Past Spirit Sightings (The Archives)
From Paul Turley
“There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.” ― Mahatma Gandhi
When we think of famine, we often think of Sub-Saharan Africa, where we have been used to hearing about and seeing famines come and go for many decades with devastating results. In the 2010 to 2012 famine that hit Somalia, more than a quarter of a million people perished. One area of the world we do not often think of first with regard to famine is the Middle East. Yet there is a famine unfolding at this moment in the poorest Middle Eastern country, Yemen.
The population of the Middle East’s poorest country is 27 million. Currently, the United Nations estimates that more than seven and a half million people face severe food shortages and are “one step” from famine.
However, Yemen, according to the U.N.’s John Ging, seems to no longer be at the top of the foreign aid concerns of countries around the world. According to Ging, the U.N. appeal for $1.8 billion to help more than 13 million Yemenis this year is just 16 percent funded despite Yemen being declared one of the U.N.’s highest-level humanitarian emergencies. One of the world’s wealthiest nations and a neighbour to Yemen, Saudi Arabia, has yet to make an aid contribution this year.
Yemen is in the midst of a civil war. Or at least that is one way of describing the ongoing fighting. The other is that Yemen is the battleground for wider Middle East tensions. There are a number of groups who benefit from the ongoing conflict. The main insurgent group, the Sufi Houthis who have held the Yemeni capital, Sana’a, since 2014 and the incumbent President Abd-Rabbu Mansur Hadi are the main players, but outside groups like al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) are able to use the chaos to their wider advantage. Each also has a motive to impede the peace process.
Regardless of the cause of the conflict and its prospects for a peaceful end (which suffered a setback when the peace process broke down in Switzerland last year), people are suffering and the food security situation is getting worse. The United Nations says that as of the beginning of 2016, 180,000 children are suffering from malnutrition. And while they are not responsible for their situation and may not even understand why they suffer, without our help, their suffering will continue.
Explore…1 Kings 17:8–16, (17–24)
God, save us from despair and weariness when we think of our brothers and sisters who are suffering. May we not give up on your call for us all to be one human community. May we never stop working for the world you want, where everyone belongs and everyone has enough. Amen.
From Paul Turley
The Sumatran rhinoceros (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) is one of the most endangered animals on Earth. Experts estimate that there are now only about 100 individual animals living in the fragmented and diminishing rainforests of Southeast Asia.
So the news two weeks ago of the birth of a Sumatran rhino at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary on the island of Sumatra in Indonesia was good news for the world, for those who are trying to breed the animals in captivity and protect the remaining wild population, and for the rhino population.
“I burst into tears, because it was just such a special moment and such a joyous occasion,” said Susie Ellis, the head of the International Rhino Foundation.
This birth is only the fifth to have occurred in a breeding facility and such a rare and precious offspring needs much care. This newest rhino will be under 24 hour surveillance and protection for the next six or seven years before being mature enough to mate. It took zoologists 17 years of careful study of the rhino before the first animal was born in captivity at the Cincinnati Zoo in 2001.
In the wild, the Sumatran rhino is under constant threat from the clearing of their forest habitat for pulp for making paper and to make way for palm oil plantations. The species is also under pressure because of poaching. The horn of the rhino and other body parts fetch high prices on the black market for use in traditional Chinese medicine.
In a world where the United Nations Environment Program estimates the loss due to extinction at between 150 to 200 plant, insect, bird and mammal species every 24 hours – 1000 times the “natural” or “background” rate, and the greatest rate of extinction since the dinosaurs disappeared 65 million years ago – the birth of one small animal might not seem like a lot to celebrate. As Susan Ellis says, “One birth doesn’t save the species, but it’s one more Sumatran rhino. Every birth counts.”
Explore… Psalm 96
God, despair is easy and natural when we face the destruction our world at our own hands. Hope is hard and requires us to work together in community. Give us the courage and tenacity we need to be your hopeful people, not giving into despair and hopelessness but living with our eyes trained on what can be and what will be as we trust and work for love, joy, and peace. Amen.
