered one of the finest classical dancers of our time, who believes that the arts have the power to engage children and motivate them toward excellence. “The arts open your heart and mind to possibilities that are limitless. They are pathways that touch upon our brains and emotions and bring sustenance to imagination,” he says.
Amboise's convictions are echoed by Shelley Harway, educator and former District Superintendent, New York City Public Schools. She says, “There are children who live each day struggling with academics, with complicated family lives, and with emotional and physical challenges. I have seen these children leave the dance floor with a renewed spirit of hope, better able to handle the problems they face because of the inner peace they derive from the beauty of dance.” Howard Gardner, Director, Harvard University Graduate School of Education, Project Zero, says of Amboise, “He lays bare the essence of all good education: discipline, effort, beauty, struggle, joy. In the process, he opens up a universe of possibilities for all who participate…”
The majority of NDI dancers come from low-income communities. They represent a diverse population: approximately 34% identify as Hispanic or Latino; 20% as Asian; 16% as African American; and 28% as Caucasian. They learn to work together and develop personal standards of excellence, a pride of achievement and a curiosity about the world that supports their success in school and in life.
In 2003, Dr. Rob Horowitz, an education expert at Columbia University's Teachers College, conducted an in-depth evaluation of NDI's In-School Program. His report gives NDI very high ratings in its positive impact on students, listing myriad benefits: improved thinking ability and confidence, development of self-esteem, and increased parental involvement in schools. In the executive summary, Dr. Horowitz writes: “NDI engaged students in higher order thinking skills tied to cognitive, affective, and kinesthetic domains of learning.” Ellen Weinstein, NDI Artistic Director, puts it this way, “The children learn grit and tenacity and to take chances, and to learn that it's OK to make a mistake, because if they work hard and they commit to something, they're going to be successful.”
Open our eyes that we may see, open our ears that we may hear, join our bodies, our hearts and our minds that we may attain wisdom and give thanks to you. Amen
from Ray McGinnis
Pope Francis, leader of the Roman Catholic Church, hosted a gathering of 60 environmentally-friendly mayors from around the world who have shown leadership in helping to make a greener future for the planet. Pope Francis emphasized that the climate crisis hurts those who are most vulnerable – the poor of the world.
In June, the Pope issued an encyclical urging leaders of governments and “every person living on this planet” to consider what they can do to respond to a global warming crisis that is real and growing.
In 2015, the months of February, March, May and June were four of the five hottest months on record since record keeping began in 1879. This dramatic picture is provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the American Meteorological Society’s annual state of the climate report. In May, a heat wave killed over 2,000 people in India and in June 1,200 people died in a heat wave in Pakistan. The NOAA’s report underscores the Pontiff’s encyclical mandating our responsibility to care for creation and safeguard the environment for the wellbeing of future generations.
In the encyclical, the Pope contends that exploitation and destruction of the environment combined with apathy and reckless greed are a perfect storm. Leaders of nations and businesses have placed their faith in technology and forgotten that part of loving and serving God involves care for creation, the Pope warns.
The Pope invites all persons to consider the experience of consumerism in society as a distraction from choosing again what is good and making a new start. The Pope’s encyclical may not come soon enough for farming and urban communities experiencing drought. Loss of income for farmers, water rationing and water shortages as well as wildfires have galvanized citizens to demand new approaches and policies for a sustainable future.
Explore… Ephesians 4:1-16
God of creation, you have invited us to care for creation. Help us find ways to preserve what you have given us so that we may pass it on to future generations. Let us show what we are made of and prepare ourselves to face the challenges of our times, with your help. In Christ we pray. Amen.
From Ray McGinnis
The film Testament of Youth begins in pre-war Great Britain the summer of 1914, with a young Vera Brittain lobbying her intransigent father to let her go to study at Oxford, instead of staying at home in their country manor and practicing piano. Vera is determined and gets her brother, Edward, who is already attending Oxford, to persuade their father to let her write the entrance exam toward a degree in English literature. Once she is at Oxford, Vera finds herself courted by a young man named Roland, and adored by another named Victor.
War breaks out after the assassination of Archduke Francis Ferdinand on June 28, 1914. All three young men – Edward, Roland, and Victor – decide to sign up to fight in the war for the adventure, which is widely believed will be over in a matter of months. Instead of getting military training at home in England, they are quickly sent to the front lines in the trenches on continental Europe.
Vera decides she can’t stay in Oxford and study with a war going on and trains to become a nurse, eventually serving as a Voluntary Aid Detachment nurse for most of the First World War in London; Malta; and Etaples, France.
The movie is based on Vera Brittain’s memoir and the actual correspondence sent between Vera and her brother, and her fiancé, Roland.
