Past Spirit Sightings (The Archives)
From Fraser Macnaughton
Twenty-seven years ago there occurred the worst disaster ever at a British soccer match when 96 people died watching Liverpool play Nottingham forest in the English cup semi-final at Hillsborough soccer stadium in Sheffield. Most of the supporters who died were crushed to death as gates were opened to let them into the ground without checks being made as to whether they had the correct tickets.
The local police force, backed up by the national media, blamed fans for the deaths. Some of the media headlines were lurid, referring to fans being drunk, stealing from the dead, and preventing medics from reaching the injured. However, some 29 years later, an inquest jury has found that in fact the actions of South Yorkshire police officers were the principal cause of the disaster. In a verdict that represents one of the most damning indictments of a British police force, the jury answered 14 questions about what happened at the football groundincluding the fact that the 96 fans were killed unlawfully.
It was only through the dogged perseverance of the families and relatives who were determined to clear the names of their loved ones that the truth of that day has come to light. All through the various enquiries and investigations, the collective will of the relatives and families and the rock solid belief that blame had been wrongly attributed gave them the succor to continue their case in the face of a torrent of slurs and media scapegoating, not only of the fans who attended on the day but by implication all Liverpool fans.
Families in the Hillsborough Justice Campaign said in a statement read outside the court that the verdicts “completely vindicate the families’ long fight for justice.”
Prosecutors will now examine evidence to see if there is a case to be made for criminal proceedings. Only by their struggle for the common good has this group of ordinary people been strong enough to take on the forces of the establishment and to achieve a just outcome for the deceased and injured.
Explore… Acts 16:16–34
We pray for all victims of injustice that they may persevere in their cause, be strong in their faith, and know that there are others who are able to offer prayerful support and that, where their struggle is just, there too is the Spirit of Christ at work. Amen.
From Sandra Rooney
We’ve all seen pictures of the conditions of those who make their living scavenging dumps near major cities around the world. In 1992, Bert Looij and his wife, Margriet, who are Dutch, had occasion to visit an informal Roma settlement located at Pata Rât, a dumpsite located just outside Cluj, the second-largest city in Romania. What they found there fit that image – makeshift shelters, people sleeping under plastic, children bitten by rats, and families extremely vulnerable to the loss of everything due to fires. After Bert and Margriet returned home from that trip, Bert found the experience continued to grip his heart and before long the couple decided to move to Romania.
The Roma, commonly called gypsies, who have faced discrimination and rejection by mainstream society for generations, continue to suffer today due to lack of employment opportunities, education, malnutrition, and poverty. When the Looijs returned to Romania, they began by working with the families living in and around the dump, who harvested glass and plastic bottles to recycle. Bert worked alongside the men harvesting the bottles, as it is called, and Margriet with the women cleaning them. Even this modest source of income disappeaered when the dump closed last year. Some were able to find other jobs, but employment is always a struggle for Roma.
Projects among the poorest Roma date back to 1991 and include schools and tutoring, rehabing houses, road improvments, and sewers. Looij also works tirelessly as an advocate for the Roma. Today he is executive director of ProRroma, a foundation started in March 2003, as a collaboration between Romania and the Netherlands. ProRroma operates throughout Romania, with offices based in Cluj-Napoca, a city of about 300,000, located in northwestern Romania. With ProRroma, Looij has focused on four Roma camps, where some 470 families and 1,100 children are living.
One young man Looij has helped, Janos Guzman, is now part of ProRroma’s small staff. Orphaned at 7, living on the steets at 19, he knows firsthand what it means to have someone like Looij, who can offer help and hope for a better life. Asked why he does the work he does, Looij says simply,“I help them because nobody else is helping them.”
Creator and redeemer, we pray we may be alert to the call, however it comes to us, and may we have the courage to answer with lives of compassion and joy. Amen.
From Sandra Rooney
After years of incarcerating those with drug addictions, there seems to be a shift in the U.S. from punishment to treatment and prevention, and holding medical providers accountable for responsible prescriptions.
Two years ago, Gov. Peter Shumlin of Vermont used his entire annual message to address what he called “a full-blown…crisis” in opiate addiction in Vermont. (Opioid-related deaths in the U.S. rose beyond 28,000 in 2014, and have quadrupled since then.) Instead of jail, nonviolent offenders in Vermont are now given the option of going into treatment. These efforts to reduce opioid prescriptions and to improve treatment for addicts is catching on, and Shumlin thanks Vermonters for “changing their attitudes about addiction and opioid addiction.”
Earlier this year, the country’s rising abuse of heroin and other opioids dominated a meeting of the National Governors Association. Following Vermont’s lead, the nation’s governors are moving to strategies that treat illegal drug users rather than jail them. The shift is also evident in public opinion, with some two-thirds of Americans typically saying that they support providing treatment over long prison sentences.
Last month, the Obama administration announced a series of initiatives aimed at curbing America’s opioid addiction epidemic, steps that would make it easier to obtain medication-based treatment, expand Medicaid coverage, and increase availability of a drug that saves people from overdoses. Noting that more people are killed because of opioid overdose than from traffic accidents, the President highlighted the administration’s proposals as he participated in a panel at the National Rx Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit in Atlanta.
In January, the White House 2017 budget recommendations included over one billion dollars to combat opioid addiction at state and federal levels. Bi-partisan support from members of Congress indicates the severity of the issue.