From Fraser Macnaughton
At present in European media, there are countless stories of how people are reacting to the migrant crisis. Refugees have been coming from war-torn lands such as Syria, Somalia, Iraq, and Afghanistan in large numbers. They seek to better their lives in Europe where some countries, notably Germany and Sweden, have opened their borders to these desperate people. Others, such as the UK, have been reluctant to take more than a handful of refugees. Right-wing groups are fearful of large influxes of foreigners to their countries and are taking more extreme measures to stem the flow of people.
In Austria, attempts to build a fence on the border with Italy, which has many landing points of refugees coming by sea, have been met with violent protest. The famous Brenner Pass is one of the main routes used by migrants to access Germany. In many European countries, there has been a rise in right-wing and anti-Islamic protest groups angry at governments who open their borders to large numbers of migrants. This has prompted counter activity from left-wing groups who organize demonstrations, welcoming refugees and migrants. Inevitably, violent clashes often ensue between rival groups.
In this situation, which is one of the most critical for Europe as a whole, the voice of wisdom struggles to be heard. There are many different voices. Often, depending on where they emanate, whether from a front line country like Greece, or from one more remote from the immediate impact of large numbers of migrants, the voices can be poles apart. Meanwhile, refugees and migrants themselves are now helping others to make the perilous journey, to find relatives or communities where they would be welcomed. But listening for the voice of wisdom amongst the clamour of voices is increasingly difficult.
Amid the clamour of the world and its media voices, may we find space for the Voice of Wisdom and the creative spirit to discern what it might be saying to us about our community our land and our world. Amen.
From Fraser Macnaughton
There is a long and unbroken tradition in the UK of celebrating Royal jubilees, weddings, coronations, and special birthdays with the lighting of beacons – whether they’re on top of mountains, churches, or castle battlements; on town and village greens, farms, or in country parks; or along the beaches of the coastline. The lighting of beacons creates a chain of celebration. Most recently this happened to mark the Queen’s 90th birthday. The last major beacon celebration was on the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee on June 4, 2012. To kick off her 90th birthday celebrations, the Queen herself lit the first beacon at Windsor Castle setting off a chain of beacons lit throughout the United Kingdom. Members of the Army Cadet Force took beacons to the top of the four highest peaks in the United Kingdom – Ben Nevis in Scotland, Mount Snowdon in Wales, Scafell Pike in England, and Slieve Donard in Northern Ireland. The beacons were constructed in a variety a ways, from special gas-filled brazier to traditional bonfires and replica beacons placed on top of posts that recalled the days before lighthouses along the coastline.
Since time immemorial, the light of beacons has relayed important messages across the land. Hilltops were always ready to warn the population of invasion or seaborne raids, and to relay news of important births or deaths.
In many ways, this kind of celebration using firelight resonates with of many of the themes of Pentecost, when, the story tells us, it was as if the apostles almost had little beacons of fire on their heads.
May the Spirit of Pentecost blow among us and instill in us a sense of awe and wonder as we celebrate life, community, and following in the Way of Jesus together. Amen.
From Fraser Macnaughton
Twenty-seven years ago there occurred the worst disaster ever at a British soccer match when 96 people died watching Liverpool play Nottingham forest in the English cup semi-final at Hillsborough soccer stadium in Sheffield. Most of the supporters who died were crushed to death as gates were opened to let them into the ground without checks being made as to whether they had the correct tickets.
The local police force, backed up by the national media, blamed fans for the deaths. Some of the media headlines were lurid, referring to fans being drunk, stealing from the dead, and preventing medics from reaching the injured. However, some 29 years later, an inquest jury has found that in fact the actions of South Yorkshire police officers were the principal cause of the disaster. In a verdict that represents one of the most damning indictments of a British police force, the jury answered 14 questions about what happened at the football groundincluding the fact that the 96 fans were killed unlawfully.
It was only through the dogged perseverance of the families and relatives who were determined to clear the names of their loved ones that the truth of that day has come to light. All through the various enquiries and investigations, the collective will of the relatives and families and the rock solid belief that blame had been wrongly attributed gave them the succor to continue their case in the face of a torrent of slurs and media scapegoating, not only of the fans who attended on the day but by implication all Liverpool fans.
