Past Spirit Sightings (The Archives)
When a 32-year-old white American man writes a letter and posts it on the internet he usually doesn't get much attention beyond his friends and family. But when that man is Mark Zuckerberg, the creator and controller of Facebook, more than family and friends pay attention.
Facebook has 1.86 billion users. That’s half of all the world’s internet users. According to the latest figures, in the last quarter, Facebook earned 8.8 billion dollars. A Pew Research report from May 2016 states that 44% of Americans get their news from Facebook at least some of the time. So any letter written by the person who controls Facebook really is required reading.
This is how Zuckerberg opens his letter: “To our community, On our journey to connect the world, we often discuss products we’re building and updates on our business. Today I want to focus on the most important question of all: are we building the world we all want?”
Given that we in the Christian Church have talked about and strived to build community for the 2,000 years of our existence, we want to welcome and pay attention to anyone who wants to be part of that project. However, we have some questions to ask Mr. Zuckerberg. Principally, who is the “our community” to whom the letter is addressed? Are they the same “our” as the “our”’ in, “On our journey to connect the world”? And who are the “we” who “often discuss products…” And who is the “we” who is “building the world we want”? These might seem to be pedantic questions, but they are not; they are vital because surely true community can only be built when everyone is included in the ‘we’ and the “our.”
The letter goes on to articulate a vision for Facebook: “In times like these, the most important thing we at Facebook can do is develop the social infrastructure to give people the power to build a global community that works for all of us…”
Because it is a technology company, many of the tools that Zuckerberg goes on to suggest will build a global community are technological. We must ask, who is going to build this infrastructure? Who is going to decide how this infrastructure operates, what assumptions it incorporates, and what priorities are set for it. Presumably it is the owners of Facebook, not you and I.
The letter talks a lot about the Facebook community. The question we must ask is, to what extent is Facebook a community? Does opening a Facebook account make you part of a community? Whatever Zuckerberg’s letter says about community, those of us who are on Facebook are first and foremost, customers of a very large corporation. We can interact with the software they offer us, but we can have very little influence over the development of that software and we can make very few modifications.
Community is at the heart of Jesus’ life and message. Because he wanted a world where all people belonged and were equal, he resisted the temptations that were offered to him to manipulate the world.
God, we long for the true community for which Jesus longed, worked, and prayed. Help us to work together for community that welcomes all, and that does not discriminate or manipulate. Give us courage and strength to be true sisters and brothers to each other. Amen.
Are we heading for a post-Brexit recession?
What is the difference between a hard Brexit and a soft Brexit?
Will Donald Trump really build a wall to keep out Mexicans?
What will Donald Trump do with North Korea?
We really don’t like mystery. Screaming headlines from newspapers merely reflect back to us as a species that we like to know what is coming down the tracks in our direction. This, of course, provides meat and drink to a media all too happy to profit from our distaste of not knowing what is in front of us. A state of being that can all too readily manifest as paranoia.
One such story is the plight of UK nationals living in the countries of the European Union. It is believed some 1.2 million Britons live in the 27 countries of the EU, and a recent assessment states, “The fact that it appears to be particularly difficult for foreign nationals, even if married to UK nationals or born in the UK, to acquire permanent residence status or British nationality may colour member states’ approach to this matter.”
Some EU nationals currently living in the UK have had letters inviting them to consider leaving, even though in many instances they are fulfilling crucial roles in the workforce and have made their home in the UK. It would appear the UK government is making it as hard as possible for many EU nationals to continue to live and work in the UK demanding, for example, they fill out an 85-page form in order to apply for a permanent residency permit.
A Dutch woman who has lived in the UK for 24 years, and who has two children with her British husband, has been told by the Home Office that she should make arrangements to leave the country after she applied for citizenship after the EU referendum.
The story of Monique Hawkins highlights the uncertainty faced by millions of EU citizens concerned that they will not have the right to stay in Britain post-Brexit. In such a climate, it is hard to convince people that mystery can sometimes be a good thing.
In times of personal or societal turmoil, may we heed again Jesus’ words and be open to his presence, and may we find for ourselves space, time, and the perseverance to seek closer union with him. Amen.
Britain’s famed National Health Service (free at the point of need) is in deep crisis. Chronic underfunding, an ageing population, and new medical treatment discoveries (invariably costly), mean that the NHS is constantly struggling to keep up with demand.
So while the British are immensely proud of the NHS, and rightly so, and have great affection for it and its principle of treating everyone in need, recent news of an investigation that found that patients from overseas have left the NHS with of unpaid bills of almost £30 million in just one year has not gone down well.
