Past Spirit Sightings (The Archives)
Global inequality and the gap between rich and poor countries is ever widening. Many of the world’s seemingly intractable problems stem from this inequality. In a recent report, the charity Oxfam has found that the world’s six wealthiest countries – which together make up more than half the global economy – host fewer than nine percent of the total refugee population. The report entitled ‘“A poor welcome from the world’s wealthy,” states that human-engendered crisis situations such as war, famine, environmental degradation, as well as civil strife and institutional breakdown, have resulted in record numbers of people fleeing their homes, many to neighbouring countries that are “ill-equipped to help.”
The report states that the world’s six wealthiest countries – the U.S., China, Japan, Germany, the U.K. and France, which together contribute 56.6 percent of global GDP – host just 8.88 percent of the over 15 million people currently displaced outside their home countries. Over 50 percent of the total refugee population is hosted by six states that contribute 1.9 percent of global GDP – Jordan, Turkey, the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Pakistan, Lebanon, and South Africa.
The report accuses these wealthy states, and others, of not only contributing to, but profiting from levels of immigration not seen since the Second World War.
“For example, a surge in weapons purchased by Saudi Arabia (including from the U.K. and the U.S.), which is leading a coalition of nations fighting in Yemen, helped push global arms sales up more than 10 percent in 2015,” the report finds.
The report also accuses the European Union of “misusing aid” to limit numbers of people seeking asylum in Europe. There has been a recent deal with Turkey which is keen to join the EU, which sees increased pressure being brought to bear to prevent people making the hazardous sea journey from Turkey to Europe. Mark Goldring, chief executive of Oxfam GB, commenting on the report said, “It is a complex crisis that requires a coordinated, global response with the richest countries doing their fair share by welcoming more refugees and doing more to help and protect them wherever they are.”
On July 1, across the UK and Europe, people were drawn together to commemorate the centenary of the Battle of the Somme, one of the bloodiest of World War I, which began on July 1, 1916. More than a million men were killed or wounded, on all sides, during the five-month conflict. The British suffered nearly 60,000 casualties on the first day alone.
Throughout the day and across many countries, ceremonies were held. At 07:28 BST, a UK-wide two-minute silence marked the start of the battle. In the evening, thousands of people, including members of the Royal Family, attended a ceremony in France. The Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and Prince Harry were among those present at the Thiepval Memorial, located close to the battlefields of the Somme. In the shadow of its imposing walls, with the names of 72,000 men who fought there, but were never found, royalty, heads of state, and actors paid tribute to what happened there with the words of those who lived it.
Also throughout the day, across the UK, “ghost Tommies” appeared in locations as distant as Chester, Glasgow, Newcastle, and Sheffield. The living memorial involved some 1,500 volunteers, men dressed as WWI soldiers. They appeared at shopping centres, train stations, high streets, and beaches. The volunteers, from all manner of professions, were aged between 17 and 52, reflecting the ages of the men who would have fought in the Somme.
The “ghost Tommies” didn’t speak, but each carried a card with the name of the soldier they represented, and his age, if known. All of 1,500 men represented died on that first day of fighting.
National Theatre head Rufus Norris and artist Jeremy Deller were behind the project, which Norris described as “a powerful way to remember the men who went off to fight 100 years ago.”
Explore… Luke 11:1–13
Sometimes listening means hearing hard truths from the past. That’s the story of truth and reconciliation commissions, many of which have been established over the years, to discover and reveal past human rights violations. While the details of how such commissions have functioned differ, they are intended to focus on the past, to investigate events that took place over a period of time, to hear from the affected population and tend toward restorative rather than retributive justice. In the case of South Africa, for example, those who had committed human rights abuses under Apartheid were invited to appear before the commission, where they could admit their guilt. If they did that and expressed true regret, their punishments could be reduced. The reports of such commissions also can provide proof against historical revisionism regarding state-sponsored crimes.
On May 20, during her inaugural address, Taiwan’s first female president, Tsai Ing-wen, announced she would establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to “address the historical past,” and “pursue true social reconciliation.” Among the many issues facing the new president are relations with Beijing and the long legacy of Taiwan’s authoritarian past.
The commission will be asked to investigate human rights abuses committed during the military rule of the Kuomintang (KMT), the nationalist party of Chiang Kai-shek, which fled to the island as the communists took power. Thousands of Taiwanese were killed by the KMT and the hope is that by uncovering the truth of that period the divisions within the country can be overcome. If successful in owning up to its dark past, it is even thought that Taiwan might serve as a model for China in coming to grips with the horrific past of the Cultural Revolution. Tsai said in her speech that taking to heart the mistakes of the past could move Taiwan forward, and if both nations could admit the errors of their darkest periods, it might be a step toward their reconciliation.