Families in the Hillsborough Justice Campaign said in a statement read outside the court that the verdicts “completely vindicate the families’ long fight for justice.”
Prosecutors will now examine evidence to see if there is a case to be made for criminal proceedings. Only by their struggle for the common good has this group of ordinary people been strong enough to take on the forces of the establishment and to achieve a just outcome for the deceased and injured.
Explore… Acts 16:16–34
We pray for all victims of injustice that they may persevere in their cause, be strong in their faith, and know that there are others who are able to offer prayerful support and that, where their struggle is just, there too is the Spirit of Christ at work. Amen.
From Sandra Rooney
We’ve all seen pictures of the conditions of those who make their living scavenging dumps near major cities around the world. In 1992, Bert Looij and his wife, Margriet, who are Dutch, had occasion to visit an informal Roma settlement located at Pata Rât, a dumpsite located just outside Cluj, the second-largest city in Romania. What they found there fit that image – makeshift shelters, people sleeping under plastic, children bitten by rats, and families extremely vulnerable to the loss of everything due to fires. After Bert and Margriet returned home from that trip, Bert found the experience continued to grip his heart and before long the couple decided to move to Romania.
The Roma, commonly called gypsies, who have faced discrimination and rejection by mainstream society for generations, continue to suffer today due to lack of employment opportunities, education, malnutrition, and poverty. When the Looijs returned to Romania, they began by working with the families living in and around the dump, who harvested glass and plastic bottles to recycle. Bert worked alongside the men harvesting the bottles, as it is called, and Margriet with the women cleaning them. Even this modest source of income disappeaered when the dump closed last year. Some were able to find other jobs, but employment is always a struggle for Roma.
Projects among the poorest Roma date back to 1991 and include schools and tutoring, rehabing houses, road improvments, and sewers. Looij also works tirelessly as an advocate for the Roma. Today he is executive director of ProRroma, a foundation started in March 2003, as a collaboration between Romania and the Netherlands. ProRroma operates throughout Romania, with offices based in Cluj-Napoca, a city of about 300,000, located in northwestern Romania. With ProRroma, Looij has focused on four Roma camps, where some 470 families and 1,100 children are living.
One young man Looij has helped, Janos Guzman, is now part of ProRroma’s small staff. Orphaned at 7, living on the steets at 19, he knows firsthand what it means to have someone like Looij, who can offer help and hope for a better life. Asked why he does the work he does, Looij says simply,“I help them because nobody else is helping them.”
Creator and redeemer, we pray we may be alert to the call, however it comes to us, and may we have the courage to answer with lives of compassion and joy. Amen.
From Sandra Rooney
After years of incarcerating those with drug addictions, there seems to be a shift in the U.S. from punishment to treatment and prevention, and holding medical providers accountable for responsible prescriptions.
Two years ago, Gov. Peter Shumlin of Vermont used his entire annual message to address what he called “a full-blown…crisis” in opiate addiction in Vermont. (Opioid-related deaths in the U.S. rose beyond 28,000 in 2014, and have quadrupled since then.) Instead of jail, nonviolent offenders in Vermont are now given the option of going into treatment. These efforts to reduce opioid prescriptions and to improve treatment for addicts is catching on, and Shumlin thanks Vermonters for “changing their attitudes about addiction and opioid addiction.”
Earlier this year, the country’s rising abuse of heroin and other opioids dominated a meeting of the National Governors Association. Following Vermont’s lead, the nation’s governors are moving to strategies that treat illegal drug users rather than jail them. The shift is also evident in public opinion, with some two-thirds of Americans typically saying that they support providing treatment over long prison sentences.
Last month, the Obama administration announced a series of initiatives aimed at curbing America’s opioid addiction epidemic, steps that would make it easier to obtain medication-based treatment, expand Medicaid coverage, and increase availability of a drug that saves people from overdoses. Noting that more people are killed because of opioid overdose than from traffic accidents, the President highlighted the administration’s proposals as he participated in a panel at the National Rx Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit in Atlanta.