“Health tourism” refers to the phenomenon whereby people travel to obtain healthcare. An investigation has revealed that the NHS has spent an estimated £200m a year treating people who have travelled to the UK with the deliberate intent of obtaining free healthcare to which they are not entitled.
Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association, said, “It is shocking that so many costs are left unpaid by overseas patients using the NHS. If this money was reinvested in the NHS, it could mean the difference between hiring more nurses or paying for additional equipment. Patients have very strong feelings about overseas visitors, and understandably, patients feel that an NHS with diminishing resources should be prioritising UK citizens first and foremost.”
A rule has now been brought in requiring all NHS patients to prove their identity with two forms of identification, including a passport, before being allowed to receive hospital treatment. However, many who work in the NHS want to continue to work in a cradle-to-grave health service founded on tolerance, humanity, and inclusivity, and will continue to treat their patients according to need and not other considerations. Some medical professionals have gone on to suggest that the new rule is part of a government effort to exploit anti-immigrant feeling in order to distract the public from year-on-year government underfunding.
As one commentator put it, “the NHS passport-checking might save a few pence – at the cost of our humanity.”
Despite the harshness of the times, fear of the future, and a tendency to circle the wagons, may we continue to strive to be more open-handed, big-hearted, and welcoming to all our neighbours.
In the wake of the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States and the referendum result which means the UK will leave the European Union, the notion of “alternative truths” has come to the fore, and characterizes both events. In politics, it’s been with us for a long time – we used to call it “spin.” It is political lying, being economical with the truth. For many years, the art of political spinning was as revered as it was maligned. Voters hated it, on the rare occasions they spotted it, but insiders admired the so-called “dark arts” of the most skilled.
But now something has changed. We are apparently no longer willing to tolerate the twisting of facts for political gain or for our entertainment. And thanks to social media, politicians can’t get away with it anymore. It’s easier than ever for voters to prove that President Trump’s truths are very often of the “alternative” variety, and that has stirred up a fresh anger against the game of truth and lies that has been played for decades.
Now the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) has decided to set up a dedicated team to check facts and to call out news stories that are false or deliberately misleading, as well as to check stories that falsely claim to be news.
Regardless of the old adage that a good journalist always checks their sources, the scale of news information now available, particularly through almost unregulated social media, the search for THE truth, or even “truths,” has never been more difficult.
Indeed, in some quarters, the rapid growth of unverified fake news over the past year on social networking sites such as Facebook has raised pressing questions about the very future of news media. BBC news chief James Harding toldstaff that the BBC would be “weighing in on the battle over lies, distortions and exaggerations.” Speaking about the corporation’s Reality Check series, Harding said, “the BBC can’t edit the internet, but we won’t stand aside either.”
Minds open, wise as serpents, innocent as doves, relative truth; these are challenges not just for the modern mind but have been the case throughout human history. May we seek wisdom through the information we receive but also through our own intuition and conscience. Amen.
As with weather reports, the news isn’t often about the light, but more often about the storm clouds and severe weather warnings. However, the light is there. Just three months ago, we were paying tribute to Canadian poet and singer/songwriter Leonard Cohen. Many of us have found solace in his words, “There’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in” – words to remember as we ponder Jesus’ words about salt and light.
In Whitefish, Montana, police recently nailed a mazuzah to their station door, as a sign of solidarity with their beleaguered Jewish community. For weeks, Jews in this ski-town had been bombarded with online threats, after plans for an armed march through the community were announced by neo-Nazi blogger Andrew Anglin. Though the march fell through because he failed to acquire a permit, Anglin has vowed to reschedule it.
During a visit to Whitefish by U.S. and Canadian rabbis, Rabbi Adam Scheier, a congregational leader from Montreal, asked Police Chief William Dial if he would consider putting a mezuzah on his office door. According to a public Facebook post by Scheier, Dial said, “No, I won’t put it on my office door. I want to put in a more central location, where everyone will see it.”
Fifteen hundred miles south of Whitefish, on the Arizona-Sonora border, a group of women activists are engaging the public through a variety of artistic expressions. Recently, a dozen neighbourhood kids gathered at the border fence in Naco, Sonora. With paint in Dixie cups, they splashed their paint onto rough, 15-foot-tall steel panels built with remnants of landing strips left over from the Vietnam War. Their efforts are a continuation of such art that extends along more than a mile of these metal panels that separate this 6,000-person town from its namesake across the border in Arizona. It is a message of unity between the people on both sides of the wall that separates them.