“Overprescribing of opioid painkillers has fueled the nation’s addiction crisis,” according to a report from the National Governors Association’s Health and Human Services Committee. “Most of the heroin addicts we treat started by using prescription opiates,” Brian McAlister, the CEO of the Full Recovery Wellness Center in Fairfield, N.J. Just last month the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new voluntary guidelines aimed at doctors prescribing painkillers.
Merciful God, may we be prepared to open our hearts and minds to new ideas, new possibilities, new ways of being. May we have the courage to reach out in compassion to those who are different, whose ways seem strange or are hard to understand. Amen.
From: Sandra Rooney
Daily the media carry stories – from all around the globe – of the desperate plight of migrants. In a recent issue of Notre Dame Magazine, Marisel Moreno, an associate professor of U.S. Latino/a literature in the school’s Department of Romance Lanugages and Literatures, reflects on a recent faculty seminar on the U.S.-Mexico border. Prior to crossing the border into Nogales, the group participated in a program organized by Tucson Samaritans, held at Southside Presbyterian Church, the birthplace of the Sanctuary Movement of the 1980s, which provided safe haven for Central American migrants fleeing civil war.
The cross-border experience included joining volunteers at the Kino Border Initiative shelter, where migrants deported from the U.S. are given hot meals, clothing, limited medical care, and something more. Moreno noted that they had been reminded that morning that “being present” for the migrants, listening to their stories, was as important as serving them food. She listened to a 25-year-old woman from Chiapas, where extreme poverty had forced her to leave her 3-year-old daughter with her grandmother and to make the perilous crossing into the U.S. in hopes of finding a job. Apprehended and deported, she now faced two equally dangerous options, to make her way back home through cartel-controlled territory, or try again to enter the U.S.
Moreno listened to other migrants with equally desperate stories, being left behind by the “coyotes” who guide them across the border; walking for days in the harsh desert terrain, lost and without water and food, trying to get back to children in the U.S.; Central Americans seeking asylum after escaping death threats from gangs in their home countries.
Seminar participants also met with a forensic anthropologist at the Pima County Medical Examiner’s office, who tells them that “migrants’ deaths ‘are acceptable’” in the U.S., and how they do what they can to humanize the deaths and notify families when they are able to establish identities.
The wall and surveillance technology, as well as the increased number of Border Patrol agents, is funnelling migrant traffic through the most remote and most deadly areas of the Sonoran Desert. The theory is that the harder you make it, the less likely the migrants are to try. The theory doesn’t take desperation into account.
For Moreno, seeing the border realities and hearing the migrants’ stories reinforces her belief that we need to ask questions about the policies being put in place to protect the border: “Can the U.S. Border Patrol use more humane methods? Can we make sure that the human rights of incarcerated migrants are respected? Can we stop criminalizing undocumented immigrants and start seeing them for who they are – mostly desperate fellow human beings who are willing to risk their lives for those they love?”
Gracious God, we find ourselves in a world full of struggle and pain. May we have the courage to step out of our comfort zone and be that compassionate presence that may make all the difference. Amen.
From Ray McGinnis
Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justiceis an action/adventure movie. It is loosely based on the DC comic book series that, in 1954, began to feature Batman and Superman in the same story. Often, the story included Batman gaining superpowers in order not to be overshadowed by Superman. The stories often explored the camaraderie, antagonism, and friendship between these two superheroes. From the first comic book in 1941, Lex Luthor was Superman’s archenemy. Luthor is a power-hungry, American billionaire businessman, scientist, inventor, and philanthropist. He’s also a psychopath. Luthor lives in the city of Metropolis and is determined to destroy Superman.
In the movie adaptation of this decades-long comic book series, Superman is saving Metropolis from superhuman predators intent on destroying the city. Lex Luthor wants to set a trap for Superman. Meanwhile, Batman, who grew up in Gotham City, sees Superman as an alien who doesn’t really understand how things work here on earth. Both are invited in their alias personas of Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent to a philanthropic party hosted by Lex Luthor. Batman obtains a file from Luthor’s computer. However, the file offers a narrative that paints Superman as an enemy and a danger to Batman. Convinced by what the file from Lex Luthor’s computer suggests, Batman decides to take down Superman.
Director: Zack Snyder
Film company: Warner Brothers
Release date: March 25, 2016
Starring: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Jeremy Irons
Focus: Batman has been able to obtain kryptonite to fashion a vapour and a spear to help him weaken and kill Superman. After an extended action/adventure mash-up of destruction of property and pummeling of bodies, the two superheroes end up in the dark outside. As Batman is about to finish Superman off, Superman calls out to Batman with a word that stops Batman in his tracks. The word Batman hears from Superman puts everything in a new light. Batman’s consciousness and perspective is rearranged. After that, Batman joins forces with Superman to help put a stop to Lex Luthor’s maniacal and violent schemes.
Ever present God, on our own we can stray from the bonds of love and become harmful to those around us. When we lose our way, help us to listen for your voice that we may gain a new perspective to guide us as we serve you. In Christ we pray. Amen.
From Ray McGinnis
Laquan McDonald was a 17-year-old African-American male who was shot on October 20, 2014. That night he was walking down a busy street and had a knife in his hand. He had slashed a tire of a police car and was walking away. Officer Jason Van Dyke told him to drop the knife, but McDonald kept on walking away. McDonald had a history of complex mental health problems and learning disabilities. Van Dyke shot him and McDonald fell to the ground. Then Van Dyke shot McDonald another 16 times in 13 seconds.