In January, the White House 2017 budget recommendations included over one billion dollars to combat opioid addiction at state and federal levels. Bi-partisan support from members of Congress indicates the severity of the issue.
“Overprescribing of opioid painkillers has fueled the nation’s addiction crisis,” according to a report from the National Governors Association’s Health and Human Services Committee. “Most of the heroin addicts we treat started by using prescription opiates,” Brian McAlister, the CEO of the Full Recovery Wellness Center in Fairfield, N.J. Just last month the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new voluntary guidelines aimed at doctors prescribing painkillers.
Merciful God, may we be prepared to open our hearts and minds to new ideas, new possibilities, new ways of being. May we have the courage to reach out in compassion to those who are different, whose ways seem strange or are hard to understand. Amen.
From: Sandra Rooney
Daily the media carry stories – from all around the globe – of the desperate plight of migrants. In a recent issue of Notre Dame Magazine, Marisel Moreno, an associate professor of U.S. Latino/a literature in the school’s Department of Romance Lanugages and Literatures, reflects on a recent faculty seminar on the U.S.-Mexico border. Prior to crossing the border into Nogales, the group participated in a program organized by Tucson Samaritans, held at Southside Presbyterian Church, the birthplace of the Sanctuary Movement of the 1980s, which provided safe haven for Central American migrants fleeing civil war.
The cross-border experience included joining volunteers at the Kino Border Initiative shelter, where migrants deported from the U.S. are given hot meals, clothing, limited medical care, and something more. Moreno noted that they had been reminded that morning that “being present” for the migrants, listening to their stories, was as important as serving them food. She listened to a 25-year-old woman from Chiapas, where extreme poverty had forced her to leave her 3-year-old daughter with her grandmother and to make the perilous crossing into the U.S. in hopes of finding a job. Apprehended and deported, she now faced two equally dangerous options, to make her way back home through cartel-controlled territory, or try again to enter the U.S.
Moreno listened to other migrants with equally desperate stories, being left behind by the “coyotes” who guide them across the border; walking for days in the harsh desert terrain, lost and without water and food, trying to get back to children in the U.S.; Central Americans seeking asylum after escaping death threats from gangs in their home countries.
Seminar participants also met with a forensic anthropologist at the Pima County Medical Examiner’s office, who tells them that “migrants’ deaths ‘are acceptable’” in the U.S., and how they do what they can to humanize the deaths and notify families when they are able to establish identities.
The wall and surveillance technology, as well as the increased number of Border Patrol agents, is funnelling migrant traffic through the most remote and most deadly areas of the Sonoran Desert. The theory is that the harder you make it, the less likely the migrants are to try. The theory doesn’t take desperation into account.
For Moreno, seeing the border realities and hearing the migrants’ stories reinforces her belief that we need to ask questions about the policies being put in place to protect the border: “Can the U.S. Border Patrol use more humane methods? Can we make sure that the human rights of incarcerated migrants are respected? Can we stop criminalizing undocumented immigrants and start seeing them for who they are – mostly desperate fellow human beings who are willing to risk their lives for those they love?”
Gracious God, we find ourselves in a world full of struggle and pain. May we have the courage to step out of our comfort zone and be that compassionate presence that may make all the difference. Amen.
From Ray McGinnis
Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justiceis an action/adventure movie. It is loosely based on the DC comic book series that, in 1954, began to feature Batman and Superman in the same story. Often, the story included Batman gaining superpowers in order not to be overshadowed by Superman. The stories often explored the camaraderie, antagonism, and friendship between these two superheroes. From the first comic book in 1941, Lex Luthor was Superman’s archenemy. Luthor is a power-hungry, American billionaire businessman, scientist, inventor, and philanthropist. He’s also a psychopath. Luthor lives in the city of Metropolis and is determined to destroy Superman.
In the movie adaptation of this decades-long comic book series, Superman is saving Metropolis from superhuman predators intent on destroying the city. Lex Luthor wants to set a trap for Superman. Meanwhile, Batman, who grew up in Gotham City, sees Superman as an alien who doesn’t really understand how things work here on earth. Both are invited in their alias personas of Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent to a philanthropic party hosted by Lex Luthor. Batman obtains a file from Luthor’s computer. However, the file offers a narrative that paints Superman as an enemy and a danger to Batman. Convinced by what the file from Lex Luthor’s computer suggests, Batman decides to take down Superman.