Bruce Jacobs, Emeritus Professor of Asian Languages and Studies at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, who has studied the period, suggests that while it is probably too late to redress the criminal activity as most of the criminals have either died or are extremely old, the Commission could explore the criminal behaviour of the Chiang Kai-shek and Chiang Chin-kuo governments, which committed massive human rights abuses against the Taiwanese. He also said that this understanding would become clear in new textbooks, which he hopes will result from Taiwan's Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Mark Harrison writes in the East Asia Forum, “the scars left in Taiwanese society by martial law are very deep,” and he suggests that how Tsai's government deals with them will be her greatest challenge, and “perhaps, her most enduring legacy.”
Homelessness, even in our affluent countries, is undeniable. Fortunately, governments, local and federal, are beginning to take the problem seriously, and civic groups are beginning to become engaged as well.
Two recent stories spotlight very different approaches to addressing the concern. One comes from the City of Los Angeles, where plans are coming together to turn rundown motels and hospitals into efficiency apartments for homeless veterans. Back in 2009, President Obama and the Secretary of the VA announced the ambitious goal of ending veteran homelessness by 2015. While the Los Angeles announcement missed this deadline, their plan, nevertheless, may prove to be a model for other communities.
The arrangement calls for developers to purchase the rundown properties and turn them into efficiency apartments. Veterans will be able to use vouchers from the Department of Veteran Affairs for their rent. Supportive services, including case management and counselling, will also be provided. Additional funding will come from bonds issued specifically for funding housing for poor and homeless veterans.
The other story comes from Eugene, Oregon, where a large, tree-shaded church parking lot with a cluster of “Conestoga huts” has been home to otherwise homeless people for the last several years. This experiment, made possible under the umbrella of St. Vincent de Paul of Lane County’s overnight parking program has been so successful, for both the residents of the huts and the congregation of the Episcopal Church of the Resurrection, they are planning an upgrade they’re calling Hospitality Village.
Conestoga huts are very basic, 6'x10' shelters, constructed of simple materials, with two layers of insulation, up off the ground to stay dry during rain, and with a single lockable door. With donations of money and materials, the congregation plans to replace the huts with tiny 12'x8' houses that will have both heat and light. Like the Los Angeles plan, they also intend to provide counselling services.
Much of the impetus for Hospitality Village has come from parishioner Alex Daniell, who says he is “a house designer and builder at heart,” even though he made his living as a stock analyst. He’s been studying small housing ideas for some time and thinking about how it might be possible for low income folks to have a job, maybe a bike, and low enough rent to make it all possible. Now, with full support from the congregation, Hospitality Village is being born.
Vinegar has been around for over 7,000 years. It was first discovered around 5,000 BC by accident when some grape juice turned into wine and then into vinegar. In French, the word for vinegar means “sour wine.” It can be made from a range of carbohydrates such as dates, yams, beets, carrots, and apples. Vinegar was initially used to help preserve food. But, over time, people found that it could also be used to address a number of health issues.
For instance, apple cider vinegar might seem almost like a novelty because it’s not a common ingredient outside of a recipe that calls for a teaspoon of it in a sauce or dressing. But modern studies are confirming the common wisdom of ancient peoples, who used apple cider vinegar as a deodorant, to remove dandruff, to ease sinus congestion, sore throat, and digestive problems.
In our modern world, we have the convenience of drug stores and pharmacies. A prescription is often easily obtained, or we pick up non-prescription products that we’ve seen advertised on TV. We may frown upon the wisdom of our ancestors or consider it merely quaint. But often products like apple cider vinegar can open a window to a simpler way to address basic hygiene, household cleaning, and maintenance of our own health.
Chicago physician Dr. Joseph Mercola, author of the 2015 New York Times bestseller Effortless Healing: 9 Simple Ways to Sidestep Illness, Shed Excess Weight, and Help Your Body Fix Itself, recommends apple cider vinegar. A 2014 study reported in the Journal of Food Science suggested that introducing apple cider vinegar into one’s diet helps reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases.
Explore…2 Kings 5:1–14
Hello, My Name is Dorisis a comedy starring Sally Field as a woman who has lived her entire adult life caring for her aging mother and living with her in their Long Island home. The movie starts with the funeral for Doris’ mother. This change brings into focus the choices she’s made over her life. When Doris was in her 20s, she decided not to get married to her fiancé when he announced that he got a job in Arizona and marriage would mean moving away from her mom in Long Island. Doris has been working at data-entry in a fashion company on the west side of Manhattan for many years. As she is near retirement, Doris has been kept on in an administrative role despite a series of company layoffs. Then John arrives from the West Coast, 20-something and dishy. He makes conversation to be social, but Doris takes his conversation as a come-on and begins to imagine he is the love she’s been saving herself for all these years.