It took over a year for a video of the shooting to be released. That finally led to a murder charge of the police officer.
In November 2014, 12-year-old Tamir Rice was in a public park in Cleveland with a toy gun while he was swinging on a swing-set. A passerby in a car, afraid that the gun might be real called 911 and said there was a black male in the park with a gun, and a police car arrived. Rookie police officer Timothy Loehmann jumped out of his car and two seconds later shot the child twice in the abdomen. The police informed the nearby hospital that a male adult was being taken to emergency. As a result, the medical team was unable to intubate Rice (and maintain an open airway), as the tube selection was for an adult male and too large to bypass Rice’s vocal chords. Rice died of a hemorrhage the next morning. A funeral was held in December 2014 with people remembering Rice as a boy who liked to draw and play basketball.
People in the Black Lives Matter Movement began to ask questions about both of these cases. When the news of the video of the shooting of Laquan McDonald came to light, people carried signs that read “16 Shots 400 Days,” complaining about the way the Chicago police were slow-walking their investigation. In both cases, people wondered, if there was a need to shoot, why not shoot to disable instead of shooting to kill.
While some claim that criticizing police conduct is disrespectful and ignores the difficult role they perform every day, others maintain that these cases illustrate something is wrong with the system and that people have to speak up. Recently, both of the prosecutors in these cases in Chicago and Cleveland lost their bids for re-election due to activism in the Black Lives Matter Movement.
In our communities, O God, when some people speak out there is a reaction. Help us to hear the points of view that challenge us. Help us to also find ways to speak up when something needs to be proclaimed, or when a cry for justice needs to be answered. Discerning Spirit, lead us as we make choices about when and where to speak. In Christ we pray. Amen
From Ray McGinnis
The Lady in the Van is a drama about a woman named Mary Shepherd who lives in a van. Played by Maggie Smith, Mary was a nun whose life was turned upside down when she was involved in a vehicle accident that resulted in the death of a young motorcyclist. Years later, she is now living in a van and parks it on a fashionable street in Camden, a suburb of London. She ends up adjacent to the home of playwright and author Alan Bennett, played by Alex Jennings. In time, she moves into his driveway after she gets a notice from the city that her vehicle will be removed. She tells Bennett that it would be ideal if she could have “off-street parking.” She ends up living in her van in Bennett’s driveway for fifteen years. She refuses to say thank you to anyone, even though people are kind to her. The person we get to know in Mary Shepherd is fierce, tenacious, single-minded, manipulative, and eccentric.
The movie is a story about a guest who overstays their welcome. But it is also about two very different people and the way they become important to each other, even though they each drive each other mad. Over fifteen years, Alan Bennett begins to learn details about Mary’s dark past, her choice to leave the convent, why she hates to hear music, her fluency in French, her mysterious trips to the seaside, and a man who appears at night by her van who she gives money to. The story is also a true story about a woman who moved into Alan Bennett’s driveway in 1974 and stayed there until 1989. After she died, Alan Bennett wrote a book about Mary Shepherd, which was later adapted for stage and radio.
In her final days, she is visited by social workers and taken to a facility where she is able, at her own insistence, to bathe herself. She finds a piano, an instrument that serves in the film as metaphor for prayer. After she dies, Alan Bennett senses that he’s been in the presence of the holy.
Director: Nicholas Hynter
Film company: Paramount
Release date: December 11, 2015
Starring: Maggie Smith, Alex Jennings, Jim Broadbent
Focus: While her predicament is dire, Mary finds moments in her life to relax from the stern exterior she has developed over time. She gets Alan Bennett to give her a push in her wheelchair down their street and her face beams with joy. She drives her van to a seaside town and treats herself to an ice cream float and rides on a merry-go-round. And she never seems to be happier than when she is painting her van a new color, much to the surprise of her neighbours in Camden Town.
God of friend and stranger, we come running to find your presence and to discover you have risen. We see signs of your presence and then meet you face to face. Help us be present to one another, to go and tell the others who move in our midst about what you have done and what you are still doing in our lives. In Christ we pray. Amen.
From Paul Turley
There are eight countries in the world that have nuclear arsenals. (There are nine if we include Israel, which is widely believed to have such weapons. However, Israel has a policy of neither confirming nor denying the existence of such an arsenal.). One of them is North Korea.
Apart from Israel, North Korea is the smallest nation by population to possess nuclear weapons, and it is the most secretive, leaving Western observers to only guess at it motivations and aims.
Last week, at the start of the annual US-South Korea military drills or war games called “Key Resolve” and “Foal Eagle,” North Korea released a statement ordering a “pre-emptive nuclear strike of justice.” “We will,” Pyongyang said, “launch an all-out offensive to decisively counter the US and its followers’ hysteric[al] nuclear war moves.”
Experts doubt that North Korea has the technical ability to carry out its threats with many believing that their nuclear weapons, while very real, are crude and unable to be miniaturized in order for them to be fired at distant targets via missiles. North Korean watchers also point out that every year at the start of the joint US-South Korean military exercises, Pyongyang makes threats. In 2015, for example, it threatened to turn Washington into a “sea of fire.”
The annual war games conducted by the US and South Korea and the annual bellicose response by North Korea are not the only events threatening to destabilize the region. Just over a week ago now, the United Nations Security Council unanimously approved harsh new sanctions against North Korea, meaning that both Russia (often the member of the Security Council seeking to water down or delay action against North Korea) and China (North Korea’s sole international backer) fell in line with the rest of the Council.
US News and World Report reports on the Security Council’s decision: “The new sanctions, the strongest in more than two decades, will require all cargo going to and from North Korea to be inspected for items that violate the terms of the restrictions. The measure prohibits exports of coal, iron and iron ore used to finance its illicit nuclear and ballistic missile program, as well as other minerals. It also bans importation of aviation fuel, including rocket fuel.
“North Korean banks and financial assets will be targeted, and restrictions on luxury goods have also been strengthened. Those now include bans on luxury watches, recreational sports equipment, aquatic recreational vehicles, snowmobiles worth more than $2,000 and lead-crystal items.”
Is the world closer to war this week? Is the balance of power shifting in the region? Is it safe to assume that North Korea’s fighting words are just that, words?
Explore… Luke 22:14 – 23:56
God, many of us remember the nuclear clock that for much of our lives was set at only minutes to midnight; we lived under the threat of imminent nuclear threat. Since those times more countries have acquired nuclear arsenals and the world is no safer. We pray that those who have their fingers on the buttons that could destroy us will understand the gravity of our situation and always restrain themselves and we pray for all of us that we will live in hope always working for a better more peaceful world. Amen.
From Paul Turley
In John’s gospel, Jesus tells us that we will always have the poor with us. Is it possible that he was wrong?
Back in 2013, the United Nations released a development report that told us that if we keep working on the reduction of extreme poverty at the present rate, we could see acute poverty eradicated in 20 years.
This brighter global picture is, according to The Guardian of Mach 2013, “the result of international and national aid and development projects investing in schools, health clinics, housing, infrastructure and improved access to water. The UN also pointed to trade as being a key factor which was improving conditions in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Sierra Leone. These improvements have not been picked up in the past when poverty has been measured strictly in income terms without taking into account other factors – health, education and living standards.”
There was a lot of media attention in 2013 on this report and its findings. At the end of 2015, the figures were even more impressive. According to the World Bank, the proportion of the world living in poverty is now in single digits, at 9.6%.
Jim Yong Kim, the president of the World Bank, expressed this as, “the best news story in the world.”
However, measuring poverty is a difficult business and while agreeing that extreme poverty has been reducing, not all experts are as confident in the latest figures as the World Bank is.
According to The Economist, “Economists such as Sanjay Reddy of the New School for Social Research in New York, suspect that the World Bank’s methods overestimate the rate of poverty reduction. The World Bank uses income data for some countries, for example, which is higher than consumption and grows at a different rate. But saving for old age or to pay for a daughter’s dowry is not the same thing as improving your current standard of living. Mr Reddy’s poverty-measurement initiative, the Global Consumption and Income Project (GCIP), has tried to measure consumption better in its poverty calculations. These alternative figures suggest that the World Bank’s old poverty-reduction figures from 1990-2011 were five percentage points higher than they otherwise should have been. The Bank’s new poverty line has decreased the discrepancy between its figures and those of GCIP, but not eliminated it.”
We don’t need to be reminded that we live in a complicated world in complicated times, but we might need to be reminded that the work of reducing and eliminating poverty is part of that complex world and still requires much effort by the global community.
Explore… John 12:1–8
God, perhaps of all people of any time, we have the least excuses for not knowing about and caring for our neighbour in need. Along with all this knowledge we also know that we live in the wealthiest countries in the richest time in history. Give us the courage and tenacity to not shut down the hard, complex, and ongoing conversations we need to have as communities of faith. Help us to respond with wisdom, compassion, and generosity as you always do to us. Amen.
From Paul Turley
Two weeks ago, during a visit to Japan, Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki said that the Palestinians would never re-engage in direct talks with Israel.
Malki said this in response to a French initiative put forward in January of this year that sought to find a way forward in the Palestinian and Israeli relationship, since direct negotiations between the two groups broke down in April of 2014.
At the same time, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has welcomed the latest French initiative. Things, as is often the case in the Israeli-Palestinian relationship, are confusing.
In an effort to compel Israel to participate in the initiative, the French have said that if the Paris efforts to renew the peace process fail, France may move to formal recognition of a Palestinian state.
However, in response, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the French proposal “baffling.”
According to Israeli officials, the threat to recognize Palestinian statehood should the French initiative fail dooms the process to failure before it even starts.
“Why would the Palestinians compromise on even the smallest iota in the conference, if they know from that start, that if progress is not made, they will get what they want?” the officials asked.
This European initiative takes place in an environment where the U.S. is actively pulling back on its involvement in Middle Eastern, and particularly in Palestinian and Israeli, politics. “Everybody knows that the U.S. is really withdrawing from the Middle Eastern arena. I think we have seen it in Syria where the initiative has been seized by Russia. We have seen that the U.S. worked through surrogates, particularly Turkey,” says professor Ghada Talhami, of Lake Forest College, Illinois.