Director: James Kent
Film company: SPC
Release date: June 5, 2015
Starring: Alicia Vikander, Kit Harington, Taron Egerton, Colin Morgan
Focus: The correspondence between Vera and Roland, and Vera and Edward detail the dawning disillusion with the thrill of war. Their prose and poetry testify to both the horrors of war and the struggle to salvage the capacity to sustain beauty, truth, and love. When Vera finds poems left to her in Roland’s military uniform, accompanying his body, she is moved to tears. What they honour in their correspondence points to something about the human spirit that is distinct from patriotism and flag-waving. The heartfelt poetry of her fallen husband inspires Vera to return to Oxford where she at last discovers what she must write in order to make peace with the devastation of war and the lost generation of dead and wounded veterans.
God of miracles, in the face of long odds you nudge us forward to imagine a different world, a different order, where love conquers fear and scarcity is overcome with plenty. Tell us stories that we may imagine new possibilities for a terrified and fearful world in need of your love and healing. In Christ we pray. Amen.
From Ray McGinnis
In the movie San Andreas, a family is in trouble. Dwayne Johnson (The Rock) plays Raymond, a Los Angeles Fire Department search-and-rescue helicopter pilot, who abandons his post to search for his daughter Blake during a horrendous earthquake that strikes across California and Nevada. On the way out of Los Angeles, Raymond rescues his estranged wife, Emma, who is about to move in with her new developer-architect boyfriend after commencing divorce proceedings with Raymond.
A team of seismologists at Caltech, led by Lawrence Hayes (played by Paul Giamatti), have been studying how to predict earthquakes and are frustrated by the government’s lack of response or help with getting the word out. Giamatti’s character witnesses the death of a colleague during the destruction of Hoover Dam – the first disaster in this disaster-laden movie – and looks constantly horrified and stunned by the data he is gaining from his team of researchers. “No one ever listens to us,” he laments.
The movie has two stories: 1) discovery of a seismic sequential-earthquake event and how to warn people of the danger, and 2) how a family broken from the accidental drowning of a teenage daughter finds a way to reconcile in the midst of earth-shaking events.
There is enough of a plot that the family story of a former four-person household and their fight to survive the metaphorical earthquake of losing a daughter/sister co-joins the non-stop action/destruction thriller in a way that is both surprising and entertaining.
Director: Brad Peyton
Film company: Warner Brothers
Release date: May 29, 2015
Starring: Paul Giamatti, Dwayne Johnson, Carla Gugino, Ioan Druffudd
Focus: Because her husband, Raymond, shuts down after the accidental death-by-drowning of one of their daughters, Emma separates from him. She issues divorce papers and plans to move in with her new, wealthy-architect boyfriend, Daniel, who is building a state-of-the-art skyscraper in San Francisco. Emma realizes her judgment about men isn’t on-target when she learns Daniel has left her other daughter, Blake, trapped in an underground parking lot when the first earthquake hits San Francisco. When Raymond rescues Emma from a towering inferno in Los Angeles, she rediscovers some of the qualities in him that brought them together in the first place. On the way to San Francisco, Emma and Raymond begin the first steps toward reconciliation and finding the love they lost.
What is the “hostility between us” that the writer of Ephesians may be referring to? What situations make us “strangers” from one another, and from God? How is Christ a foundation on which to build a dwelling place for God? Why are Raymond and Emma facing divorce proceedings? How are they brought closer together again? Does it take an earthquake to get people to reconcile in today’s world? What stories of reconciliation are signs of hope for you?
Loving God, in times of upheaval and dislocation we sometimes lose our way. The foundations shake and we become strangers to one another and to you, O God. Help us to place ourselves on a foundation that puts out the fires of hostility within us and makes possible a place to dwell with others in peace. In Christ we pray. Amen.
The ongoing angst that is being felt among many Muslim families in the UK and Europe as their offspring head off to join Islamic State in Syria or Iraq throws up so many conflicting emotions. As second- or third-generation young people who appear to be completely assimilated into Western society decide that joining up with an extremely violent terrorist organization is the thing to do, their families, who contribute richly to the diversity of the communities in which they live, are left feeling bewildered and wondering how this has possibly come about.
A photograph of children smiling broadly at the airport as, so it was believed, they headed off on a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia, demonstrates the relative normality of young people who get entangled with Isis. But police believe they may have been following in the footsteps of their brother, who travelled to Syria to fight for Isis two years ago. Indeed, the family had been watched for a number of months by police, which adds to the family bewilderment. Conversely, it is being suggested that such close monitoring may have been instrumental in the final decision to go to Isis. A family lawyer said, ‘‘[The fathers] are concerned that their children’s lives are in danger. The concern is for the well-being and safety of the children. “The fathers are distraught, they feel helpless and they don’t know what to do. They want the children out of harm’s way.”
It has caused a degree of consternation in their local community in England, where neighbours described the families as normal and quiet, and the children attending good local schools.