Director: Zack Snyder
Film company: Warner Brothers
Release date: March 25, 2016
Starring: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Jeremy Irons
Focus: Batman has been able to obtain kryptonite to fashion a vapour and a spear to help him weaken and kill Superman. After an extended action/adventure mash-up of destruction of property and pummeling of bodies, the two superheroes end up in the dark outside. As Batman is about to finish Superman off, Superman calls out to Batman with a word that stops Batman in his tracks. The word Batman hears from Superman puts everything in a new light. Batman’s consciousness and perspective is rearranged. After that, Batman joins forces with Superman to help put a stop to Lex Luthor’s maniacal and violent schemes.
Ever present God, on our own we can stray from the bonds of love and become harmful to those around us. When we lose our way, help us to listen for your voice that we may gain a new perspective to guide us as we serve you. In Christ we pray. Amen.
From Ray McGinnis
Laquan McDonald was a 17-year-old African-American male who was shot on October 20, 2014. That night he was walking down a busy street and had a knife in his hand. He had slashed a tire of a police car and was walking away. Officer Jason Van Dyke told him to drop the knife, but McDonald kept on walking away. McDonald had a history of complex mental health problems and learning disabilities. Van Dyke shot him and McDonald fell to the ground. Then Van Dyke shot McDonald another 16 times in 13 seconds.
It took over a year for a video of the shooting to be released. That finally led to a murder charge of the police officer.
In November 2014, 12-year-old Tamir Rice was in a public park in Cleveland with a toy gun while he was swinging on a swing-set. A passerby in a car, afraid that the gun might be real called 911 and said there was a black male in the park with a gun, and a police car arrived. Rookie police officer Timothy Loehmann jumped out of his car and two seconds later shot the child twice in the abdomen. The police informed the nearby hospital that a male adult was being taken to emergency. As a result, the medical team was unable to intubate Rice (and maintain an open airway), as the tube selection was for an adult male and too large to bypass Rice’s vocal chords. Rice died of a hemorrhage the next morning. A funeral was held in December 2014 with people remembering Rice as a boy who liked to draw and play basketball.
People in the Black Lives Matter Movement began to ask questions about both of these cases. When the news of the video of the shooting of Laquan McDonald came to light, people carried signs that read “16 Shots 400 Days,” complaining about the way the Chicago police were slow-walking their investigation. In both cases, people wondered, if there was a need to shoot, why not shoot to disable instead of shooting to kill.
While some claim that criticizing police conduct is disrespectful and ignores the difficult role they perform every day, others maintain that these cases illustrate something is wrong with the system and that people have to speak up. Recently, both of the prosecutors in these cases in Chicago and Cleveland lost their bids for re-election due to activism in the Black Lives Matter Movement.
In our communities, O God, when some people speak out there is a reaction. Help us to hear the points of view that challenge us. Help us to also find ways to speak up when something needs to be proclaimed, or when a cry for justice needs to be answered. Discerning Spirit, lead us as we make choices about when and where to speak. In Christ we pray. Amen
From Ray McGinnis
The Lady in the Van is a drama about a woman named Mary Shepherd who lives in a van. Played by Maggie Smith, Mary was a nun whose life was turned upside down when she was involved in a vehicle accident that resulted in the death of a young motorcyclist. Years later, she is now living in a van and parks it on a fashionable street in Camden, a suburb of London. She ends up adjacent to the home of playwright and author Alan Bennett, played by Alex Jennings. In time, she moves into his driveway after she gets a notice from the city that her vehicle will be removed. She tells Bennett that it would be ideal if she could have “off-street parking.” She ends up living in her van in Bennett’s driveway for fifteen years. She refuses to say thank you to anyone, even though people are kind to her. The person we get to know in Mary Shepherd is fierce, tenacious, single-minded, manipulative, and eccentric.
The movie is a story about a guest who overstays their welcome. But it is also about two very different people and the way they become important to each other, even though they each drive each other mad. Over fifteen years, Alan Bennett begins to learn details about Mary’s dark past, her choice to leave the convent, why she hates to hear music, her fluency in French, her mysterious trips to the seaside, and a man who appears at night by her van who she gives money to. The story is also a true story about a woman who moved into Alan Bennett’s driveway in 1974 and stayed there until 1989. After she died, Alan Bennett wrote a book about Mary Shepherd, which was later adapted for stage and radio.
In her final days, she is visited by social workers and taken to a facility where she is able, at her own insistence, to bathe herself. She finds a piano, an instrument that serves in the film as metaphor for prayer. After she dies, Alan Bennett senses that he’s been in the presence of the holy.
Director: Nicholas Hynter
Film company: Paramount
Release date: December 11, 2015
Starring: Maggie Smith, Alex Jennings, Jim Broadbent
Focus: While her predicament is dire, Mary finds moments in her life to relax from the stern exterior she has developed over time. She gets Alan Bennett to give her a push in her wheelchair down their street and her face beams with joy. She drives her van to a seaside town and treats herself to an ice cream float and rides on a merry-go-round. And she never seems to be happier than when she is painting her van a new color, much to the surprise of her neighbours in Camden Town.
God of friend and stranger, we come running to find your presence and to discover you have risen. We see signs of your presence and then meet you face to face. Help us be present to one another, to go and tell the others who move in our midst about what you have done and what you are still doing in our lives. In Christ we pray. Amen.
From Paul Turley
There are eight countries in the world that have nuclear arsenals. (There are nine if we include Israel, which is widely believed to have such weapons. However, Israel has a policy of neither confirming nor denying the existence of such an arsenal.). One of them is North Korea.
Apart from Israel, North Korea is the smallest nation by population to possess nuclear weapons, and it is the most secretive, leaving Western observers to only guess at it motivations and aims.
Last week, at the start of the annual US-South Korea military drills or war games called “Key Resolve” and “Foal Eagle,” North Korea released a statement ordering a “pre-emptive nuclear strike of justice.” “We will,” Pyongyang said, “launch an all-out offensive to decisively counter the US and its followers’ hysteric[al] nuclear war moves.”
Experts doubt that North Korea has the technical ability to carry out its threats with many believing that their nuclear weapons, while very real, are crude and unable to be miniaturized in order for them to be fired at distant targets via missiles. North Korean watchers also point out that every year at the start of the joint US-South Korean military exercises, Pyongyang makes threats. In 2015, for example, it threatened to turn Washington into a “sea of fire.”
The annual war games conducted by the US and South Korea and the annual bellicose response by North Korea are not the only events threatening to destabilize the region. Just over a week ago now, the United Nations Security Council unanimously approved harsh new sanctions against North Korea, meaning that both Russia (often the member of the Security Council seeking to water down or delay action against North Korea) and China (North Korea’s sole international backer) fell in line with the rest of the Council.
US News and World Report reports on the Security Council’s decision: “The new sanctions, the strongest in more than two decades, will require all cargo going to and from North Korea to be inspected for items that violate the terms of the restrictions. The measure prohibits exports of coal, iron and iron ore used to finance its illicit nuclear and ballistic missile program, as well as other minerals. It also bans importation of aviation fuel, including rocket fuel.
“North Korean banks and financial assets will be targeted, and restrictions on luxury goods have also been strengthened. Those now include bans on luxury watches, recreational sports equipment, aquatic recreational vehicles, snowmobiles worth more than $2,000 and lead-crystal items.”
Is the world closer to war this week? Is the balance of power shifting in the region? Is it safe to assume that North Korea’s fighting words are just that, words?
Explore… Luke 22:14 – 23:56
God, many of us remember the nuclear clock that for much of our lives was set at only minutes to midnight; we lived under the threat of imminent nuclear threat. Since those times more countries have acquired nuclear arsenals and the world is no safer. We pray that those who have their fingers on the buttons that could destroy us will understand the gravity of our situation and always restrain themselves and we pray for all of us that we will live in hope always working for a better more peaceful world. Amen.
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.
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