“Traditionally Israel fears any initiative by Europeans because obviously Israel is much more comfortable to deal with the U.S. for many, many reasons, not the least of which is that it has allies within the American government that it can actually direct and use in whichever way it wants. Netanyahu's aggressive response to the recent French peace proposal is a continuation of an Israeli tradition to not accept any suggestion from Europe with regard to ending the Israeli-Palestinian dispute,” the professor stated.
Explore… Luke 15:1–3, 11b–32
God, we pray for all of those who seek peace and resolution between Palestinians and Israelis, and for all who seek peace everywhere. We pray for the clarity to see things as they are, and not as we wish they were. We pray that we might have compassion and insights into the minds and hearts of those with whom we disagree. We pray for the courage to work for peace in our homes, our communities, and in our word. In the name of Christ. Amen.
From Fraser Macnaughton
For many of us, our hectic, fast-paced lives provide us with few or no opportunities to slow down, take in our surroundings, and take stock of our lives. Traditionally, Lent afforded a chance to do just that. But most of us have not the first idea of how to go about this. Often, we need to re-learn forgotten skills of meditation and contemplation. Fortunately, there are still centres of prayer and spiritual practice into which we can tap. However, recent news coming out of Iraq demonstrates how fragile many of the monastic communities are that we rely on to teach us spiritual disciplines.
Satellite images confirm that the oldest Christian monastery in Iraq has been destroyed by the jihadist group Islamic State (IS). St Elijah’s stood on a hill near the northern city of Mosul for 1,400 years. Also known as Deir Mar Elia, the monastery was thought to have been constructed by Assyrian monks in the 6th century. In earlier times, generations of monks tucked candles in the niches, prayed in the chapel, and worshipped at the altar. The Greek letters chi and rho, representing the first two letters of Christ’s name, were carved near the entrance. Over the centuries, as empires have risen and fallen, the monastery has seen its fair share of violence and bloodshed, but has always recovered and continued its role as a place of pilgrimage and spiritual learning.
Now, however, in a concerted campaign to remove all traces of Christianity from land it controls, the monastery has been laid waste. According to analysis, the “stone walls have been literally pulverized. Bulldozers, heavy equipment, sledgehammers, possibly explosives turned those stone walls into this field of grey-white dust. They destroyed it completely.”
It was monasteries that kept alive the faith during what was called the Dark Ages in Europe. Beacons of light and hope in times when civilizations crumbled and when force and violence were the only rule, one of their main tasks was copying the scriptures. These sanctuaries of learning and spirituality have and continue to provide us with resources for contemplation and reflection, which form a vital strand of continuity to Christianity.
Sometimes the simplest prayer is one of silence. Sit for a moment and try to listen to the silence around you.
From Fraser Macnaughton
In whom can we place our trust? In most societies it is assumed we can trust such basic things as the rule of law, or the police, or our doctor. Or the church? In our modern world, time and time again we hear of stories of ordinary people who have placed their trust in an institution or a pillar of society and who have subsequently been let down.
One such recent story concerns the family of a policeman who was shot and blinded by a gunman in Northumbria, England, in 2010. Raul Moat, a 37-year-old bouncer from Newcastle, shot his ex-lover, killed her new boyfriend and shot the unarmed policeman before going on the run for a week, eventually shooting himself dead in Rothbury, Northumberland. The victim, PC David Rathband, a father of two, was blinded after being shot twice, as well as being left with considerable and painful injuries to his face and shoulder. He lost his sense of smell and taste, felt sick every day, and lost three stones. In 2012, took his own life. His family filed a case of negligence against the police force of Northumbria. They believed that the force failed to alert Rathband to the severity of the situation, given that Moat had called the force and told them he was “hunting police officers.” Consequently Rathband was shot while he was sitting, unarmed, in his patrol car on his own, at a prominent and busy junction on the main A1 road. But Mr. Justice Males, sitting at the Moot Hall in Newcastle, maintained that the situation was fast-moving and on an unprecedented scale, and warned of the dangers of hindsight. He ruled that the claim had failed and furthermore said the family who are the claimants must pay the force’s legal costs, with an interim payment of £100,000 due within 21 days.
Explore… Genesis 15:1–12, 17–18
When everything seems lost, or everyone seems against us, to whom do we turn? Can we abandon ourselves to the divine? Can we follow Jesus’ example in the wilderness or on the cross? Or do we want everything tidy and managed? Is that what life is really like? Amen.
From Fraser Macnaughton
The recent severe blizzard that hit the eastern seaboard of the U.S. and the ongoing crisis of migrants coming to Europe throw up an interesting juxtaposition as we reflect on our subject this week. During the run up to every major weather event, (assuming people are given notice) there are always media reports of local people panic buying and stockpiling essentials, and invariably overreacting to what they believe to be happening. This results in supermarkets being empty and basics in temporary short supply. We never get to hear, however, of how all this food is then consumed or indeed shared!
Is this part of the “scarcity mentality” Stephen Covey talks about? It would seem that people who are fearful pack in the most obvious supplies. But then, if there are power cuts, how does one keep all that milk and eggs from going off! The panic buying mode clearly has no room for much sharing.
In contrast to the stories of people with plenty buying even more, because the weather takes a turn for the worse, are the continuing stories of people travelling with virtually nothing. Refugees from the various conflicts in the Middle East, in Syria, Yemen, Somalia, and Libya, are all trying to reach safe haven in Europe, many of whose frontline borders are buckling under the sheer weight of numbers. Many have left relatively affluent lives and are struggling with winter weather and poorly equipped refugee camps, as they make journeys few would wish to embark upon.
Recent reports from Europol, the European Union’s criminal intelligence body, maintain that there are now some 10,000 unaccompanied refugee children who have disappeared. These minors had already been registered in many European countries, but appear to have vanished. Chief of staff Brian Donald said, “An entire criminal infrastructure has developed over the past 18 months around exploiting the migrant flow.”
We follow the One who taught, “When someone asks you for something, give it to him; when someone wants to borrow something, lend it to him.” May we heed the radical nature of Jesus’ message and by our actions may we be seen as followers of the Way. Amen.
From Sandra Rooney
A teen website, “A Mighty Girl,” daily posts stories of girls and women who are making a difference in the world or who are role models from the past. Theirs are stories of determination, courage, and dedication, as well as pain and struggle. One such young woman is Nadia Murad Basee Taha, a 21-year-old Tazidi woman who was kidnapped by ISIS, after seeing hundreds of men, including six of her brothers and stepbrothers, and many elderly women in her village murdered. Nadia and many of the other women and girls were taken to Mosul, where they were given to ISIS fighters as sex slaves. After several months, Nadia managed to escape and find her way to a refugee camp. Since then, she has been sharing her story and speaking out on behalf of the estimated 3,400 girls and women still being held captive.
In December, Nadia testified before the United Nations Security Council in New York, recounting the massacre in her village in northern Iraq and her months of enslavement. It was the first Security Council session on human trafficking. Just last month, Nadia was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize by Iraq. She was praised for her activism on behalf of Yazidi women and called a “symbol of women’s struggle against the dark forces aiming to degrade women.”
The Yazidi practice a form of religion that combines elements of Christianity and Islam, which makes them heretics in the eyes of ISIS. Thousands of Yazidi girls and women have been kidnapped and used as sex slaves. In her testimony to the Security Council, Nadia was not only speaking on behalf of those women, but women worldwide, saying, “All those who commit the crimes of human trafficking and genocide must be brought to justice so that women and children can live in peace – in Iraq, Syria, Nigeria, Somalia, and everywhere else in the world. These crimes against women and their freedom must be brought to an end today.”
Explore…Luke 9:28-36, (37-43)
Merciful God, we pray that we may be alive to your spirit, wherever we may encounter it, and each one find our calling to embody your spirit in acts of justice, love, and compassion. Amen.
From Sandra Rooney
The realities of the global flood of refugees fleeing their homelands are coming ever closer to home for more and more communities, where these refugees now find themselves, by choice or circumstance. In the story of Clarkston, Georgia, we have a microcosm of the attitudes and responses, opportunities and challenges in these communities.
Clarkston is being called by some the Ellis Island of the South. While today Syrian refugees are being settled in this working-class town, the town’s history with immigrants goes back to 1983, when they helped resettle some 60,000 refugees – most from Africa and many who were Muslim.
On the one hand, Clarkston’s resettlement efforts have been very successful – four out of five families who come there become self-sufficient within six months of arriving. On the other hand, the refugee flow has stretched community resources, schools have struggled to educate refugee children, and there have been some incidents of refugee gang violence. And today terrorism fears are causing some in the community to want to put a halt to receiving new refugees.
In the 1970s, Clarkston became a bedroom community for Atlanta, housing upwardly mobile white-collar workers. By the 1980s, many of these newcomers had moved on and their now well-worn apartment complexes were left behind. When the Regan administration formalized the refugee resettlement program, Clarkston became an attractive place for newcomers, with its proximity to Atlanta’s rapid-transit system and booming job market. These refugees, mainly from several African countries, were welcomed and by the 1990s they were changing the face of the community. The Clarkston Baptist Church epitomizes that change. They transformed themselves into the Clarkston International Bible Church, referring often to the Ephesians 2:19 passage, “you are no longer strangers and foreigners…”
Mayor Terry suggests that, today, maintaining the flow of refugees is as much about economics as the clash between humanitarian concerns and national security. The community has come to rely on refugees who work in places like the chicken-processing plants in the area. Many have opened their own businesses. Immigration supporters point out that given the U.S. birthrate, now too low to sustain economic growth, the community needs these newcomers. Those in opposition see the immigrants drawing resources and jobs away from native-born Americans. And there continues to be the fear factor.
Gracious God, we pray that we may see beyond the comfort of our own place and kind, and be ready to go there when there is need. May we witness to your all-encompassing love with acts of compassion and justice. Amen.
From Sandra Rooney
Some 1.2 billion people in the world live without electricity. In response to the recent climate talks in Paris, commitments have been made to change that, such as in India, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi has pledged to achieve universal electrification in India by the end of 2022. However, at present, much of the effort to achieve such goals means adding hundreds of new coal-fired plants, which then contribute to increased pollution levels. But there may be hope. At the recent Paris talks, Mr. Modi and President FrançoisHollande of France started an “International Solar Alliance,” to which Mr. Modi initially pledged $30 million toward the eventual global goal of $1 trillion in funding for solar technology development by 2030.
In the meantime, some 40 companies are marketing solar home systems in India, a country where some 300 million people in remote rural villages or informal urban settlements go without electricity. Thanks to the efforts of Solar Electric Light Company, or Selco, in a few homes, the women can see to do their cooking and children can see to do their school work, long after dark. Selco is selling a panel and battery that would power three lights and an attached socket for phone charging for the equivalent of about $192. Unfortunately, that is still an impossibly high cost for people like P. C. Kalayya, profiled in a recent New York Times story, who live on less than $3 a day.
Selco and the other companies now offering solar home systems in India are working hard to develop business models that will make it possible for some of those 1.2 billion people in the world without electricity to bypass the coal-dependent grid and go directly to renewable energy. But it’s not easy. Banks don’t have the experience in dealing with the kind of small loans such homeowners as Kalayya would need, and the risks are worrisome. Some solar home system providers have chosen pay-as-you-go plans, similar to prepaid cell phones, where the user pays a shopkeeper for a certain amount of electricity and essentially rents the system. That can be risky for the shopkeeper.
Energy poverty is intricately intertwined with the precarious nature of the lives of the potential customers. The solutions are complex, but for people to go from darkness to light can also mean a brighter future for themselves and their children.
Merciful God, we long for good news, for our own lives, for our communities, and for the earth that is our home. May we be the bearers of good news to others so that together we may live the promise of abundant life. Amen.
From Ray McGinnis
The Big Short is an underdog story at heart. It focuses on three men who are caught up in the financial world of Wall Street in New York City. Michael Burry (Christian Bale) is a guy with major social skills obstacles but who is a genius at managing complex banking funds for wealthy investors. In 2005, he gets curious about the accelerating prices of houses across America in the first decade of this century. From his calculations, he discovers by the summer of 2007 that the bubble will start to burst on the mortgage industry due to fraudulent financial schemes. Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt) is a former big player on Wall Street who is now passionate about all things organic and about growing your own seeds and learning to grown your own garden. Mark Baum (Steve Carell) is an idealistic money manager who has become jaded with the way the big banks on Wall Street cook things so that they win and the little guy loses. Baum, Burry, and Rickert are each outspoken against corruption. Through several chance encounters – along with Jared Vannett (Ryan Gosling), a self-interested trader who has a jaded view of Wall Street banking – all four of them decide to place bets against the AAA-rated mortgage securities that are actually in a very shaky state. All end up profiting from the financial mortgage crisis that took place in 2007–08 in America, along with the few colleagues they let in on the deal.
The story is funny because it’s true. It is also a cautionary tale about letting others do the work for you and not informing and thinking for yourself. The people who survive in the world of The Big Short do so because they think outside the box, question assumptions, and listen to their instincts. By betting against something that is actually worth pennies compared to its appraised value by ratings agencies like Standard & Poor and Moody’s, they end up making more than lemonade from lemons. They turn water into wine as Michael Burry’s company racks up a profit of 489%.
To make difficult five-syllable word, three-word phrases like collateralized debt obligation (CDOs) understandable, they put Wolf of Wall Street actress, Margot Robbie, in a bathtub full of bubbles while she sips a tall glass of wine. As she soaks, she tells the movie audience a few things about finance. Chef Anthony Bourdain explains more about bundling mortgages together while he chops fish in his restaurant kitchen. And pop star, Selena Gomez, loses a game of blackjack at a casino table in order to explain the domino effect of CDOs. Even though the story is true and people lost homes and jobs, by making this a comedy, we get to laugh at the absurdity of greed and the insanity of never questioning the foundation of what you are betting your whole life savings, or your home, on. When Ben Rickert helps two young entrepreneurs get in on the deal and bet against the mortgage securities, Jamie and Charlie ask him, after it’s all over, “Why did you do it, Ben?” He answers, “You said you wanted to be rich. Okay. So now you’re rich.”
Director: Adam McKay
Film company: Paramount
Release date: December 11, 2015
Starring: Christian Bale, Brad Pitt, Ryan Gosling, Steve Carell
Focus: In the midst of the frenetic life he lives on Wall Street trying to right the world, Mark Baum is haunted by his brother’s suicide. At a point in the movie when Mark has to take a break from all the desperate high-stakes games in his career, his wife talks to him about how close and loving their relationship was. “We were inseparable,” he confides. And yet, when his brother needed him the most, Mark offered him money. He realizes that money isn’t everything.
God of presence, you nudge us on to notice what is going on in front of us. You offer us opportunity and possibility. Help us discern what we want in this life, whether love, riches, power, or fame. Help us to pay attention to our heart, so we can remember what it is that can make us overflow. In Christ we pray. Amen.
From Ray McGinnis
From November 30 to December 12, 2015, representatives from 196 nations met in Paris for the United Nations Climate Change Conference. The conference negotiated the Paris Agreement, a global agreement on a process for minimizing the effect of climate change. The text of the agreement constituted the consensus reached by the 196 nations participating at the conference.The agreement is not legally binding at present. However, if 55 countries pass legislation adopting it before April 21, 2017, the Paris Agreement will become a global policy among the nations that are members of the United Nations.
The response from scientists who research and study climate change has been mixed, though cautiously optimistic. Canadian climatologist Gordon McBean is the president of the International Council for Science. He related that the consensus among scientists is upbeat. The goal to limit global warming to 2C is a very constructive development. Given that nations need to work to achieve goals by holding conferences and making binding agreements this is the best type of outcome that could be hoped for.
It may be that the nations of the world won’t meet the actual target of limiting global warming to 2C. However, the fact that they are committed to a common goal is far more hopeful then debating whether there is any merit in trying at all.
Since 1850, the temperature of the earth has already increased by about 1C, and because the temperature has been rising by about .2C every decade, it’s likely that the temperature of the Earth will have risen by 1.5C by the middle of the century.
Explore: Luke 3:15–17, 21–22
Holy God, we are your hands and feet. With your spirit working in us, we can do more than we can ask or imagine. Help us participate in the coming of your kin-dom, as we take one step at a time. Help us to be receptive and attentive to the impact of each step we take, so that we may act with humility, trusting in your guidance. In Christ we pray. Amen.
From Ray McGinnis
In the movie Brooklyn, Saoirse Ronan plays Ellis, an Irish girl who comes to America in 1952. The movie is adapted from Colm Toibin’s novel. The story begins in Ireland and jumps between scenes in Ireland (the country she is homesick for) and the city of Brooklyn (the city where she is trying to get a new start in life). Ellis has lived in a tiny Irish village with her mom and sister Rose. Her father is absent. Her sister knows Ellis has more to offer than this little village can give her, and so arranges for Ellis to have a position in Brooklyn, facilitated in part through connections with the Roman Catholic church. Ellis hopes that by finding a good position she will be able to earn enough to send money home and help out the family.
Ellis starts her life in Brooklyn in a boarding home for unwed girls. The woman running the home is full of advice for her boarders as they meet over meals. At one point, when a couple of the women are giggling at the table, the chaperone tells her girls, “A giddy girl is as sinful as a slothful man.”
Ellis works at night on courses in bookkeeping. By day she works at a counter in a department store. Eventually, her life becomes a bit more complicated when she meets a boy named Tony at a dance. Tony, a plumber, is from an Italian-American family. and his brothers are tradesmen. Soon they become very fond of each other. Suddenly, there is news of a death in the family and Ellis returns to Ireland. Tony writes her almost daily, but she doesn’t open his letters. Back in Ireland, her mother sets her up with a position at a local office that needs a bookkeeper. Ellis is also introduced by a girlfriend to a wealthy young man named Jim. Ellis finds that she has to choose between the home she knew, Ireland, or the home she could make with Tony back in Brooklyn.
The movie invites the viewer to consider what is home. Can we make home anywhere we move to? Or is home a particular place and geographical location?
Explore… Matthew 2:1–12
Holy God, in our choices to roam or to stay in our familiar surroundings, you meet us. Help us to discover the sacred in each place and setting where we find ourselves. Open our eyes to who is in front of us, a babe in a manger, a stranger at a church dance. Speak to us that we may know how to go home by another way. In Christ we pray. Amen.
From Ray McGinnis
Since the Syrian Civil War began in 2010, increasing numbers of citizens around the world have watched that tragedy unfold. A combination of incursions from fighters aligned with ISIS and the brutality of the nation’s leader, Assad, have resulted in nearly half the Syrian population of 22 million people being displaced. Seven million Syrians are displaced within their own country, having fled their homes due to the violence and chaos from the civil war. Another four million Syrians have found their way to refugee camps.
Last August, the world watched as news of a young child drowned and washed up on a Mediterranean beach quickened the sense of urgency. Hundreds of thousands of refugees began to pour into Europe. Across the Atlantic, Canadians wondered what they could do to contribute to the largest refugee crisis the world has known since World War Two. Canada’s new prime minister, Justin Trudeau, has pledged to welcome an additional 25,000 refugees from Syria over the winter-spring of 2015–2016. This builds upon the 2,500 Syrian refugees the previous Canadian government processed between 2013 and the summer of 2015.
Trudeau has encouraged Canadians to warmly welcome Syrian refugees to Canada as they experience their first Canadian winter. “After all, we share values of love, hope and compassion — it’s what we do, and it’s who we are,” Trudeau said in the recorded video message.
The new prime minister noted that Christmas is a time when we do not only receive, but it is a time when we can also give, and give generously.
“Around the world and across Canada, Christians gather on Christmas to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. This is a time when families, friends, and colleagues come together to celebrate the spirit of the season… Whether it is volunteering time at a local food bank, buying gifts for children in need, or opening doors to someone who may be celebrating alone, the true spirit of Christmas is about connecting with our neighbours and our community.
“This year, Canadians are welcoming thousands of Syrian refugees to our country — people who have been forced to flee their homeland due to war and conflict. I encourage all Canadians to show them a warm holiday welcome in keeping with our values of compassion, kindness, and generosity.”
As the CBC reported, “In Saskatoon, the city welcomed 14 refugees from Syria to applause and singing on December 19th. Despite being fatigued and uncertain about a return home, 14 new refugees from Syria stepped into the John G. Diefenbaker International Airport in Saskatoon late Saturday night, thankful for the support, gifts, applause and songs from the strangers awaiting their arrival. Among the 14 were mothers, fathers, infants and young children, all of whom smiled, and hugged and kissed the waiting supporters as they met for the first time.”
O God, who is worthy to be praised, help us praise you in our giving at this Christmas time. Help us praise you through the way we treat our neighbours, and welcome the stranger in our midst. Let us remember we, too, were once strangers in a strange land. And let us remember the Holy Family, who once had to flee the land of Israel for safety in Egypt. In Christ we pray. Amen.
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