All manner of explanations have been put forward for this new phenomenon: generational conflict and dislocation; the upsurge of social media, which older generations, adhering to a different set of cultural values, do not understand; disaffection from being caught between Western and Islamic culture. The perceived excitements of and attraction to a cause disapproved of by family, lack of communication, and poor judgement have all been highlighted as contributing factors. These, too, can be observed within our own faith communities and can be source of tension and misunderstanding.
For many Muslim families in the West, who make such a contribution to interfaith relations and who are pillars of the community, the feeling of acute embarrassment and shame at the behaviour of a small number of their offspring is very difficult.
May we reach out to others of all faiths, work harder to understand their ways, for in knowledge lies trust, and in trusting relationships lies wholeness for all. Amen.
From Fraser Macnaughton
Nowhere can the feeling of rejection be felt more than across much of Europe just now. Each week European countries are taking increasingly desperate and extreme measures to control and keep out the hundreds of thousands of refugees migrating from all across the Middle East and North Africa. The latest country to do so is Hungary, which is proposing a 110-mile long barrier along its border with Serbia. “This is a necessary step,” the government’s spokesman, Zoltán Kovács, told the Guardian by phone from Budapest. “We need to stop the flood.” In the same vein, the foreign minister of Hungary maintained that the 13-foot tall fence would not contravene international law and was necessary to “defend” his country. The foreign ministry is looking for more support from other European countries to come together with a joint European solution. On the other hand, Serbia’s Prime Minister expressed his surprise at such a move, maintaining that this was only one of many routes migrants use to get into Europe.
With memories of the Berlin Wall and all the misery it brought to Europe after World War II not far removed from current memory, as well as the controversial wall built by the Israelis around the West Bank, many realize that barriers are not the answer to what is fast becoming one of the major human catastrophes of the century.
However, the right-wing government in Hungary has been trying to rally support through a poster campaign with the slogan,“If you come to Hungary, don’t take Hungarians’ jobs!" Indeed, it would appear that parts of the Hungarian ruling party are all too keen to portray the immigrants as extremists, suggesting that they should all be put into internment camps. So far this year, at least 53,000 people (mainly from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq) have requested asylum in Hungary – more than the total for all of 2014.
The gospel imperative to welcome the stranger into our midst is a challenge to us all. It is also a mark of what we can accomplish, because if we look back to our own histories each of us probably lives in a community or country that has seen new people move in all the time.
Have we become so selfish as a society that we no longer care about the plight of the less fortunate? May we work tirelessly to live out the values of the Kingdom so that, working together, we can really accomplish a realm of justice, peace and love – for all. Amen.
From Sandra Rooney
Some will remember Johnny Appleseed, or Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax, or Jean Gioni's The Man Who Planted Trees, the parable about a shepherd who took on the task of planting 100 acorns a day in an effort to reforest his desolate region in the foothills of the French Alps. Today another man has earned the distinction of that title, David Milarch.
Milarch is a third-generation nurseyman with over 40 years of experience in propagation and reforestation. His awards are many and the stories about his work have appeared in many places, from The New York Times, to the Tree Care Industry’s magazine, and Psychology Today. Jim Robins, science writer for The Times, tells Milarch’s story in his recently released book, The Man Who Planted Trees: Lost Groves, Champion Trees, and an Urgent Plan to Save the Planet.
In his book and blog, Robbins suggests “there is almost no environmental problem that can’t be helped by the planting of more trees” – trees, which he describes as “a sophisticated living eco-technology.” To make a long story short, “They give us clean water, clean air, provide wildlife habitat, food, shelter, medicine, fertilizers, and much, much more. . .they create and perpetuate the conditions for life to exist and flourish.” But we have in the past and continue today to cut them down with little regard for the long-term consequences.
David Milarch bucked the scientific belief that a tree more than 80 years old couldn’t be cloned. For over 20 years, Milarch and his sons Jared and Jake worked “to crack the code.” They now have a system for cloning the world’s oldest trees and have to date propagated 147 species of the most ancient trees on the planet. There are now 147 collections of trees, alive and growing from the cloned mother trees. Why clone old growth trees? Jake Milarch answers simply, “proven longevity.” When a 3,000 year-old tree, which has been through a lot of environmental stress, is cut down, the genetics that enabled it to survive here on earth are gone.
In 2008, the family founded Archangel Ancient Tree Archive: it’s mission, to propagate the world’s most important old growth trees before they are gone, archive the genetics of ancient trees in living libraries around the world for the future, and reforest the Earth with offspring of these trees to provide the myriad of beneficial ecosystem services essential for all life forms to thrive.
Explore. . .1 Samuel 17:(1a, 4-11, 19-23), 32-49
Prayer links. . .
We give thanks for “the sun, and the rain, and the apple seed,” for the amazing knowledge inherent in all of creation and for those who use their gifts to unlock the secrets of life that connect us all. Amen.
Learn more. . .
Send a question or note
Contact the Publisher
Published by: WOOD LAKE PUBLISHING INC.