The highly anti-social Doris, who is a hoarder, refuses to sort any of the stuff in her Long Island home, much to her brother and sister-in-law’s annoyance, as they want to sell the house. Doris is very naïve and awkward. Viewers may find themselves audibly telling Doris not to do the next thing she sets her mind to in her romantic pursuit of her workmate, John. Doris let’s a longtime girlfriend, Roz, know she is interested in John. Roz’s grand-daughter helps Doris create a Facebook account with a fake photo. She sends John a message under her alias and he confirms her “friend” request. Doris finds out more about what kind of music John likes and ends up going to a live performance of an alternate indie-electronic rock group on a hunch that John might be going. She sees him there and this leads to a growing friendship. John, unaware that Doris has the “hots” for him, later introduces Doris to his girlfriend.
Director: Michael Showalter
Film company: Columbia Pictures
Release date: April 22, 2016
Starring: Sally Field, Max Greenfield, Beth Behrs, Tyne Daly, Alex Jennings, Jim Broadbent
Focus: Doris’ girlfriend from her childhood, Roz, has provided a rare social outlet throughout Doris’ lonely life. Roz has spent many nights with Doris playing board games and solving 1,000-piece puzzles. Over dinner, Roz expresses her worry that Doris is making a fool of herself trying to start a romance with John. Doris thinks she has finally got a chance to break out of the regret and boredom of her life and the safety she has created living in her childhood home. Is John her only chance for a more vibrant way of living? Or are there other ways for her to overcome the sadness with which she privately copes?
Explore…2 Kings 2:1–2, 6–14
From Ray McGinnis
When Chris Byrne returned to his home town of Fort McMurray, in northern Alberta, he was one of the first residents back in the community after a wildfire caused the evacuation of 88,000 residents. Because he worked in local media, Byrne, a deejay at the local radio station Rock 97.9, arrived back in the community on 29 May before the temporary evacuation orders were lifted. Byrne imagined his fellow residents returning uncertain of what they would face.
The wildfire had begun on May 1. By May 21, it had consumed over 1,246,510 acres of land, which included several thousand acres in the neighbouring province of Saskatchewan. In Fort McMurray alone, it had destroyed over 2,400 buildings.
With thousands residents about to return to their smoldering city, Byrne got an idea. On Highway 63 there was a sign at the city perimeter that read “Welcome to Fort McMurray.” In light of the evacuation and the determination to rebuild, Byrne wrote the word “HOME” on a piece of plastic he found at the radio station. He went to the highway sign and with duct tape changed the sign to read “Welcome Home Fort McMurray.”
Since then, a video of Byrne climbing up to put the word HOME over the word TO has been posted, and hundreds of thousands of people have seen Byrne’s gesture. Said Byrne, “It’s brought some people to tears. And I drove down there, and people are honking as they drive by, and I had to take a moment to kind of breathe that in.”
People have been driving by the welcome sign since 1962, when the community had fewer than 2,000 residents and changed its name from McMurray to Fort McMurray. People may read the amended sign in silence, but the message it speaks reflects a new determination within the community to be resilient.
Explore… 1 Kings 19:1–4, 8–15a
Nuclear energy is used in many parts of the world to generate power. We know that if we are willing to use this power, we must also be willing to take responsibility for what we do with the waste products of this industry.
Australia is a sparsely populated continent and might seem to the casual observer to be an obvious place for a nuclear waste dump. However, while it might be sparsely populated, Australia is not the empty land, or terra nullius – the European legal fiction that enabled the 18th-century British invaders to pretend that they had discovered the place, that the land was empty and available for their possession. At the time of European invasion, more than 600 Aboriginal nations lived in Australia, and while many were decimated or completely wiped out by massacre, disease, and criminal neglect, Aboriginal Australia lives on and continues its unbroken physical and spiritual connection with the land.
Recently, the government of the state of South Australia – after many months of consultation and the writing of a major report – designated Wallerberdina station near Barndioota in the Flinders Ranges as the preferred site for a dump.
The site is owned by a South Australian politician, Senator Grant Chapman. However, the site is also a part of Adnyamathanha Aboriginal country. And while Senator Chapman is more than happy to sell part of his property to the government for the dump, many Adnyamathanha are not.
Adnyamathanha woman Regina McKenzie said the local indigenous community has been shattered by the announcement.
“It was shock and then a lot of emotion, myself and my sister said it’s like getting news of a death, that’s the kind of emotion we felt,” she said. “Our culture in that area is being ignored, it’s not good for our area, I don’t think. It’s something we will fight against, we don’t want a waste dump in our area whatsoever.”
Resources minister Josh Frydenberg insists that a final decision has not yet been taken and said further consultation and analysis would need to be undertaken. Yet he also announced that, “Local residents will be given 12 months to negotiate a community package, with up to $2 million expected to be made available for projects.”
However, the Adnyamathanha and other local Aboriginal communities say they will continue to resist, “burying poison in our land.” And this will not be their first struggle against the nuclear industry.
Karina Lester, an Anungu woman and the granddaughter of Yami Lester, who was blinded by the British nuclear tests at Maralinga in the north of South Australia more half a century ago, was part of a successful campaign in the late ’90s to stop a dump on their land. In that fight, the state government sided with the Anungu. This time the government is in favour of a dump.
