Past Spirit Sightings (The Archives)
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.
From Paul Turley
“Violence (against women) has reached the level of an emergency,” says leading feminist Gloria Steinem. When asked recently, while promoting her new book My Life on the Road, what she thought the biggest issues were facing women across the world, she said, “If you add up, in terms of the numbers of people, I would say that competing for number one would be violence against females worldwide. If you add up all the forms of violence, whether it's domestic violence in this country, which is at an enormously high rate – I mean, the most dangerous place for a woman in this country is her own home, and she's most likely to be beaten or killed by a man she knows – or it is FGM, female genital mutilation, or it is female infanticide, or honour killings or child marriage… Violence has reached an emergency,” Steinem said.
Her view is backed up by shocking statistics released in Australia for White Ribbon Day – National Day to Stop Men’s Violence against Women, held this year on November 25. According to White Ribbon research, on average, in Australia, more than one woman per week is killed by a current or former partner. Similar figures are being echoed in other parts of the world.
However, it is not only levels of violence that women have to suffer. Women make up half the world’s population, but represent 70% of the world’s poor.
Across the world, income for women is half that of men, according to the UK’s Magic Bus, an anti-poverty mentoring program aimed at women.
A recent study by the Web Foundation, established by British World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee, has found that while 59% of poor men use the Internet, just 37% of women do so.
“Most poor urban women are confined to (a technology) ghetto that does little to help them break out of the real ghetto of poverty and gender discrimination,” said Anne Jellema, Web Foundation's chief executive.
While the situation for women around the world (and because of it for men) is desperate, it is not hopeless. The United Nations Millennium Development Goals, which seek to give practical shape to the work ahead, recognize how important the emancipation of women is by making the goal to “Promote gender equality and empower women” the third Millennium Goal, following only Goal One, “Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger,” and Goal Two, “Achieve universal primary education,” both of which goals will of course also disproportionately help women.
The World Bank, supporters of The Millennium Goals, believes that “putting resources into poor women’s hands while promoting gender equality in the household and in society results in large development payoffs.”
It is for this we must work together, men and women, for the benefit of all.
Explore… Luke 1:39–45
God, Mao Zedong once said that
From Paul Turley
Just as I sat down to write this, news came through that Sweden has announced a reversal of its open-door policy on refugees and asylum seekers.
In the last few months, Sweden has been welcoming refugees and asylum seekers at a rate of 10,000 a month. This put the small Scandinavian nation second only to Germany in the ranking of nations that have taken the most refugees in the recent mass movement of people.
For some, this is a move that will restore order to a situation that they feel is out of control. There have been reports that newly arrived refugees have been forced to sleep on the streets because of a lack of accommodation.
The move is seen by around 70% of the Swedish population as an important corrective that must be reluctantly undertaken. Up until this change, Sweden, a country of 9.8 million people, has taken more refugees as a proportion of its population than any other country in Europe. Even though Germany has taken more refugees in raw numbers, Malta, Switzerland, Denmark, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Netherlands, and Belgium all rank above Germany per capita.
However, in a world where many doors, including many in Europe, are closed to refugees (both France and the UK are far below Sweden in numbers of refugees accepted per capita), this move by what is often seen as one of the most responsive and humane nations on earth is a worrying sign. If the Swedes are hardening their approach, what hope is there for nations like Hungry, which is closing its borders, and for wealthy nations like Australia, the USA, and Canada who are still willing to take only token numbers of refugees? “The last bastion of humanitarianism has fallen,” says an unnamed United Nations official in Stockholm.
Left Party leader Jonas Sjöstedt tweeted: “Sweden was a light in the darkness for many forced to flee. That light goes out now. People fleeing will be hit hard.”
Explore… Luke 3:7–18
God, in what might be the largest movement
From Paul Turley
When we think of preparing the way for the 2015 Climate Summit happening now in Paris, France, we might think first of the NGOs that have long called for a reduction in the burning of fossil fuels and for keeping the rise in global temperatures below two degrees. We might also think of the low-lying nations of the Pacific, which are the first to experience the catastrophe of rising sea levels.
