Past Spirit Sightings (The Archives)
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. . .
From Paul Turley
Don’t Vote It Just Encourages the Bastards, is the title of U.S. humorist P. J. O’Rourke’s most recent work. O’Rourke, the H. L. Mencken Research Fellow at the Cato Institute has, as his title infers, a fairly dim view of the political class in his nation.
At the same time, he quickly places the blame with those of us who have the responsibility to elect those who serve and lead us:
What’s important about morality in politics is us. We own the chicken farm. We must give our bird-brained, feather-headed politicians morals. Politicians love to think of themselves as “free-range” but they do not have the capacity to hunt or gather morals in the wild. If we fail to supply them with morality, politicians begin to act very scary in the barnyard. These are enormous headless chickens and they have nukes.
However, in those Western democracies where voting has been a right and a responsibility for decades, sometimes little more than half those eligible to cast a vote do so: 66.1% of eligible voters turned out to vote in the recent UK elections, (up slightly from the worst ever turnout of 59.4% in 2001). The United Kingdom does slightly better than the US, which had a voter turnout of 54.9% in the 2012 presidential election. In the Canadian election of 2011, 61.4% of the electorate exercised their right.
The Swinburne University of Technology’s recently-released Swinburne Leadership Survey perhaps hints at a reason. It finds that with regard to trust, of five areas of leadership – political, business, trade union, religious, and community – political leaders rated lowest. Political leaders were the least trusted of the five sectors of leaders. Nearly two-thirds of respondents (59%) reported that political leaders were “not very” or “not at all” trustworthy. Business and trade union leaders were not far behind.
Explore… 1 Samuel 15:34—16:13
God, we are easily diverted by the new, the shiny, the loud and the flashy. Teach us to see value that is deeper than the skin. Teach us to see truth instead of show. Teach us wisdom. Amen.
From Paul Turley
As I type this Sepp Blatter, the current president of FIFA, the international football association, is fighting to remain in the top job after 14 top FIFA officials have been indicted on corruption charges.
FIFA has long been an organization about which questions have been asked and allegations of corruption have been leveled. Now charges are being brought.
Jack Warner, a FIFA Executive Committee member from Trinidad and Tobago, has been accused of receiving, on behalf of a group within the committee which he controlled, $10 million dollars U.S. to ensure that South Africa received the rights to hold the 2011 Football World Cup.
Blatter, who has been president of FIFA since 1998, has just won re-election to a fifth term as president of the international body. Blatter has been described by Britain’s Daily Telegraph as, “the most toxic figure in world sport.” In his closing speech to delegates, his third of the day in comparison to the 15 minutes his rival, Jordanian Prince Ali Bin al-Hussein was afforded, he said, “What football needs right now is a strong leader, an experienced leader, a leader who knows all the ins and outs of the situation.”
Four years ago, following his election to a fourth term, Blatter promised reform of FIFA. Again following his election he has called on members to trust him, that he will “fix FIFA” starting tomorrow. He also made light of his age and the 17 years he has been at the top.
However, Blatter’s re-election is no guarantee that his troubles are over. As the U.S. Attorney General said this week following the arrest of FIFA officials, “this is the beginning of the process not the end.”
Jack Warner, following his release on bail, told supporters, “If I have been thieving FIFA money for 30 years, who gave me the money? How come he is not charged?”
Explore… 1 Samuel 8:4–11, (12–15), 16-20, (11:14–15)
God, we read Samuel’s lamentable list of the horrors done under his autocratic leadership and absolute power, and we weep. We know that so much of the world only just survived a 20th century where such horrors destroyed the lives of millions. We know, too, that corruption continues around the globe. Give us hope and courage we pray, that we might stand for justice. Amen.
“This ice shelf has existed for at least 10,000 years, and soon it will be gone.”
I picked up this comment, from Ala Khazendar of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, at random from the mountain of climate change news that was online this week, and that is available every week.
The ice shelf in question is the Larsen B, on the Antarctic Peninsula. We know that the melting of the polar ice caps is a major effect of global warming and a contributor to sea-level rise.
According to a new report published in the science journal Nature Climate Change, sea levels have risen more in the last 20 years than in the whole of the 20th century.
CSIRO is Australia’s national science agency. CSIRO fellow John Church, who coauthored the report, predicts that sea levels will rise by up to 98 centimetres in the next 85 years, affecting more than 150 million people living in low-lying coastal communities.
But do we care?
In April 2014, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its Fifth Assessment Report – a major work on the science of climate change, based on seven years’ work by hundreds of scientists. The report warns of various ills connected to climate change: rising sea levels, greater scarcity of food, slowed economic growth, and greater poverty.
Yet apart from some newspapers reporting the release on the inside pages, little attention was given to the report and still less has been done in response.