Explore…1 Kings 21:1–10, (11–14), 15–21a
From Paul Turley
“There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.” ― Mahatma Gandhi
When we think of famine, we often think of Sub-Saharan Africa, where we have been used to hearing about and seeing famines come and go for many decades with devastating results. In the 2010 to 2012 famine that hit Somalia, more than a quarter of a million people perished. One area of the world we do not often think of first with regard to famine is the Middle East. Yet there is a famine unfolding at this moment in the poorest Middle Eastern country, Yemen.
The population of the Middle East’s poorest country is 27 million. Currently, the United Nations estimates that more than seven and a half million people face severe food shortages and are “one step” from famine.
However, Yemen, according to the U.N.’s John Ging, seems to no longer be at the top of the foreign aid concerns of countries around the world. According to Ging, the U.N. appeal for $1.8 billion to help more than 13 million Yemenis this year is just 16 percent funded despite Yemen being declared one of the U.N.’s highest-level humanitarian emergencies. One of the world’s wealthiest nations and a neighbour to Yemen, Saudi Arabia, has yet to make an aid contribution this year.
Yemen is in the midst of a civil war. Or at least that is one way of describing the ongoing fighting. The other is that Yemen is the battleground for wider Middle East tensions. There are a number of groups who benefit from the ongoing conflict. The main insurgent group, the Sufi Houthis who have held the Yemeni capital, Sana’a, since 2014 and the incumbent President Abd-Rabbu Mansur Hadi are the main players, but outside groups like al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) are able to use the chaos to their wider advantage. Each also has a motive to impede the peace process.
Regardless of the cause of the conflict and its prospects for a peaceful end (which suffered a setback when the peace process broke down in Switzerland last year), people are suffering and the food security situation is getting worse. The United Nations says that as of the beginning of 2016, 180,000 children are suffering from malnutrition. And while they are not responsible for their situation and may not even understand why they suffer, without our help, their suffering will continue.
Explore…1 Kings 17:8–16, (17–24)
God, save us from despair and weariness when we think of our brothers and sisters who are suffering. May we not give up on your call for us all to be one human community. May we never stop working for the world you want, where everyone belongs and everyone has enough. Amen.
From Paul Turley
The Sumatran rhinoceros (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) is one of the most endangered animals on Earth. Experts estimate that there are now only about 100 individual animals living in the fragmented and diminishing rainforests of Southeast Asia.
So the news two weeks ago of the birth of a Sumatran rhino at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary on the island of Sumatra in Indonesia was good news for the world, for those who are trying to breed the animals in captivity and protect the remaining wild population, and for the rhino population.
“I burst into tears, because it was just such a special moment and such a joyous occasion,” said Susie Ellis, the head of the International Rhino Foundation.
This birth is only the fifth to have occurred in a breeding facility and such a rare and precious offspring needs much care. This newest rhino will be under 24 hour surveillance and protection for the next six or seven years before being mature enough to mate. It took zoologists 17 years of careful study of the rhino before the first animal was born in captivity at the Cincinnati Zoo in 2001.
In the wild, the Sumatran rhino is under constant threat from the clearing of their forest habitat for pulp for making paper and to make way for palm oil plantations. The species is also under pressure because of poaching. The horn of the rhino and other body parts fetch high prices on the black market for use in traditional Chinese medicine.
In a world where the United Nations Environment Program estimates the loss due to extinction at between 150 to 200 plant, insect, bird and mammal species every 24 hours – 1000 times the “natural” or “background” rate, and the greatest rate of extinction since the dinosaurs disappeared 65 million years ago – the birth of one small animal might not seem like a lot to celebrate. As Susan Ellis says, “One birth doesn’t save the species, but it’s one more Sumatran rhino. Every birth counts.”
Explore… Psalm 96
God, despair is easy and natural when we face the destruction our world at our own hands. Hope is hard and requires us to work together in community. Give us the courage and tenacity we need to be your hopeful people, not giving into despair and hopelessness but living with our eyes trained on what can be and what will be as we trust and work for love, joy, and peace. Amen.
From Fraser Macnaughton
At present in European media, there are countless stories of how people are reacting to the migrant crisis. Refugees have been coming from war-torn lands such as Syria, Somalia, Iraq, and Afghanistan in large numbers. They seek to better their lives in Europe where some countries, notably Germany and Sweden, have opened their borders to these desperate people. Others, such as the UK, have been reluctant to take more than a handful of refugees. Right-wing groups are fearful of large influxes of foreigners to their countries and are taking more extreme measures to stem the flow of people.
In Austria, attempts to build a fence on the border with Italy, which has many landing points of refugees coming by sea, have been met with violent protest. The famous Brenner Pass is one of the main routes used by migrants to access Germany. In many European countries, there has been a rise in right-wing and anti-Islamic protest groups angry at governments who open their borders to large numbers of migrants. This has prompted counter activity from left-wing groups who organize demonstrations, welcoming refugees and migrants. Inevitably, violent clashes often ensue between rival groups.