These young artists are The Border Bedazzlers, an informal group that meets irregularly, sometimes with as many as 40 kids; other times only a handful of youngsters and teens show up. Founded by Gretchen Baer and Carolyn Toronto in 2010, the group is beautifying the wall to counter negative border narratives. While painting the border wall may seem like just a fun afternoon activity, it’s also a way to make the fence less of a visual and emotional eyesore, said Maria Elena Borques, a Naco, Sonora historian, who has worked with the Border Bedazzlers since the beginning. “The children understand that it’s a barrier that divides two worlds, two countries. But they know that on this side we are equal as human beings,” she said.
Oh God of our days and our nights, may we hear your call; may we see the light and be light for those in the dark. May we savour the flavour of a life of service and witness in a world hungry for just such a life. Amen.
Although most of us may feel we have it pretty good, we don’t have to look far to recognize that for many in our own communities, or nation, or the wider world, life is pretty hard and often without hope or any sense of blessing. But as people of faith, we are challenged to live with the knowledge that there is another way, to recognize our blessings and by the grace of God to be a blessing to others.
In recent years, Egypt has seen an increase in secular violence in communities where Christians and Muslims have long lived in peace. In a small village outside the city of Minya, a Coptic Christian, who believes “we are all the same,” has been teaching the children of the community for 50 years. With more than 120 children in his class, he teaches the 30–40 Christian children the Bible and the 70–80 Muslim children how to read and memorize their holy book, the Koran. The 80-year-old Ayaad calls sectarian violence “evil” and he believes that the Bible and the Koran teach the same values, and that the community can live in peace if people know and practice those values.
A world away from Minya, Egypt, a Korean restaurant owner, Hillary Park, closes her restaurant every Monday afternoon at 2:30 to prepare to serve up to 200 homeless people under the Marion Street Bridge in Salem, Oregon. Park, who grew up in South Korea, moved to New York with her husband in 1985. In 2010 they moved to Salem, where they joined the Korean Church of Salem and opened Happy BiBim Bap House, which has won “Best of the Mid-Valley” awards in 2014 and 2016.
Wanting to give back to the community, Park, with help from church members, decided to start serving dinner to the homeless community. “It is just one of the ways of sharing God’s love,” says David Jeon, pastor of the Korean Church of Salem, who says he comes by whenever he can. The restaurant donates all the food for the weekly meals. With her pastor as translator, Park says, “I do good by God’s grace, not my own strength. Just God’s grace and God’s glory.”
Gracious God, open our eyes to the blessings that abound around us and the opportunities to be a blessing to others. Help to see the “better way” that is possible if we follow the teaching of Jesus. Amen.
At this year’s Golden Globes Awards, actress Meryl Streep won the Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award. Born in Summit, New Jersey, over her career she has been nominated for 19 Academy Awards, winning once for Best Supporting Actress and twice for Best Actress. She has received 30 Golden Globe nominations and won eight times variously for Best Supporting Actress and Best Actress.
In her acceptance speech, she spoke about the many roles performed by actors and actresses in movies in 2016. She called attention to the actors in movies who help a movie-going audience identify and empathize with people who are foreign and/or different from themselves. Streep said, “an actor’s only job is to enter the lives of people who are different from us, and let you feel what that feels like. And there were many, many, many powerful performances this year that did exactly that – breathtaking, compassionate work.”
In her remarks, Streep spoke about one performance that happened at a political rally in America that she described as disturbing in its effectiveness. “It was that moment when the person asking to sit in the most respected seat in our country imitated a disabled reporter, someone he outranked in privilege, power and the capacity to fight back. It kind of broke my heart when I saw it. …that instinct to humiliate when it’s modelled by someone in the public platform, by someone powerful, it filters down into everyone’s life. Because it kind of gives permission for other people to do the same thing. Disrespect invites disrespect, violence invites violence. When the powerful use their position to bully others we all lose.”
President-elect Donald Trump Tweeted his disapproval of the actress’ remarks describing her as “overrated.”
Outgoing White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said that Streep had clearly delivered “a thoughtful, carefully considered message” that reflected her deeply held beliefs (and constituted) a fairly straightforward exercise of her First Amendment rights, as this is the United States.”
Explore… Matthew 4:12–23
O God, you whose promised Kingdom is near, help us to discern a call that may aid in the wellbeing of others, that heals and saves. In Christ we pray. Amen
In the musical La La Land, Mia has a job as a barista at a coffee shop across from Hollywood, where movie stars line up for coffee and gluten-free alternatives. After work, Mia heads to another audition where she is passed over. She is discouraged that her dreams of the big lights are fleeting. Meanwhile, Sebastian dreams of opening a jazz club, but has to pay the rent getting gigs playing piano at receptions and lounges. He is offered a chance to make solid money touring with a new group. The pitch comes to him from a former bandmate and casts Sebastian at the keyboards playing music he has no passion for.