What we might not think of in the first instance is huge global corporations and large insurance conglomerates.
Banks like HSBC have Climate Change Strategists on staff to advise their large corporate and institutional investors on managing the financial risks of climate change.
These advisers are talking about stranded assets. Shim Paun for HSBC explains, “Stranded assets are those that lose value or turn into liabilities before the end of their expected economic life. In the context of fossil fuels, this means those that will not be burned – they remain stranded in the ground. We believe the risks of this occurring are growing.”
This seems to be the case. Globally, the market value of oil and gas companies has dropped by over US $580 billion in the last nine months.
Hard-nosed investors, regardless of their own private opinions about climate change, are unwilling to ignore the bottom line of their investments. And it is the starkness of the bottom line that, twined with a growing sense of the moral imperative, is driving the global divestment movement which itself might be preparing the way for the Paris talks to make some serious and binding decisions to reduce global emissions.
Arabella Advisors, a group that “helps foundations, philanthropists, and investors who are serious about impact create meaningful change,” reports that “To date, 436 institutions and 2,040 individuals across 43 countries and representing $2.6 trillion in assets have committed to divest from fossil fuel companies. The divestment movement has grown exponentially since Climate Week in September 2014, when Arabella Advisors last reported that 181 institutions and 656 individuals representing over $50 billion in assets had committed to divest. At that time, divestment advocates pledged to triple these numbers by the December 2015 Paris UN climate negotiations. Three months before the negotiations, we have already witnessed a fifty-fold increase in the total combined assets of those committed to divest from fossil fuels.”
With regard to the insurance industry, many groups, including the FSB, the Financial Security Board (a peak body for national financial institutions) are trying to make sense of how to provide insurance in an era when the risks of climate change must be factored into long- and short-term policies. The FSB is calling for the creation of an industry-led disclosure task force on climate-related risks.
We can only hope that along with NGOs, the nations of the Pacific and concerned citizens around the globe, big business might help prepare the way for meaningful change.
Explore… Luke 1:68–79
God, perhaps there has never been a time in history
From Paul Turley
One woman said that she couldn’t remember Paris this dark since the war…
The horror visited on the streets of Paris last week brings the wars of the Middle East inside the heart of Europe. ISIS has claimed responsibility for the, so far, 129 deaths, and French President Francois Hollande has vowed that “France will destroy ISIS.”
While police across Europe search for the Belgian Salah Abdeslam, who is believed to be the eighth attacker, people from nations across the globe try to fathom the thinking of the young men who were willing to slaughter other human beings who they did not know, and to give up their own lives in the process.
While political leaders try to reassure us that they are doing everything they can to ensure our safety, security experts like Duncan Lewis, the Director-General of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), give no guarantees: “While I can tell you that intelligence and security authorities are working as hard as they can on these matters, there is no guarantee, there is no way in the world, that we’re able to say there is no possibility of an attack in Australia or anywhere else in the world,” he said.
What purpose ISIS has in perpetrating these attacks is up for speculation. Is it that on the actual war fronts in Iraq and Syria they are experiencing a series of defeats and a slow-down in the number of willing recruits joining the cause? Is it that they want to turn the West against all Muslims and in doing so create a flood of frightened Muslins to their side and trigger a global jihad?
What is not up for speculation is the reason Paris was the target. Paris is, according to a statement issued by ISIS claiming responsibility for the attacks, “the capital of abominations and perversion, the one that carries the banner of the cross in Europe.”
When political leaders met in Turkey at the G20 last week, just 500 kilometres from the Syrian border, a summit that was billed to deal with economic issues gave its attention to terror and ISIS.
“ISIL is the face of evil,” said US President Obama at a press conference at the conclusion of the G20. “Tragically, Paris is not alone. We’ve seen outrageous attacks by ISIL in Beirut, last month in Ankara, routinely in Iraq. Here at the G20, our nations have sent an unmistakable message, that we are united against this threat,” he said.
What can we say or do about peace and about hope in moments like these? And what do we do with the promise in our text for this week that “Jerusalem will live in safety?”
God, safety is a matter of the heart.
From Fraser Macnaughton
Since his surprise election as the leader of the official UK opposition Labour party, left-winger Jeremy Corbyn has had to endure the unrelenting scrutiny of the media over his every move and comment. Originally nominated for the leadership contest, Corbyn was viewed as a rank outside, but to the chagrin of the establishment he won with almost 70% of the votes. This caused apoplexy amongst the political classes of all hues and their media sponsors, resulting in bizarre headlines over such trivial issues as Corbyn’s choice of necktie [or not].
In the latest scenario, the scene is the Cenotaph in Whitehall in the heart of London, where the Royal Family and political leaders lay poppy wreaths on Remembrance Sunday. As reported, the burning issue seems to have been whether Jeremy Corbyn bowed low enough when he placed his wreath against the war memorial. Some felt he hadn’t bowed at all; others felt that it was “half hearted.” “For others, the uproar itself on Remembrance Sunday was a cause for dismay, with supporters of Mr Corbyn mocking attempts to provide a “microanalysis” of the Labour leader’s actions,” the UK’s Independent reported.
Only a few papers picked up on the fact that after the service when the other dignitaries had left for an official VIP lunch, Corbyn stayed behind to applaud the march past of veterans and serving armed forces personnel. He also spent time helping groups of old comrades take photos of the occasion.
This and other episodes highlight a growing divide in the UK between the established worldview of tighter public finances, slashing welfare budgets while wishing to spend £100 billion on renewing UK nuclear weapons, and an alternative vision espoused by Corbyn of a more equal society and a fairer world. Even within the higher echelons of his own party, Corbyn is seen a maverick who won’t play the political games. But for the party’s grassroots who voted him as leader in overwhelming numbers, he is seen as being far more in touch with ordinary people than with the political elite.
There seems little doubt that for Jeremy Corbyn to be in office long enough to make a difference he will have to show extraordinary levels of endurance and develop the skin of a rhinoceros. But equally he may just be displaying an alternative to the economic orthodoxy of the day.
We don’t need to pray to be told of the chasm between the way of world and the way of Christ. We do need to reflect more deeply on how we can change hearts and minds and convince ourselves and others that the way of Jesus way, while the road less travelled, is a way to life in all its fullness. Amen.
From Fraser Macnaughton
The ongoing refugee crisis facing Europe is throwing up some interesting stories in terms of how the different groups involved react to the situation. For the refugees, having the chance to move to Europe invariably is viewed as a sign of future hope. For the recipients of refugees in Europe, there are mixed reactions, from welcoming and compassion, to uncertainty and anxiety, to downright hostility and an appetite to accept the fear card played by politicians. For example, in Germany, government officials have compelled a small town with just 102 people to take in approximately 750 migrants from Syria and other countries. Sumte, a small town in Lower Saxony, was informed by its local authority that it had been designated to accept over a thousand of the asylum seekers that have come to Germany over the course of 2015. The number was so high that mayor Christian Fabel first thought it was a joke, but after a storm of local protest, the figure was lowered to 750, because it was thought 1,000 would overwhelm the town’s sewage system.
The plan is to use an old office building for accommodation, but beyond that there seems to be no planning for other services to be put in place. The village of Sumte is so small that there is not even a school, let alone any shops, and public transportation is scarce to say the least.
Authorities say that the plan is to house the refugees for up to a year in the old office block while their applications for asylum are processed. However, many of those who live in Sumte believe that the lack of facilities for the refugees, who are disproportionately young men, could result in boredom, and with that comes the fear that some may resort to criminal activity. But according to some journalists, it may not just be a fear of perceived crime or sewage or infrastructure issues that are the biggest problem facing local and national government authorities. The underlying tension created by such a large influx of refugees into such a small community could well make locals question the wisdom of near limitless immigration.
In Sumte, while there has been some tub thumping by local neo-Nazis who seek to preserve Germany’s “genetic heritage,” others condemn such behaviour stating such views are incompatibly with democracy. It would appear, thus far, that tolerant values seem to be winning out in Sumte, which gives future hope to not only the refugees, but also to locals too.
Explore… Mark 13:1–8
May we have the courage of faith to speak a word of hope to those who are fearful, a word of welcome to those who are strangers, a word of comfort to those who are lost. Amen.
From Sandra Rooney
Bill Moyer’s Facebook page recently linked viewers to the story of Ursula Le Guin accepting the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters at the 2014 National Book Awards. The eminent sci-fi writer had this to say: “I think hard times are coming when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom. Poets, visionaries – the realists of a larger reality.…”
Over the last month or more, 35 leading Indian authors and poets have returned awards from India’s National Academy of Letters in response to actions of the Hindu nationalist government of Prime Minister Narendr Modi. Novelist Nayantyara Sahgal returned her award, saying it was in sympathy with “all the dissenters who now live in fear and uncertainity…” In her words, “The tide of violence against freedom of speech is rising every day.” Short story author G. S. Bhullar returned his award in protest to what he called, “The violent retrogressive forces dictating terms in the field of literature and culture.”
This action by writers, described as a “revolt,” is in response to the shape of Modi’s administration, which is seen as condoning increasingly violent intolerance. The revolt had its beginnings in September, when M. M. Kalburgi, a 76-year-old critic of Hindu idolatry, was gunned down in his home and no arrests were made. More recently, Modi failed to condemn the killing of a Muslim man by a Hindu mob, because they suspected he had killed a cow and eaten its meat. Modi is an avid Twitter user and critics point out that he has not used one Twitter post to offer condolences to the man’s family.
These incidents and others point to a growing pattern of violence against freedom of speech. Modi’s failure to confront intolerance is seen as giving tacit permission for more violence. Noted author Salman Rushdie recently spoke out in support of Sahgal and the writers’ revolt on a Twitter post, saying, “These are alarming times for free expression in India.” He reported receiving thousands of outraged responses.
At the same time, only last month, during a visit to the United States, Mr. Modi was warmly welcomed by members of the high-tech community and praised as a modernizing, progressive, open-minded leader of the world’s largest democracy.
God of the small and the large, when just doing our small part doesn’t seem to be enough, may we find the courage to confront intolerance and injustice, to speak up and show up, to be witnesses for that which is life-giving. Amen.
From Sandra Rooney
Across the United States, Americans continue to struggle to understand and respond to the all-too-frequent mass shootings taking place, particularly in school or college settings. In a recent Christian Science Monitor report, a number of folks recently weighed in on the topic following the October 5 shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon.
Christopher Kilmartin, professor of psychological science at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia, suggests that one factor he and others feel is not getting enough attention is masculinity. “The elephant in the room with…mass shootings is that almost all of them are being done by men,” he says.
Michael Kimmel, who has done extensive research on masculinity, says, “Every time it happens, we talk about guns. We talk about mental health. But we don’t talk about how all these mass shooters are male. We need to understand how masculinity affected their experience.” While mass shooters are often seen as “outliers or oddballs,” he says, “we should think of them as conformists…over-conforming to masculinity, because they perceive themselves, in some way or another, as emasculated.” They may see shooting as a way to demonstrate their masculinity. In a New York Times letter to the editor, Kimmel writes, “Unless we confront the equation of masculinity and violence, the deeper truths about school violence will elude us.”
Professor Tristan Bridges, a sociologist at The College of Brockport, State University of New York, suggests that the problem “goes straight to our culture with its changing definitions of gender roles,” with no clear milestones as there used to be as boys transitioned to men. Combine that with recent economic woes, which have derailed hopes of economic security and upward mobility, and we see men who are frustrated, angry, and feeling alienated.
Jon Davies, director of the McKenzie River Men’s Center in Eugene, Oregon, suggests that men are raised to be stoic, to suppress their emotions, and when they struggle, often the only emotion they see as sufficiently masculine is anger. Peter Langman, counselling psychologist and author on school shootings, adds that some cultural messages suggest to men that violence enhances their status, and “for people who feel powerless, getting a gun is seen as a way to suddenly have that power.”
Loving and forgiving God, we pray we may know ourselves to be loved by you and so accept and love ourselves that we are empowered to reach out to others with compassion and love. Amen.
From Paul Turley
Two weeks ago, government representatives from a group of 20 nations met and formed a “V20.” This group of nations includes some of the poorest and least-developed nations across Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Latin America, and the Pacific, and are home to approximately 700 million people.
The V20 is the “vulnerable 20,” nations who understand themselves to be in immediate danger from climate change and who feel that their voice is not being heard by the big nations of the earth.
In a statement made at its forming, the group said, “We unite for what we believe is the fundamental human rights issue threatening our very own existence today. In the absence of an effective global response, annual economic losses due to climate change are projected to exceed $400 billion by 2030 for the V20, with impacts far surpassing our local or regional capabilities.”
The V20 has formed ahead of the Paris Climate Conference, or COP21 (Conference of Parties), which will be held in Paris, France, from November 30 through December 11, 2015. Government representatives from more than 190 nations will gather to discuss a possible new global agreement on climate change that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions to avoid the catastrophic consequences of global warming.
Among that 190, some of whom are members of the V20, are the low lying coral atolls and islands of Pacific nations, many of whom are in such immediate danger that one of them, Kiribati, is actively pursuing strategies for the mass migration of its people. A little over a year ago, Kiribati – a nation of 102,000 people inhabiting 33 close-to -sea-level coral atolls – purchased 20 square kilometres of land in Fiji, 2,000 kilometres away to the south west.
There is little doubt that the small nations of the Pacific, even those with the slightly amplified voice of the V20, will have a very hard time being heard in Paris. Their plight is amplified by the stance of the two largest, most powerful and richest nations in the region – New Zealand and Australia.
During a recent meeting of the Pacific Islands Forum, New Zealand and Australia both refused to endorse a proposal by the smaller nations of the Forum for global warming to be limited to 1.5C above a pre-industrial baseline. Both larger nations are unwilling to go below the internationally-agreed limit of 2C.
At the same time, The United Nations has, thanks to Australian opposition, dropped a plan to help relocate Pacific nations peoples affected by climate change. A “climate change displacement coordination facility” that would provide “organized migration and planned relocation,” as well as compensation, to people fleeing rising sea levels, extreme weather, and ruined agriculture has been removed from a communique to be presented to the Paris conference.
It seems that getting a fair hearing if you are small, poor, or of no consequence to the rich is as difficult today as it was in Jesus day.
Explore… Mark 10:46–52
God, our technology means that we
From Paul Turley
Pope Francis is far from the most powerful person in the world. He is the leader of a tiny city state of 44 hectares (110 acres) with an armed forces with a little over 100 members. However, it is possible that the Pope is currently the most influential person on the planet.
Spiritual leader to a community of more than 1.2 billion people spread across most of the world's countries, a spiritual influence on millions more, and, since his election in 2013, a significant contributor to the important global events of our time, the pope surely understands the influence he can have.
During his recent visit to the USA, the Pope said the following at a mass in New York City, that quintessential big city: “In big cities, beneath the roar of traffic, beneath the rapid pace of change, so many faces pass by unnoticed because they have no ‘right’to be there, no right to be part of the city. They are the foreigners, the children who go without schooling, those deprived of medical insurance, the homeless, the forgotten elderly. These people stand at the edges of our great avenues, in our streets, in deafening anonymity.”