In this situation, which is one of the most critical for Europe as a whole, the voice of wisdom struggles to be heard. There are many different voices. Often, depending on where they emanate, whether from a front line country like Greece, or from one more remote from the immediate impact of large numbers of migrants, the voices can be poles apart. Meanwhile, refugees and migrants themselves are now helping others to make the perilous journey, to find relatives or communities where they would be welcomed. But listening for the voice of wisdom amongst the clamour of voices is increasingly difficult.
Amid the clamour of the world and its media voices, may we find space for the Voice of Wisdom and the creative spirit to discern what it might be saying to us about our community our land and our world. Amen.
From Fraser Macnaughton
There is a long and unbroken tradition in the UK of celebrating Royal jubilees, weddings, coronations, and special birthdays with the lighting of beacons – whether they’re on top of mountains, churches, or castle battlements; on town and village greens, farms, or in country parks; or along the beaches of the coastline. The lighting of beacons creates a chain of celebration. Most recently this happened to mark the Queen’s 90th birthday. The last major beacon celebration was on the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee on June 4, 2012. To kick off her 90th birthday celebrations, the Queen herself lit the first beacon at Windsor Castle setting off a chain of beacons lit throughout the United Kingdom. Members of the Army Cadet Force took beacons to the top of the four highest peaks in the United Kingdom – Ben Nevis in Scotland, Mount Snowdon in Wales, Scafell Pike in England, and Slieve Donard in Northern Ireland. The beacons were constructed in a variety a ways, from special gas-filled brazier to traditional bonfires and replica beacons placed on top of posts that recalled the days before lighthouses along the coastline.
Since time immemorial, the light of beacons has relayed important messages across the land. Hilltops were always ready to warn the population of invasion or seaborne raids, and to relay news of important births or deaths.
In many ways, this kind of celebration using firelight resonates with of many of the themes of Pentecost, when, the story tells us, it was as if the apostles almost had little beacons of fire on their heads.
May the Spirit of Pentecost blow among us and instill in us a sense of awe and wonder as we celebrate life, community, and following in the Way of Jesus together. Amen.
From Fraser Macnaughton
Twenty-seven years ago there occurred the worst disaster ever at a British soccer match when 96 people died watching Liverpool play Nottingham forest in the English cup semi-final at Hillsborough soccer stadium in Sheffield. Most of the supporters who died were crushed to death as gates were opened to let them into the ground without checks being made as to whether they had the correct tickets.
The local police force, backed up by the national media, blamed fans for the deaths. Some of the media headlines were lurid, referring to fans being drunk, stealing from the dead, and preventing medics from reaching the injured. However, some 29 years later, an inquest jury has found that in fact the actions of South Yorkshire police officers were the principal cause of the disaster. In a verdict that represents one of the most damning indictments of a British police force, the jury answered 14 questions about what happened at the football groundincluding the fact that the 96 fans were killed unlawfully.
It was only through the dogged perseverance of the families and relatives who were determined to clear the names of their loved ones that the truth of that day has come to light. All through the various enquiries and investigations, the collective will of the relatives and families and the rock solid belief that blame had been wrongly attributed gave them the succor to continue their case in the face of a torrent of slurs and media scapegoating, not only of the fans who attended on the day but by implication all Liverpool fans.
Families in the Hillsborough Justice Campaign said in a statement read outside the court that the verdicts “completely vindicate the families’ long fight for justice.”
Prosecutors will now examine evidence to see if there is a case to be made for criminal proceedings. Only by their struggle for the common good has this group of ordinary people been strong enough to take on the forces of the establishment and to achieve a just outcome for the deceased and injured.
Explore… Acts 16:16–34
We pray for all victims of injustice that they may persevere in their cause, be strong in their faith, and know that there are others who are able to offer prayerful support and that, where their struggle is just, there too is the Spirit of Christ at work. Amen.
From Sandra Rooney
We’ve all seen pictures of the conditions of those who make their living scavenging dumps near major cities around the world. In 1992, Bert Looij and his wife, Margriet, who are Dutch, had occasion to visit an informal Roma settlement located at Pata Rât, a dumpsite located just outside Cluj, the second-largest city in Romania. What they found there fit that image – makeshift shelters, people sleeping under plastic, children bitten by rats, and families extremely vulnerable to the loss of everything due to fires. After Bert and Margriet returned home from that trip, Bert found the experience continued to grip his heart and before long the couple decided to move to Romania.
The Roma, commonly called gypsies, who have faced discrimination and rejection by mainstream society for generations, continue to suffer today due to lack of employment opportunities, education, malnutrition, and poverty. When the Looijs returned to Romania, they began by working with the families living in and around the dump, who harvested glass and plastic bottles to recycle. Bert worked alongside the men harvesting the bottles, as it is called, and Margriet with the women cleaning them. Even this modest source of income disappeaered when the dump closed last year. Some were able to find other jobs, but employment is always a struggle for Roma.
Projects among the poorest Roma date back to 1991 and include schools and tutoring, rehabing houses, road improvments, and sewers. Looij also works tirelessly as an advocate for the Roma. Today he is executive director of ProRroma, a foundation started in March 2003, as a collaboration between Romania and the Netherlands. ProRroma operates throughout Romania, with offices based in Cluj-Napoca, a city of about 300,000, located in northwestern Romania. With ProRroma, Looij has focused on four Roma camps, where some 470 families and 1,100 children are living.
One young man Looij has helped, Janos Guzman, is now part of ProRroma’s small staff. Orphaned at 7, living on the steets at 19, he knows firsthand what it means to have someone like Looij, who can offer help and hope for a better life. Asked why he does the work he does, Looij says simply,“I help them because nobody else is helping them.”
Creator and redeemer, we pray we may be alert to the call, however it comes to us, and may we have the courage to answer with lives of compassion and joy. Amen.
From Sandra Rooney
After years of incarcerating those with drug addictions, there seems to be a shift in the U.S. from punishment to treatment and prevention, and holding medical providers accountable for responsible prescriptions.
Two years ago, Gov. Peter Shumlin of Vermont used his entire annual message to address what he called “a full-blown…crisis” in opiate addiction in Vermont. (Opioid-related deaths in the U.S. rose beyond 28,000 in 2014, and have quadrupled since then.) Instead of jail, nonviolent offenders in Vermont are now given the option of going into treatment. These efforts to reduce opioid prescriptions and to improve treatment for addicts is catching on, and Shumlin thanks Vermonters for “changing their attitudes about addiction and opioid addiction.”
Earlier this year, the country’s rising abuse of heroin and other opioids dominated a meeting of the National Governors Association. Following Vermont’s lead, the nation’s governors are moving to strategies that treat illegal drug users rather than jail them. The shift is also evident in public opinion, with some two-thirds of Americans typically saying that they support providing treatment over long prison sentences.
Last month, the Obama administration announced a series of initiatives aimed at curbing America’s opioid addiction epidemic, steps that would make it easier to obtain medication-based treatment, expand Medicaid coverage, and increase availability of a drug that saves people from overdoses. Noting that more people are killed because of opioid overdose than from traffic accidents, the President highlighted the administration’s proposals as he participated in a panel at the National Rx Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit in Atlanta.
In January, the White House 2017 budget recommendations included over one billion dollars to combat opioid addiction at state and federal levels. Bi-partisan support from members of Congress indicates the severity of the issue.
“Overprescribing of opioid painkillers has fueled the nation’s addiction crisis,” according to a report from the National Governors Association’s Health and Human Services Committee. “Most of the heroin addicts we treat started by using prescription opiates,” Brian McAlister, the CEO of the Full Recovery Wellness Center in Fairfield, N.J. Just last month the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new voluntary guidelines aimed at doctors prescribing painkillers.
Merciful God, may we be prepared to open our hearts and minds to new ideas, new possibilities, new ways of being. May we have the courage to reach out in compassion to those who are different, whose ways seem strange or are hard to understand. Amen.
From: Sandra Rooney
Daily the media carry stories – from all around the globe – of the desperate plight of migrants. In a recent issue of Notre Dame Magazine, Marisel Moreno, an associate professor of U.S. Latino/a literature in the school’s Department of Romance Lanugages and Literatures, reflects on a recent faculty seminar on the U.S.-Mexico border. Prior to crossing the border into Nogales, the group participated in a program organized by Tucson Samaritans, held at Southside Presbyterian Church, the birthplace of the Sanctuary Movement of the 1980s, which provided safe haven for Central American migrants fleeing civil war.
The cross-border experience included joining volunteers at the Kino Border Initiative shelter, where migrants deported from the U.S. are given hot meals, clothing, limited medical care, and something more. Moreno noted that they had been reminded that morning that “being present” for the migrants, listening to their stories, was as important as serving them food. She listened to a 25-year-old woman from Chiapas, where extreme poverty had forced her to leave her 3-year-old daughter with her grandmother and to make the perilous crossing into the U.S. in hopes of finding a job. Apprehended and deported, she now faced two equally dangerous options, to make her way back home through cartel-controlled territory, or try again to enter the U.S.
Moreno listened to other migrants with equally desperate stories, being left behind by the “coyotes” who guide them across the border; walking for days in the harsh desert terrain, lost and without water and food, trying to get back to children in the U.S.; Central Americans seeking asylum after escaping death threats from gangs in their home countries.
Seminar participants also met with a forensic anthropologist at the Pima County Medical Examiner’s office, who tells them that “migrants’ deaths ‘are acceptable’” in the U.S., and how they do what they can to humanize the deaths and notify families when they are able to establish identities.
The wall and surveillance technology, as well as the increased number of Border Patrol agents, is funnelling migrant traffic through the most remote and most deadly areas of the Sonoran Desert. The theory is that the harder you make it, the less likely the migrants are to try. The theory doesn’t take desperation into account.
For Moreno, seeing the border realities and hearing the migrants’ stories reinforces her belief that we need to ask questions about the policies being put in place to protect the border: “Can the U.S. Border Patrol use more humane methods? Can we make sure that the human rights of incarcerated migrants are respected? Can we stop criminalizing undocumented immigrants and start seeing them for who they are – mostly desperate fellow human beings who are willing to risk their lives for those they love?”
Gracious God, we find ourselves in a world full of struggle and pain. May we have the courage to step out of our comfort zone and be that compassionate presence that may make all the difference. Amen.
From Ray McGinnis
Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justiceis an action/adventure movie. It is loosely based on the DC comic book series that, in 1954, began to feature Batman and Superman in the same story. Often, the story included Batman gaining superpowers in order not to be overshadowed by Superman. The stories often explored the camaraderie, antagonism, and friendship between these two superheroes. From the first comic book in 1941, Lex Luthor was Superman’s archenemy. Luthor is a power-hungry, American billionaire businessman, scientist, inventor, and philanthropist. He’s also a psychopath. Luthor lives in the city of Metropolis and is determined to destroy Superman.
In the movie adaptation of this decades-long comic book series, Superman is saving Metropolis from superhuman predators intent on destroying the city. Lex Luthor wants to set a trap for Superman. Meanwhile, Batman, who grew up in Gotham City, sees Superman as an alien who doesn’t really understand how things work here on earth. Both are invited in their alias personas of Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent to a philanthropic party hosted by Lex Luthor. Batman obtains a file from Luthor’s computer. However, the file offers a narrative that paints Superman as an enemy and a danger to Batman. Convinced by what the file from Lex Luthor’s computer suggests, Batman decides to take down Superman.
Director: Zack Snyder
Film company: Warner Brothers
Release date: March 25, 2016
Starring: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Jeremy Irons
Focus: Batman has been able to obtain kryptonite to fashion a vapour and a spear to help him weaken and kill Superman. After an extended action/adventure mash-up of destruction of property and pummeling of bodies, the two superheroes end up in the dark outside. As Batman is about to finish Superman off, Superman calls out to Batman with a word that stops Batman in his tracks. The word Batman hears from Superman puts everything in a new light. Batman’s consciousness and perspective is rearranged. After that, Batman joins forces with Superman to help put a stop to Lex Luthor’s maniacal and violent schemes.
Ever present God, on our own we can stray from the bonds of love and become harmful to those around us. When we lose our way, help us to listen for your voice that we may gain a new perspective to guide us as we serve you. In Christ we pray. Amen.
From Ray McGinnis
Laquan McDonald was a 17-year-old African-American male who was shot on October 20, 2014. That night he was walking down a busy street and had a knife in his hand. He had slashed a tire of a police car and was walking away. Officer Jason Van Dyke told him to drop the knife, but McDonald kept on walking away. McDonald had a history of complex mental health problems and learning disabilities. Van Dyke shot him and McDonald fell to the ground. Then Van Dyke shot McDonald another 16 times in 13 seconds.
It took over a year for a video of the shooting to be released. That finally led to a murder charge of the police officer.
In November 2014, 12-year-old Tamir Rice was in a public park in Cleveland with a toy gun while he was swinging on a swing-set. A passerby in a car, afraid that the gun might be real called 911 and said there was a black male in the park with a gun, and a police car arrived. Rookie police officer Timothy Loehmann jumped out of his car and two seconds later shot the child twice in the abdomen. The police informed the nearby hospital that a male adult was being taken to emergency. As a result, the medical team was unable to intubate Rice (and maintain an open airway), as the tube selection was for an adult male and too large to bypass Rice’s vocal chords. Rice died of a hemorrhage the next morning. A funeral was held in December 2014 with people remembering Rice as a boy who liked to draw and play basketball.
People in the Black Lives Matter Movement began to ask questions about both of these cases. When the news of the video of the shooting of Laquan McDonald came to light, people carried signs that read “16 Shots 400 Days,” complaining about the way the Chicago police were slow-walking their investigation. In both cases, people wondered, if there was a need to shoot, why not shoot to disable instead of shooting to kill.
While some claim that criticizing police conduct is disrespectful and ignores the difficult role they perform every day, others maintain that these cases illustrate something is wrong with the system and that people have to speak up. Recently, both of the prosecutors in these cases in Chicago and Cleveland lost their bids for re-election due to activism in the Black Lives Matter Movement.
In our communities, O God, when some people speak out there is a reaction. Help us to hear the points of view that challenge us. Help us to also find ways to speak up when something needs to be proclaimed, or when a cry for justice needs to be answered. Discerning Spirit, lead us as we make choices about when and where to speak. In Christ we pray. Amen
From Ray McGinnis
The Lady in the Van is a drama about a woman named Mary Shepherd who lives in a van. Played by Maggie Smith, Mary was a nun whose life was turned upside down when she was involved in a vehicle accident that resulted in the death of a young motorcyclist. Years later, she is now living in a van and parks it on a fashionable street in Camden, a suburb of London. She ends up adjacent to the home of playwright and author Alan Bennett, played by Alex Jennings. In time, she moves into his driveway after she gets a notice from the city that her vehicle will be removed. She tells Bennett that it would be ideal if she could have “off-street parking.” She ends up living in her van in Bennett’s driveway for fifteen years. She refuses to say thank you to anyone, even though people are kind to her. The person we get to know in Mary Shepherd is fierce, tenacious, single-minded, manipulative, and eccentric.
The movie is a story about a guest who overstays their welcome. But it is also about two very different people and the way they become important to each other, even though they each drive each other mad. Over fifteen years, Alan Bennett begins to learn details about Mary’s dark past, her choice to leave the convent, why she hates to hear music, her fluency in French, her mysterious trips to the seaside, and a man who appears at night by her van who she gives money to. The story is also a true story about a woman who moved into Alan Bennett’s driveway in 1974 and stayed there until 1989. After she died, Alan Bennett wrote a book about Mary Shepherd, which was later adapted for stage and radio.
In her final days, she is visited by social workers and taken to a facility where she is able, at her own insistence, to bathe herself. She finds a piano, an instrument that serves in the film as metaphor for prayer. After she dies, Alan Bennett senses that he’s been in the presence of the holy.
Director: Nicholas Hynter
Film company: Paramount
Release date: December 11, 2015
Starring: Maggie Smith, Alex Jennings, Jim Broadbent
Focus: While her predicament is dire, Mary finds moments in her life to relax from the stern exterior she has developed over time. She gets Alan Bennett to give her a push in her wheelchair down their street and her face beams with joy. She drives her van to a seaside town and treats herself to an ice cream float and rides on a merry-go-round. And she never seems to be happier than when she is painting her van a new color, much to the surprise of her neighbours in Camden Town.
God of friend and stranger, we come running to find your presence and to discover you have risen. We see signs of your presence and then meet you face to face. Help us be present to one another, to go and tell the others who move in our midst about what you have done and what you are still doing in our lives. In Christ we pray. Amen.
From Paul Turley
There are eight countries in the world that have nuclear arsenals. (There are nine if we include Israel, which is widely believed to have such weapons. However, Israel has a policy of neither confirming nor denying the existence of such an arsenal.). One of them is North Korea.
Apart from Israel, North Korea is the smallest nation by population to possess nuclear weapons, and it is the most secretive, leaving Western observers to only guess at it motivations and aims.
Last week, at the start of the annual US-South Korea military drills or war games called “Key Resolve” and “Foal Eagle,” North Korea released a statement ordering a “pre-emptive nuclear strike of justice.” “We will,” Pyongyang said, “launch an all-out offensive to decisively counter the US and its followers’ hysteric[al] nuclear war moves.”
Experts doubt that North Korea has the technical ability to carry out its threats with many believing that their nuclear weapons, while very real, are crude and unable to be miniaturized in order for them to be fired at distant targets via missiles. North Korean watchers also point out that every year at the start of the joint US-South Korean military exercises, Pyongyang makes threats. In 2015, for example, it threatened to turn Washington into a “sea of fire.”
The annual war games conducted by the US and South Korea and the annual bellicose response by North Korea are not the only events threatening to destabilize the region. Just over a week ago now, the United Nations Security Council unanimously approved harsh new sanctions against North Korea, meaning that both Russia (often the member of the Security Council seeking to water down or delay action against North Korea) and China (North Korea’s sole international backer) fell in line with the rest of the Council.
US News and World Report reports on the Security Council’s decision: “The new sanctions, the strongest in more than two decades, will require all cargo going to and from North Korea to be inspected for items that violate the terms of the restrictions. The measure prohibits exports of coal, iron and iron ore used to finance its illicit nuclear and ballistic missile program, as well as other minerals. It also bans importation of aviation fuel, including rocket fuel.
“North Korean banks and financial assets will be targeted, and restrictions on luxury goods have also been strengthened. Those now include bans on luxury watches, recreational sports equipment, aquatic recreational vehicles, snowmobiles worth more than $2,000 and lead-crystal items.”
Is the world closer to war this week? Is the balance of power shifting in the region? Is it safe to assume that North Korea’s fighting words are just that, words?
Explore… Luke 22:14 – 23:56
God, many of us remember the nuclear clock that for much of our lives was set at only minutes to midnight; we lived under the threat of imminent nuclear threat. Since those times more countries have acquired nuclear arsenals and the world is no safer. We pray that those who have their fingers on the buttons that could destroy us will understand the gravity of our situation and always restrain themselves and we pray for all of us that we will live in hope always working for a better more peaceful world. Amen.
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