Sebastian and Mia fall in love and sing and dance their way through the ups and downs of chasing their professional and personal dreams. The musical adds an overlay of fantasy as a chorus breaks into song on a freeway on-ramp, and as the couple tap dance around a bench at a viewpoint.
In order to pursue our dreams, do we need a dose of fantasy to help make it through the setbacks that come our way? As the plot unfolds, doors open for Mia as she travels to Paris, and Sebastian opens a club with a name inspired by Mia.
Release date:December 9, 2016
Starring:Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, John Legend
Mia leaves Sebastian due to his constant touring. After they break up, Sebastian gets a phone call from a casting crew wanting to give Mia an audition after they saw her perform in her short-running one-woman show. He drives all the way from Los Angeles to Boulder City, Colorado, to convince her to come back and audition. She fears all the dead-end auditions are a sign that she was never meant to be in Hollywood, that she doesn’t have what it takes. But Sebastian believes in her and challenges her to aim higher and keep her eyes on the prize.
Creator God, we come into the world born with possibilities. And yet even at a young age we show signs to the world of who we are and what we can offer. Help us hold onto the thread of who we are. Help us marry purpose and passion as we seek to follow you. In Christ we pray. Amen.
Jackie is a film written by Noah Oppenheimer about an interview Jacqueline Kennedy had with Life magazine political reporter Thomas H. White.
After the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963, stories in the media emerged tainting JKF’s legacy. By the end of November, Jacqueline, and her daughter Caroline, and son Jack Jr., had vacated the White House for the incoming President Lyndon Johnson’s family. From the Kennedy home in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, she asked Thomas White to write an article from an in-person interview at her Cape Cod home.
The way the former First Lady saw the presidency of her husband was parallel to the times of the legendary King Arthur and the knights of the round table in the castle Camelot during the late Roman rule in Britain (or France). Concurrently, the play Camelot was being staged on Broadway and Jacqueline Kennedy recalled the lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner “Don’t let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment that was known as Camelot.” In his December 6, 1963, essay in Life, White conveyed what Jackie perceived was the legacy of the Kennedy administration. It was a modern-day Camelot, “a magic moment in American history, when gallant men danced with beautiful women, when great deeds were done, when artists, writers, and poets met at the White House, and the barbarians beyond the walls were held back.”
Director: Pablo Larrain
Focus: In the aftermath of the assassination of her husband, Jackie Kennedy seeks to make meaning of what has happened to her life by talking to Fr. Richard McSorley. She suffered a miscarriage in 1955, gave birth to a stillborn child named Arabella in 1956, and on August 7, 1963, gave birth five weeks early to Patrick Bouvier Kennedy, who died of hyaline membrane disease two days after birth. “If God is a loving God,” she asks, “why have all these terrible things happened” to her? She tells him she doesn’t want to live. She wonders where God was when the bullet killed her husband. The priest replies that there aren’t any answers, but that God is everywhere and sees everything. The priest suggests the gift of each new sunrise is enough to provide what we need to live.
God who sees all, you are there in our new beginnings, you are there in our tragic endings, you are there in moments of courage, you are there in times of despair. Help us seek you out that our abiding in you will sustain us, regardless of the questions we ask and the answers we find. In Christ we pray. Amen.
It is traditional, at the beginning of new calendar year, to look back and reflect on the year gone by, and to look forward and imagine what the new year will bring. This can sometimes leave us experiencing a mixed bag of emotions, especially as we look to the future. Almost always there are things happening in the world that give us real pause and cause for concern. At the same time, we try to believe, or we remind ourselves, that “hope springs eternal” and that we have much for which we can be thankful.
The coming year looks to be no different in terms of that dynamic, though the intensity of our feelings and, for many, the fears we harbour may be on the rise. For many, the upcoming inauguration of president-elect Donald Trump, on January 20th, bodes ill for the future of the country, the peace of the nations, and the health of the planet. Others, on the opposite end of the political spectrum, have hailed Trump as God’s own anointed.
The rift between right and left in the United States has seldom been wider or more volatile. Many are waiting with eager impatience for “their time,” which they see as a chance to reclaim their “rightful” place. Others fear the repercussions the potential policies of the new government will have on many in U.S. society. Thousands have attended the president-elect’s “Thank-you tour,” while, according to Vanity Fair, “So many artists have rejected inauguration invites that the president-elect allegedly ordered a ‘Hail Mary’ shakeup of his team structure, bringing in [a] veteran talent booker …to lock in mainstream artists … