Past Spirit Sightings (The Archives)
From Ray McGinnis
In the movie Tracks, Mia Wasikowska plays an Australian loner named Robyn Davidson. John Curran directs this beautifully photographed account of Davidson’s 2,700-kilometre trek across the Australian desert in 1977. She is accompanied by her dog and four temperamental camels. She reluctantly allows National Geographic photographer Rick Smolan to meet her every six weeks to chronicle her perilous quest. It is a price she has to pay in order to get the funding for her journey.
There’s no love story here, although Adam Driver is convincingly dorky as thephotographer and might be nursing a crush. There’s minimal dialogue. Wasikowska’s convincing performance conveys all you need to know about how solitude can chip away at the mind. And there’s virtually no attempt to psychoanalyze Davidson’s motives for taking the journey; the script only hints at a tragic backstory and, in a voice-over, Davidson differentiates herself from being a women’s-rights activist or an environmentalist, exclaiming only that she longed to “feel free,” and to “be by myself.”
Despite, or because of, the minimal dialogue, what’s on screen will leave you in a state of wonder. The sweeping cinematography surveys the cracked earth and Davidson’s chapped skin with equal intensity, as if to remind us how vulnerable we mortals are. There’s a powerful message about human endurance in this movie and our yearning for a vision or experience that can transform our lives.
Director: John Curran
Film company: Weinstein Company
Release date in North America: September 19, 2014
Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Adam Driver, Rainer Bock
Haunted by abandonment issues from her childhood and a pattern of condescension towards her from family and neighbours, Davidson seeks the shelter of the Australian wilderness. She prefers it to the dysfunction of human interaction in her community. Setting herself on a quest across the outback, her destination is the ocean. On the way, she learns how to stay alive: remaining still while a snake slithers over her neck one night, learning some of the secret techniques aboriginals have used in order to make a life in what seems an inhospitable setting.
The very different approaches or responses humans have to “wilderness” makes a uniform statement about how we view it virtually impossible. These perceptions are at the heart of how humans view “stewardship” of the earth. For example, a recent story tells of how “great stretches of Europe’s last wildernesses risk being damaged and polluted as the international mining industry gears up to develop northern Finland, Sweden, and Norway” in search of valuable rare earth minerals.
“The prize for British, Australian, Canadian and other companies is billion-dollar mega mines in Lapland, a region which covers all three countries and Russia, able to supply burgeoning industry in Asia.”
Increasingly around the world, a dangerous dichotomy is developing between conflicting human perceptions of the natural world. Some see Nature as wilderness, totally untouchable and sacred; others see it as a wasteland open to development and exploitation. Neither of these views fosters a healthy relationship between humanity and our environment. They also depend upon one another. Wilderness areas are areas that lack humanity and the influences of humanity. They are areas defined by our absence. However, there are very few surviving areas that lack human influence. So to what extent should these vast areas be left alone, or how are they to be best managed. Indeed if they are managed at all, do they lose some of their “wilderness” by definition?
While debate rages about mining and degradation of land and habitat for wildlife, there is also the question of wilderness becoming a playground, or an escape, only for those who can afford it. The ability to access and experience wilderness areas is limited to those who have the knowledge, equipment, time, and financial resources to get there. Far too often, it is only individuals in the middle to upper classes who have these opportunities and resources, while the poor or marginalized, who lack these opportunities and resources, are left out, consigned to a different kind of “wilderness” – a “wilderness” without wilderness. Similarly our high standards of purity for wilderness preservation foster the idea that the land we actually live and work on is second class, inferior to wilderness. The forests in the U.S. state of Maine, for example, are all second-generation growth, so it’s acceptable to clear-cut them. Another facet, highlighted by Arctic mining, relates to human rights. As mining increasingly intrudes into Artic spaces, the Lapland and Sami indigenous communities,who live by reindeer herding and fishing, will be hit, along with the region’s tourist industry, which depends on pristine nature.
The God in whom we live and move and have our being can never be out of our reach or beyond our experience. Whether we are in a wilderness of spirit or in a place of activity and busyness, we know God is there. Amen
From Fraser Macnaughton
In the ongoing struggle between Israel and Palestine, the land issue underpins much of the tension.
Israel has announced plans to expropriate 400 hectares of land in the occupied West Bank in a move Palestinian officials claim will cause more friction after the Gaza conflict.
The announcement concerning land south of Bethlehem, inside what Israelis call the Etzion bloc of settlements, comes after Israel determined the land was not cultivated with enough intensity for the Palestinians to maintain their ownership rights.
The notice published by the military gave no reason for the decision, but Israel Radio said the step was taken in response to the kidnapping and killing of three Jewish teenagers in the area in June. The United States has criticized the announcement and branded it counter-productive to peace efforts. “We have long made clear our opposition to continued settlement activity,” a State Department official said. “This announcement…is counterproductive to Israel’s stated goal of a negotiated two-state solution with the Palestinians.”
Peace Now, which opposes Israeli settlement activities in the West Bank, said the land seizure was the largest announced by Israel in the West Bank since the 1980s. A local Palestinian mayor said Palestinians owned the tracts and harvested olive trees on them.
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat called for diplomatic action against Israel. “The Israeli government is committing various crimes against the Palestinian people and their occupied land,” he told AFP. “The international community should hold Israel accountable as soon as possible for its crimes and raids against our people in Gaza and the ongoing Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.”
Israel has been long criticized by the international community for its settlement activities, which most countries regard as illegal under international law and a major obstacle to the creation of a viable Palestinian state in any future peace deal.
We belong to the land, but does the land ever belong to us? Are we called in the way of Christ to a radical agenda of proper land stewardship which is held in common, a which will restore our right relationship to creation. Amen.
From Fraser Macnaughton
Britain is celebrating one of its earliest and most abundant harvests on record, say foragers, gardeners, farmers, and conservationists. In his poem “To Autumn,” John Keats observed that the season loads and blesses “with fruit the vines that around the thatch-eves run/To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees/And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core.”
Shrub and tree watchers around the country are eagerly anticipating the greatest abundance of fruit, seed and berries since 2006, with apple, haws (from Hawthorn), holly berry, rowan (Mountain ash), figs (sycamore), and blackberries all showing signs of unusually high yields.
The abundance is coming as a welcome relief for wildlife, which suffered badly from exceptionally poor crops of wild fruit last year as trees and shrubs were hammered by the poor weather.
Matthew Oates, a naturalist at the National Trust, said he was amazed by the prolific wild harvest, emerging three weeks earlier than usual. “It’s almost as good as it’s ever going to get. The hedgerows are already well-reddened. It’s been a stupendous year for nuts, seeds and berries, both wild and domesticated – so it’s good for the birds, the mice, squirrels and voles. The holly has done so well we should bring Christmas forward. The sloes will be great. Virtually all our trees and bushes flowered ridiculously early this year and produced nuts. In theory, there is plenty for everyone.
“It’s not because autumn is arriving early but because we had a very early and rapid spring on the back of a mild and wet winter. While 2013 saw one of the coldest and latest springs ever, this year was the absolute opposite.
“Nature is really good at fighting back. Most of this year’s comeback is down to the spring and early summer weather, but there may be other factors of which we are blissfully unaware. Wildlife has ways of compensating to make up for a bad year that we don’t fully understand,” Oates says.
On some level, it seems that Nature is crying out “Enough” and defying science, experts say. After a prolonged period without enough food, wildlife needs to replenish itself and to build up energy levels for the future, while seeds need to be sown to build up the stock of trees and shrubs. And the result is a hugely bountiful supply of fruit, seed and berries to feed everything from blackbirds to door mice.
We celebrate the abundance creation has to offer at the same time expressing our regret at human wastefulness and destruction. May we live in God’s way and do what we can each day to be more conscious of our place in creation and act accordingly. Amen
From Sandra Rooney
Earlier this month the prayers of a grandmother were answered. And her 37 years of labour were rewarded. Estela Carlotto – founder of the Argentinian human rights organization Abuelas (Grandmothers) de Plaza de Mayo – learned that her own grandson had been found.
During Argentina’s 1976–1983 military dictatorship, some 500 babies were taken from young opponents of the regime and given to military families. Their real parents were murdered. In the case of Guido Carlotto, 36, who was raised as Ignacio Hurban, his mother, Laura Carlotto, Estela’s daughter, was two months pregnant when she was kidnapped, “disappeared,” in 1977. She was sent to La Cacha, one of the regime’s many death camps, where she was kept until her baby was born. Then she was murdered.
The mothers of “disappeared” children, like Estela Carlotto, began searching for their grandchildren, going to the courts, visiting orphanages and daycare centers. And they began demonstrating in the Plaza de Mayo in Argentina’s capital city Buenos Aires. In 1977, the non-governmental organization called Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo was established, its purpose to fight for the return of their grandchildren. The searching and the demonstrating have gone on for 37 years.
In recent years, as they realized that their grandchildren had grown up, the grandmothers have expanded their efforts to try to draw these young adults to Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo. To date, 105 grandchildren have been found, many of whom approached Abuelas directly in search of their origins. This was the case for Guido, who said he had doubted his identity. He approached Abuelas when someone suggested he might be the son of disappeared parents.
The abuelas have used many avenues to try to reach their grandchildren, including conferences and seminars on the topic of identity, literary and photographic contests and exhibits, and the arts. Two years ago, Guido (Ignacio Hurban), who is a pianist, took part in a concert called Music for Identity sponsored by Abuelas.
Through the grandmothers’ determined efforts, The International Convention of the Rights of the Child includes the right to an identity. And the government of Argentina created the National Committee for the Right to Identity, to assist young adults who doubt their identities, by investigating all existing documents and by referring them for blood analysis. The National Bank of Genetic Data has the power to perform such analyses without legal intervention. It is thanks to a DNA test that Estela Carlotto can be certain she has found her grandson.
Oh God, who calls each of us by name, strengthen our resolve as we seek truth and justice in a complicated world. May we not rest easy until each person is able to answer the question, “Who am I?” and “Where do I belong?” Amen.
From Sandra Rooney
All too often we hear reports of violence against women, including so-called honour killings, when women, or men, have violated local norms. Often they are risking their very lives by their actions.
Mohammad Ali, 21, and Zakia, 18, are two such people. They found themselves forced to flee their village in the Bamian Valley of Afghanistan, after being kept apart by their disapproving families and the taboo of their difference ethnicities and sects.
Their story was first reported back in March. The two had grown up knowing each other, and then had fallen in love. They repeatedly approached their families for permission to marry, but not only were they denied, each was badly beaten. After Zakia was beaten, Mohammad Ali took her to the Bahamia Women’s Ministry where she was given shelter and her case referred to court.
The court in Bamian ordered Zakia returned to her family, but the Women’s Ministry intervened because Zakia’s father, who maintained she was already married to a cousin, had publicly threatened to kill his daughter to avenge his family’s honour. Fatima Kazimi, head of the Bahamia Women’s Ministry, subsequently found herself dismissed from her position for protecting Zakia.
When Zakia’s case was transferred to Kabul, she feared the court there would side with her family and decided her only option was to elope. Mohammad Ali had managed to smuggle a cell phone into the shelter and the couple plotted her escape. A friend then drove them to a mullah who had agreed to marry them. The police arrested two women for helping Zakia escape and Ms. Kazimi was forced to flee for fear of retaliation against her and her family for helping Zakia.
The couple has been on the run since, sometimes staying with friends, sometimes sleeping in caves at night. Their whereabouts remains unknown. If they are found, they will likely be imprisoned while the courts try to sort out the dispute. The case illustrates the conflict between Islamic law, customary practices, and civil law. Zakia, legally an adult, can marry under civil law, but under Islamic law she still must have her father’s consent. In addition, it is possible that her father could have married her to his nephew without her actual presence or consent.
Some 75% of women in Afghan prisons are held on a variety of such so-called social offences. Ms. Kazimi, too, is worried about her future. Three of her colleagues in other districts have been killed by insurgents for their efforts on behalf of women. “I sacrificed everything because I thought it was what was right,” she said. “I’ve lost my job. I won’t be able to work anywhere in Afghanistan now.”
Loving, empowering God, it is all too easy to go along. May we be emboldened to speak up for what we believe and take such actions as may be required of us. Amen.
From Sandra Rooney
From the Central African Republic recently came word of a cease fire. However, the same announcement detailed continuing violence. At the same time, the anti-Balaka militia announced it was dissolving itself and former leaders asked for forgiveness for the crimes and other abuses committed against civilians. What happens next is uncertain.
From Chicago comes the story of a new approach to gang violence. The police are using statistics and algorithms to help predict where shootings might occur and who might be involved, both victims and offenders. They are able to visit the people who may be most at risk of becoming either the next offender or victim. In conversations with the identified gang members and their families, they explain the significance of the statistics and the potential consequences. One Chicago police officer says, “When you have these kinds of conversations with their families, and the [gang members] see the hurt in their mother’s eyes, I think that hurts them, because the family means everything to them.” Johnny Outlaw, who provides legal services and helps offenders find jobs, reports that many gang members tell him that they want to put down their guns but are afraid of retaliation or don’t know how to go straight. He says he’s had high profile gang members break down in tears in his office because they don’t see any options for their lives. “They say, ‘I’m tired of shooting people, I’m tired of robbing people. I want to do something with my life.’”
Then from China comes the story of Guo Meimei, a young woman who recently appeared on state television, confessing to having fabricated her relationship with the Red Cross Society of China three years ago. “Because of my own vanity, I made a huge mistake,” she said in the video confession. “I would like to offer my deep apologies to the Red Cross, and even deeper apologies to the public and even deeper apologies to the people who have not been rescued.”
In 2011, Ms. Guo posted ostentatious photos of herself on her website, showing a lavish lifestyle. She also claimed to be “the commercial general manager” at the Red Cross, which created suspicions about corruption at the Red Cross Society of China. They say they are still struggling to rehabilitate the reputation of the Red Cross of China and to regain public trust. Following the highly publicized confession, Red Cross leadership has pleaded with the public to forget Guo Meimei and urged public support for relief efforts as they seek to respond to the 6.5 magnitude earthquake that hit Yunnan province three weeks ago.
Explore… Genesis 45:1–15
Loving Creator, though we are flawed, we are assured of your forgiveness. In that knowledge, may we have the courage and grace to reach out to those with whom we have frayed relationships, to offer the apologies and extend the forgiveness we would hope to receive. Amen.
From Paul Turley
After nearly a month in legal limbo and most of that time locked in windowless cabins, 157 Indian asylum seekers are this week being taken to the Australian mainland for processing.
The group of men, women, and children were intercepted, according to the Australian Solicitor-General Justin Gleeson, on a boat inside Australia’s contiguous zone and not its migration zone. The Solicitor-General says that asylum seekers who do not reach the migration zone have no legal right to claim asylum in Australia.
This incident is the latest in ongoing attempts by the Australian government to “protect the borders” of Australia and stop what it calls “illegal” arrivals by boat.
The policy, condemned by the United Nations and international humanitarian groups, is, according to Australian Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, being made up as the government goes along.
However, it is not only the treatment of those seeking to reach Australia and find asylum – something they are legally entitled to do in international and Australian law – that is of concern to those who seek a fair and just treatment of all who are in need. There are 1,100 asylum seeker men on Manus Island, just off the coast ofNew Guineawho are being held in detention by the Australian government. Few of these men have had their claims for refugee status assessed and they may be held for years in a camp that the United Nations claims is “rat-infested, cramped and very hot.” Their 2013 report on conditions on Manus Island (and the Australian government’s other camp on Nauru) says, “People are being held in what we found to be mandatory, arbitrary detention.”
There are also other asylum seekers who are on the Australian mainland, have received bridging and other temporary visas, but who have no legal access to work, medical support, or study. They live in limbo while waiting for the government to finally process their claims, claims which, if past experiences can be a guide, will find more than 90% to be genuine refugees.
All of this is being done by a government that claims to be trying to prevent deaths at sea of those who, in desperation, attempt to reach Australia by boat. However, like we read in the story of Joseph, injustice and cruelty is injustice and cruelty, even if it is an attempt to prevent even more injustice and cruelty. Was Ruben right to do what he did to his brother? Is the Australian government right in its harsh treatment of asylum seekers? These are difficult questions for us.
Explore... Genesis 37:1–4,12–28
God, in a complex world give us faith. In a broken world give us hope. In a beautiful world give us eyes to see. Amen.
From Paul Turley
Next month, a little over a year after declaring bankruptcy, the City of Detroit goes to court.
Detroit is the largest municipality in the United States to declare bankruptcy with debts estimated at $18 billion. In the last 12 months, leaders in Detroit have vowed to attract new residents, repair streetscapes and street lighting.
For many in the long-suffering Detroit community, what is being done is not about revitalizing community but simply about short-term cost cutting. Jobs that should be going to locals are being outsourced in the name of savings. “It’s a smoke screen,” says Ed McNeil, an official with the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees. “The only people who got better are the profiteers and the privateers.”
As the appointed administrators of Detroit and the population wrestle with decisions about their future, the question of “with whom” or “with what” they are wrestling is crucial.
If, as some political figures and pundits have tried to suggest, Detroit’s problems stem from over-generous pensions, too many public servants and mismanaged public services, then the wrestling partner is obvious and, given the relative powerlessness of those in receipt of pensions and public services, easier to fix.
And that is just what is happening. For example, to date, 17,000 residences in Detroit have had the water turned off for unpaid water bills.
But there is another opponent out there. Near the end of 2013, Demos, the public-policy think tank, released a report that states, “Detroit’s financial expenses have increased significantly, and that is a direct result of the complex financial deals Wall Street banks urged on the city over the last several years, even though its precarious cash flow position meant these deals posed a great threat to the city.”
The author of the report, Wallace Turbeville, a former Goldman Sachs investment banker, is clear who and what must be wrestled with if Detroit is to get itself out of its mess. “Misguided and irresponsible decisions by politicians over the years, often at the urging of Wall Street, have funnelled wealth out of Detroit’s neighborhoods, and enriched financial institutions and corporations in the process. If Detroit wants to come back from this and rebuild a strong economy, it needs to reverse that trend and start prioritizing the people who live here over the interests of Wall Street bankers.”
Explore... Genesis 32:22–31
God, our lives and communities
From Ray McGinnis
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a science fiction account of a futuristic world where human society has collapsed. A man-made virus has resulted in a plague killing over half the human population worldwide. An urgent interviewee tells a TV reporter “those not killed by the virus will be killed by the fighting.” Meanwhile, the ape species are clearly more intelligent than the humans. The apes exist in a forest near San Francisco. They are able to live together in a civilized manner. A set of rules have been established to ensure harmonious community. Chief among these is a rule that apes cannot kill other apes. The leader of the apes, Caesar, has developed the ability to speak to humans. He has also developed the capacity for empathy. With his empathy, Caesar hopes to avert a conflict that the leader of the humans seems determined to provoke.
There are lots of special effects for viewers who like these kinds of shows. The make-up and presentation of the actors playing the apes on screen is as real a depiction of apes on screen as you'll ever see.
Director: Matt Reeves
Release Date: July 10, 2014
Actors: Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Judy Greer, Keri Russell
Focus: As the story unfolds, the circumstances of the humans become more and more desperate. In the chaos of a collapsing human civilization, 28 countries declare martial law. The humans on the California coast in the United States decide to re-start a dam that can generate needed energy. The dam happens to be near the forest where the ape species dwells. Both the leaders of the apes and of the humans and their advisors are tested to discover if they can trust one another. Can they learn to live in peace? Or will old habits of fear and suspicion lead them down the path to war.
God of creation, you make us to dwell with one another. Help us understand our own context. Help us discern the signs of the times. Make us ready to learn and grow that we may be trustworthy and live by the promises we make. In Christ we pray. Amen
From Ray McGinnis
For decades since the state of Israel came into being after World War II, conflicts between Israel and Arab nations, and between Israeli and Palestinian people, have unfolded with many a grim news headline. While the prospects for peace seem ever elusive, the new Roman Catholic Pope, Francis, inserted himself directly into the collapsed Middle East peace process. He met in Israel with the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, and Israeli President Shimon Peres. He walked to a section of the barrier wall that separates the Palestinian Territories from Israel along the West Bank. Then he touched his head against the graffiti-covered wall.
Pope Francis is determined to restore the historic role of the Vatican as a broker to help resolve conflicts between nations and peoples. The Pope’s visit to Bethlehem and Tel Aviv also included a meeting with Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas.
On June 6, the Palestinian leader and Israeli leaders were in attendance at the Vatican to discuss a way toward peace. While the level of trust is wafer thin, the Pope believes that getting people into the same place to pray for peace is a step in the right direction. Pope Francis calls it unacceptable for people in conflict to not be in conversation with each other about how to proceed in order to create lasting conditions for peace. The Pope believes that religion has an important role to play, reminding dissenting parties that they are all children of God. In the Holy Land where leaders believe God dwells among the people, the Pope hopes to inspire political leaders to take advantage of the hope that “God is in this place.”
Explore… Genesis 20:10–19a
God who searches for us, who wants to know and be known to us, help us to discern your presence in our time. In the midst of the ordinary, in the midst of the burdens we carry, in the midst of the burdens the world carries, bless us with vision, and heal our divisions. Place before us promises that can transform our world and move us from fear to love. In Christ we pray. Amen.
From Fraser Macnaughton
The case of Sudanese woman Meriam Ibrahim has attracted worldwide attention principally for the death sentence imposed on her for changing her religion. The tensions within her mixed faith family will have been very stressful as each seeks to work out their faith in the family context.
Ibrahim was convicted of apostasy after the court insisted she was a Muslim because her father was a Muslim, even though Ibrahim said she had been brought up as a Christian after her father abandoned the family when she was six. Under the Sudanese penal code, Muslims are forbidden from changing faith, and Muslim women are not permitted to marry Christian men. As a result of the second prohibition, Ibrahim was also sentenced to be publicly flogged for adultery following a court’s ruling that her marriage to a Christian man was invalid.
Following her conviction last month, she was given three days to renounce her faith or face a death sentence. She refused to recant, telling the court: “I am a Christian and I am not an apostate.” Then eight months’ pregnant, Ibrahim was told her death sentence would be deferred for two years, to allow her to nurse her as yet unborn baby.
Ibrahim was subsequently freed after an appeals court cancelled the death sentence, after the government came under what it called unprecedented international pressure. The latest twist came when Ibrahim was detained with her husband and two children at Khartoum airport, the day after her release as the family attempted to leave the country. Agents from the National Intelligence and Security Services apprehended the family on the orders of the appeal court.
Her lawyer, Eman Abdul-Rahim, who was with Ibrahim at Khartoum airport at the time, said more than 40 security officers prevented the family from boarding a plane to the U.S. Ibrahim’s husband, Daniel Wani, is a U.S. citizen. Elshareef said the appeal court had quashed Ibrahim’s convictions and there were no restrictions on her travelling. He added that political differences within the government over the case may have played a part in the decision to prevent her leaving. “I’m very concerned. When people do not respect the court, they might do anything.”
Explore… Genesis 19:25–34
How heart breaking it is when faith and a perceived monopoly on truth stands in the way of, or can break up, loving families and peoples, especially when all faiths teach us to love each other. May we continue to pray and work to be open-hearted and opened-armed, to welcome the stranger and to seek to learn more about the “other.” Amen.
From Fraser Macnaughton
This week’s biblical story concerns cultural differences with which we may not be familiar. While an ancient tale, such tensions still exist today around customs and norms of behaviour. In Hong Kong, the British consul-general is asking the Hong Kong authorities to clarify whether same-sex marriages can take place at the consulate after Hong Kong appeared to amend its position regarding same-sex marriages at consulates. The British consulate claims that the city government had “raised an objection” to its practice of solemnizing same-sex marriages.
But the Hong Kong government’s protocol department retorted by saying that it was up to consulates to decide what services they wished to provide their nationals in line with the Vienna Convention and Hong Kong’s Consular Relations Ordinance.
A spokesman for the British consulate said, “We will be making further inquiries with the HKSAR government regarding the potential for the consulate-general to solemnize same-sex marriages for British nationals in Hong Kong as a matter of priority.”
British diplomatic missions are not subject to local law, but British law prohibits them from issuing marriage licences if the host country objects. Mainland China, Azerbaijan, notoriously anti-gay Russia, and 20 other countries have allowed same-sex unions at British consulates.
Consul-general Caroline Wilson took to Twitter to repeat the language of her office’s spokesman. She also “favourite” a tweet that called for “common sense to prevail” on the issue and for the Hong Kong consulate to avoid having a “worse record than Moscow/Beijing.”
In its statement, the Hong Kong government also reaffirmed its commitment to promoting equal opportunities on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity “with a view to eliminating discrimination and nurturing a culture of diversity, tolerance and mutual respect.”
The Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, ratified in 1963 and signed by 177 parties, defines consular relations between participating states. It allows the consulate of a foreign nation to act as a “notary and civil registrar and in capacities of a similar kind” in the country where it is operating.
The initial news of the Hong Kong ban by the British consulate had drawn ire from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community and their allies. They asked why British missions in supposedly less tolerant places were able to provide the service.
May our understanding of the ways and customs of others be well-informed as we seek a way through the maze of choices our faith demands, as we seek to walk in the way of Jesus together. Amen.
From Sandra Rooney
These headlines begin to tell the story of desperate people enduring brutal journeys, often hostile reception, lengthy stays in detention facilities and more, for a chance at a better life.
Rome: Italians Rescue Thousands from Teeming Migrant Boats
For years, immigrants fleeing wars or seeking a better future have risked their lives to reach Europe, sometimes dying in tiny boats headed for the Canary Islands, or the Italian island of Lampedusa, or by charging the fences around Melilla. If they make it, most will spend a year or more in an immigration center hoping their asylum applications will be approved. Most will not be.
The European Union is now allowing free movement throughout Europe for Romanians and Bulgarians, but many arriving in England say they are made to feel like second-class citizens. Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party, known for an anti-immigration stance, has said, “We want an immigration policy that is…based on controlling not just quantity but quality.”
Central American migrants desperate to leave the poverty and violence in their home countries risk riding on top of train cars, which will take them, if they’re lucky, to the southern border of the U.S. There they must try to cross by river or through the desert. Three weeks ago, a dramatic increase in the number of unaccompanied children and partial families from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, caught trying to cross the border into Texas illegally, created what both the White House and the United Nations have declared a humanitarian crisis.
Texas, lacking adequate facilities to house and process them, began sending hundreds of women and children to Phoenix, Tucson, and Nogales, as well as to California, where authorities are scrambling to provide accommodations and care. U.S. law prohibits the Department of Homeland Security from immediately deporting the children if they are not from Canada or Mexico.
More than 60,000 unaccompanied juveniles, the majority Central American, are expected to cross into the U.S. in 2014. A United Nations report based on interviews with 400 young immigrants identified a complicated web of reasons, including gang and societal violence in their home countries, dire economic conditions, and the desire to be reunited with parents or other family members already in the U.S.
Loving God, we know that Jesus welcomed all into fellowship, he received them into community. We would do the same, but it often seems so difficult today. Open our hearts and minds to new possibilities for being welcoming communities. Amen.
From Ray McGinnis
Maya Angelou was an American author and poet born in 1928, in St. Louis, Missouri. She died at the age of 86 on May 28th. She wrote a series of seven autobiographies beginning with I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969).
It tells of her life between the ages of three and 17. Abandoned by her parents, she and her younger brother, Bailey, lived with her paternal grandmother, Momma, and crippled uncle, Uncle Willie, in Stamps, Arkansas. Although Momma was relatively wealthy because she owned the general store at the heart of Stamps’ Black community, the white children of their town hassled Maya’s family relentlessly. One of these white girls showed her pubic hair to Momma in a degrading encounter. Another story in the book tells how Momma had to hide Uncle Willie in a vegetable bin to keep him safe him from the Ku Klux Klan.
When she was seven, her father abruptly took her and her brother back to St. Louis, and left her with her mother. Shortly after that she was raped. When she identified the rapist as her mother’s boyfriend, he was charged and found guilty and sentenced to a day in jail. But once released from jail he was murdered. Young Maya went mute for five years, believing that by speaking out she was responsible for her rapist’s murder.
Maya Angelou’s candid stories of her childhood and youth won her recognition for her bravery and literary style. Prior to her book’s release, she had been a friend of Martin Luther King Jr. in the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s. She went on to teach as a professor at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. In 1993, she read her poem On the Pulse of Morning at the inauguration of President Bill Clinton. She was the first poet to read at an inauguration of a president since Robert Frost read at the inauguration of John F. Kennedy in 1961. A sought-after lecturer, she was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barak Obama in 2011.
God, who reaches out to us with the promise of new beginnings, be with us in the places we find ourselves. Be with us in the grace-filled places, the stuck places, the hostile places, the courageous places. Love us in all the places you find us. Help us build on the places where we have said yes to life, yes to love, and where we move toward you. In Christ we pray. Amen
From Sandra Rooney
The summer issue of YES! magazine looks at “The Power of Story.” Sarah van Gelder, founder and editor-in-chief of Yes!, shares this quote from the late media scholar George Gerbner: “We experience the world through stories. Whoever tells the stories of a culture defines the terms, the agenda, and the common issues we face.” The magazine takes a look at today’s new generation of storytellers and the variety of media available to them, not least of which is the vast array of social media. She sees a new society emerging from the bottom up, from those who have been excluded from the old society and who “yearn for a more just and life-affirming world.”
The new media venues allow us to reach new audiences, to question the status quo and garner support for new ideas. Take AshEl Eldridge for example. He’s a hip hop artist and founder of the band Earth Amplified. With his music video “Food Fight,” he connects people to the issue of junk food. In the video, junk-food addicted neighbours awaken from sugar-induced comas to battle the agribusinesses that have taken over their local markets. Then there’s David Graeber, who helped plan the occupation of Zuccotti Park, where the Occupy movement began. As an anthropologist, author, and activist, he is now among the organizers of a debt-resistance movement. Eldridge and Graeber as just two of the new storytellers, who are challenging the dominant worldview that we have no alternatives to the status quo.
While large corporations may still control mass media, and prominent figures try to tell us what “is,” the new storytellers are using videos on YouTube, blogs and tweets, satellite radio and low-power FM and more to tell personal stories that touch people’s hearts and point the way to positive change. Kristin Moe in her YES! article “Change Starts with Your Own Story” shows how such personal stories can become the heart of powerful social movements.
In spite of all the bad news in the world, perhaps we can still take hope. One more example comes from Ukraine. It was a Facebook post by a young journalist, Mustafa Nayyem, that galvanized fellow citizens to demand change and that started a revolution last fall. The way forward for Ukraine is uncertain. What is certain is that people’s way of thinking has changed, according to Aleksandr Yaroshchuk, who closed his business and has been living in Kiev’s Independence Square since December 2, with no plans to return home anytime soon. “We are convinced that we have forces and possibilities to change the system,” he says.
This week’s scripture is one of the seminal stories for Christians.
Holy Spirit, you gathered Jesus’ early followers and inspired a new way of life. May we, too, be gathered as followers and inspired to live in new life-affirming ways. Amen.
From Paul Turley
After more than seven years of sometimes violent division, the two major parties in Palestine, Hamas and Fatah, have signed an accord that could see a unity government in Palestine within weeks.
As The Guardian reports, “The agreement, signed in Gaza City on Wednesday April 23 by Ismail Haniyeh, the prime minister of Hamas, and by a senior Palestinian Liberation Organization delegation dispatched by Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, marks the latest attempt in three years of efforts to end the discord between the two factions.”
Hamas’s prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, said, “We must conclude national reconciliation and end the division so we can have one government, one political national agenda and one system… There is no room for failure at this dialogue.”
At the same time, the Palestinians have made application to join the UN and other international treaties and institutions.
On the face of it, all of this should be good news for Palestinians and good news for the region.
However, this is not the way the U.S. or Israel see this move to unity. Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, responded with, “He (Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas) has to choose, does he want peace with Hamas or peace with Israel? You can have one but not the other. I hope he chooses peace, so far he hasn’t done so.”
This was followed by an official government statement. “The government of Israel will not hold negotiations with a Palestinian government that is backed by Hamas, a terror organization that calls for Israel’s destruction.”
The U.S. too has concerns about the unity government, with U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki describing the move as having “grave implications” for U.S. relations with the Palestinian Authority, including financial support.
As the search for peace in the region goes on, we recall the words of one man who was born and lived in this troubled region of the world 2,000 years ago: “Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”
Explore... John 17:1–11
God, we know that we are one human family
From Paul Turley
In what is being described as the world’s first climate-induced migration of modern times, the small Pacific nation of Kiribati is making some radical decisions about its island home.
Anote Tong, the Kiribati president, is in talks with Fiji’s military government to buy up to 5,000 acres of freeholdlandin Fiji. One of his possibleplansis to make it the new homeland of the Kiribati people, whose land is disappearing under the ocean.
Kiribati is a nation of 33 small islands with an average height of 6.5 feet, less than two meters above sea level. Scientists say that it might well be the first nation to be affected by the rising sea levels produced by climate change.
Even though a recent study has shown that some of the islands of Kiribati are actually growing rather than shrinking, thanks to the growth of coral, this is unlikely to help the Kiribati population. Another recent study found that the oceans are absorbing heat 15 times faster than they have at any point during the past 10,000 years, which is affecting fish stocks. But even before that becomes an issue, the danger is that the salt water of the Pacific will infiltrate, and irreversibly poison, their already inadequate supply of fresh water.
Theeyes of those in the world who care about the effects of climate change are on Kiribati. Theyknow the hard truth that Kiribati may well be the first nation to have its life and culture radically affected by climate change, but it is unlikely tobe the last.
While the Kiribati government seeks solutions to the disappearance of their home (they have even investigated the building of floating platforms), one of their number, Ioane Teitiota, a six-year resident of New Zealand, has applied for refugee status for he and his family on the basis that they face serious harm if they return to Kiribati. Teitiota told the New Zealand High Court that there was no land on Kiribati to which his family could safely return.
While Teitiota’s claim failed to convince the High Court, it is unlikely that his will be the only time in the coming years when people will seek asylum because of the effects of climate change.
When, in the Gospel of John, Jesus speaks of the “Spirit of truth,” he is speaking about something very powerful. A simple definition of truth is “things as they really are, as opposed to things as we think they shouldbe, or things as we wish they were, or things as they used to be.”
With this definition, the Spirit of truth is a spirit that gives us a clear-eyed, unvarnished understanding of how things are. Those who follow Jesus should be among those who are willingto help others hear and see the honest truth about climate change, and to be at the forefront of the work to be done.
Explore… John 14:15–21
God, we acknowledge that too often we prefer to live with comforting falsehood rather than face the stark truth of things. Help us to see and know your Spirit of truth and to have courage to live in the world as it really is. Amen.
From Ray McGinnis
The Grand Budapest Hotel is, on the surface, a zany comedy. Beneath the surface is a movie inspired by the writings of novelist Stephan Zweig, an Austrian Jew who fled continental Europe in 1934 in response to the rise of Adolph Hitler. After Zweig fled Austria, the Nazi’s publically burned Zweig’s library, including his published novels and plays. Director of The Grand Budapest Hotel credits Zweig’s novels, Beware of Pity and especially The Post-Office Girl, as inspiration for his movie.
The movie tells of the adventures of Gustave H, a legendary concierge at a famous alpine European hotel between the First and Second World Wars. His most trusted friend is Zero Moustafa, an orphan from the First World War, who becomes a lobby boy at the hotel. The story concerns the theft and recovery of a priceless painting, Boy with Apple, and intrigue over a family fortune.
There are humorous keystone cops adventures and narrow escapes from a hired assassin, as well as run-ins with local police and harassment from the army as military checkpoints spring up, reflecting the turmoil of the times. Gustave H and Zero form a bond of friendship and in the context of their unfolding story, show great courage and creativity in the face of obstacles, including death threats and a love interest in a girl in the village near the hotel. The movie is a fast-paced farce that deals with some serious topical themes without getting melancholy.
Type: ComedyDirector: Wes Anderson
Film company: Fox Searchlight
Release date: March 7, 2014
Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Tilda Swinton, Tony Revolori
During an escape from Madame D’s family, once Gustave H has been willed the priceless painting, Boy with Apple, we view him riding on a train with his sidekick, Zero, and Zero’s sweetheart, Agatha, the pastry shop girl. Suddenly the train stops by a snow-covered barley field. Soldiers board the train and begin interrogating its passengers. When they arrive at the coach with Gustave H, Zero, and Agatha, Gustave remarks to one of the soldiers, “You’re the first of the official death squads to which we’ve been formally introduced.”
God of darkest valleys, when we are faced with adversity, help us. Kindle in us the best of who we are so that we may be courageous and faithful in the presence of ignorance and violence. May we be capable of being light even in the of darkest places. In Christ we pray. Amen.
From Ray McGinnis
Pharrell Williams, also known simply as Pharrell, is an American rapper, singer-songwriter, record producer, and musician. Since the winter of 2013–14, he has been enjoying phenomenal success with his hit record Happy.
While many recording artists top national charts, Happy has struck a chord with people in cities and towns around the globe. What’s more, people are uploading their own versions of the song to Youtube. You can view video versions of Happy made in Cape Town, Santiago, Gaza, Jerusalem, Vancouver, Melbourne, Glasgow, and Kiev. The lyrics invite listeners to “clap along with me if you feel like a room without a roof,” clap along if you think that “happiness is a truth.” And so on Youtube viewers can see images of happy citizens dancing, singing, playing with each other, expressing a sense of humor as they illustrate being happy.
Perhaps the song Happy has caught people’s attention in a world weary of too much news of violence, mean-spiritedness, stinginess, sadness, and heartache. When people view a video of Happy created by people living in Gaza or Jerusalem, it doesn’t mean they are not aware of ongoing political issues that are decades, even centuries old and seemingly unresolvable. But they do in these videos glimpse something else, something about the humanity of people around the globe, no matter where they are born.
Artists, whether they are making music, performing a dance, writing a play, creating a new recipe, designing clothes, or painting an image, they all hope that what they create inspires people and makes a difference. In 2014, Pharrell Williams’ song Happy seems to be rippling around the globe, reminding us of our longing to live in community by appealing to a generous spirit in all of us.
What are the followers of Jesus doing in this passage?
What is distinctive about their way of nurturing community?
How do you feel when you see people from different nationsand ethnic backgrounds in the Youtube videos for Happy ?
What other examples would you point to where a cultural event (involving art, food, sport or something else) has been a catalyst for goodwill among all of Gods people?
God of community, you create us not to be alone but to find ways to dwell together. Your scriptures show us images of the first disciples seeking to nurture one another with material and spiritual gifts. Help us in these times to grow generous and glad hearts as we seek goodwill in the face of each person we meet. In Christ we pray. Amen.
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