During an address to the US Congress, the pope urged the Congress to reject “a mindset of hostility”toward immigrants. And, while he did not address “hot button”issues such as same-sex marriage directly, Francis did urge US bishops to use less harsh language, be less critical, and offer a more welcoming approach. The pope encouraged the bishops to focus less on such issues and more on pastoral care.
However, it was not just what the pope said in his formal addresses; it was his wordless gestures, off-agenda meetings, and spontaneous his responses to people that indicate how well he understands his influence.
On his visit to the White House, in a country responsible for the consumption of about a fifth of the world’s total oil, the pope arrived, not in the kind gas-guzzling SUV favoured by the security services with which he was surrounded, but in a small, energy efficient Fiat. Nothing needed to be said; volumes were spoken.
This silent message is the natural outworking out of his plea to priests in 2013: “It hurts me when I see a priest or nun with the latest-model car,”he said. ”You can’t do this. A car is necessary to do a lot of work, but, please, choose a more humble one. If you like the fancy one, just think about how many children are dying of hunger in the world.”
As The New Yorker has it, “What has lifted Pope Francis above the political fray and reinvigorated his office in a way that could barely have been imagined under Pope Benedict, is his peerless ability to convey to ordinary people of all religions and political views his version of Catholicism –a version based largely on the life and teachings of Saint Francis of Assisi, the founder of the Franciscan Order. From choosing to live in a modest guest house, rather than in the Apostolic Palace, to washing the feet of a young Muslim prisoner, to inviting dozens of homeless people to tour the Sistine Chapel, Pope Francis has lifted up the papacy by puncturing its grandeur, infusing it with humanity, and, where necessary, cleverly exploiting the power of imagery.
Not power; influence.
God, teach us that greatness
From Paul Turley
When have we done enough? That is the question being asked by the young man in our scripture text. It is also the question being asked around the world with regard to the current crisis which is seeing more people on the move across the world than were displaced during the Second World War.
In the last few days the United Nations Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR, has warned that the current flow of refugees into Europe will be “the tip of the iceberg”unless there is an end to the civil war in Syria.
Syrian civilians have been caught between the civil war being fought by and against the Assad regime and the brutal crackdowns by the Islamic State as it seeks to hold and expand territory there and in Iraq.
As The Guardian has it, “Amin Awad, regional refugee coordinator for the UN high commissioner for refugees (UNHCR), said Europe needed to prepare for millions more migrants as well as work to bring an end to the Syrian conflict to prevent a bigger movement of people.”
For those of us who live in countries who are signatories to the United Nations refugee conventions, our issue is not about information about the extent of the problem. Even if we ignore conventional media and its coverage of the geo-politics that is affecting so many nations, social media is alive with the brave and heartbreaking stories of individuals in desperate plight.
We know what is happening. The question is, how much is enough? To what extent should we be following the letter of the conventions to which we are signatories, and to what extent should we be living up to the letter of those conventions?
In recent days, under intense public pressure, the Australian government, having previously declared that Australia was doing its fair share (a statement that is verifiably untrue on any number of measurements scales), has agreed to take 12,000 Syrian refugees.
The USA to has agreed to an increase. Currently, that nation has accepted only about 1,500 refugees from the Syrian crisis. According to The New York Times, "The Obama administration will increase the number of worldwide refugees the United States accepts each year to 100,000 by 2017, a significant increase over the current annual cap of 70,000."
While Germany leads the way in acceptance of refugees, its policy is of necessity being made on the run and is contradictory at best. At the end of August, government leaders were saying, “There can be no upper limit set on the intake of people who are fleeing persecution and need protection.”Three weeks later, Germany temporarily closed its borders with a Munich police spokesman saying, “Given the numbers from yesterday, it is very clear that we have reached the upper limit of our capacity.”
For people of faith and people of goodwill who may take this text as a guide, surely our response must be a willingness to do all that is necessary to provide safe haven for all who need it.
God, let us not sleep through this crisis, pretending that we are not a part of your great world and the one human family. Give us compassion for each other, courage to speak up for truth and human dignity and grace to welcome all. Amen.
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