According to a recent poll of 22,000 people in 22 countries, “Fewer people now consider issues such as CO2 emissions, air and water pollution, animal species loss, and water shortages to be ‘very serious’ than at any time in the last two decades.”
In response to the findings, Doug Miller, chairman of public opinion research company GlobeScan, who undertook the poll, said, “Evidence of environmental damage is stronger than ever, but our data shows that economic crisis and a lack of political leadership mean that the public are starting to tune out.”
From Greenpeace, Graham Thompson, said, “The public can see that the response of our politicians is completely inadequate to the threat scientists have revealed, and that dissonance is reflected in these polls.”
What are we to do?
Explore... Isaiah 6:1–8
God, forgive us for our blinkered and myopic vision. Teach us how to see your world as you do, one universe, one whole, with everyone and everything interconnected. Give us courage to face the truth of our situation and to speak it out. Give us hope to shape a different future. Amen.
From Ray McGinnis
During August 2015 there will be an expedition of over 50 sailing boats on a journey from Hawaii to California. Skippers of sailing vessels from around the world are welcome to take part in what is being billed as a “mega-expedition.” The purpose of the expedition is to map the places where large amounts of plastic litter are floating in the Pacific Ocean.
Boyan Slat, a 20-year-old Dutchman, was diving off the Greek coast in 2011 and was frustrated as he encountered more floating plastic than fish. He wondered why humans couldn’t clean up all the plastic, not just along the Greek coastline, but around the globe.
Boyan turned his attention to the Great Pacific garbage patch, sometimes called the Pacific trash vortex. This is a gyre of plastic debris in the Pacific Ocean west of the United States mainland. It stretches as far north as the Oregon-California border (42° N) and as far south as San Luis Obispo (35° N). Out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, it spans an area as far west as the Big Island of Hawaii (155° W) and as far east as the city of Juneau, Alaska (133° W). In this area of the ocean there are no islands. The debris of plastics is stuck in a vortex due to the currents of the North Pacific Gyre.
As a high school student, Boyan developed the passive cleanup concept, where the plastic would concentrate itself when driven by ocean currents. As a result of his passion for the environment, he dropped out of Aerospace Engineering studies and founded The Ocean Cleanup. In 2012, at the age of 18, Boyan Slat gave a TED talk. Subsequently, over 1.6 million viewers watched his talk. After his talk, he was able to raise over $2 million to develop his Ocean Cleanup project. For his efforts, the United Nations awarded him the UN Inspiration and Action Award at the end of 2014.
The sailing expedition, in which over 50 sailboats will sail parallel and map the ocean’s sites of plastic build-up, will end at the Port of Los Angeles at the end of August 2015. The mayor of Los Angeles, Eric Garcetti, has said, “Increasing our scientific understanding of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is essential to developing effective solutions. It’s this type of creative and large-scale thinking that we need to tackle problems like this. We’re proud to be welcoming the Mega Expedition to the Port of Los Angeles this year.”
Explore… Acts 2:1–21
Creator God, we hear the rush of your wind. We hear your tongues of fire. We kneel on the ground before you, seeking to be instruments for your reign on earth. Grant us a sound that can be carried on the wind, baptizing us again in the conviction to follow you boldly into that new day that is dawning for the care of your creation. In Christ we pray. Amen.
From Ray McGinnis
On Sunday, April 26, 2015, a homeless person attended First United Methodist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. The pews were packed that Sunday. When it was time to receive the offering, this homeless person wrote on the front of an envelope, “Please don’t be mad. I don’t have much, I’m homeless. God Bless.” The person who wrote this note enclosed 18 cents and sealed the envelope. At the time of this writing, no one knows who the homeless person was who left this envelope.
When the volunteers doing the weekly collection of the offering came upon the envelope, they were very moved. Patrick Hamrick, Minister of Finance and Administration, was asked by a reporter from WBTV in Charlotte about the envelope that contained a dime, a nickel, and three pennies. Hamrick commented on the heart involved in this offering. “For this person, proportionately, it could have been everything in his or her pocket. We would like this dear soul who donated 18 cents to know that everyone on our team was moved by the spirit in which this gift was made.”
The congregation has a weekly program on Sunday mornings called the Muffin Ministry. It serves breakfast to over 150 people each week. The homeless person who anonymously left the 18 cent offering could be one of the people who, from time to time, come to have a Muffin Ministry breakfast. Whatever led this person to worship this day and to contribute an offering, the staff at First United Methodist Church in Charlotte feel the offering was much more than just coins. It was given with a lot of heart. Staff at the church want this homeless person to know their offering will be put to very good use to help others in need.
Explore… Acts 1:15-17, 21-26
Loving God, you call among us people whose hearts are open to you to show us a sign of your love and your spirit at work among us. Help us to be open to the ordinary ways your spirit is showing up in our midst, breaking us open to new ways of seeing and acting. Grant us minds that perceive and bodies that respond to the love of others around us. In Christ we pray. Amen
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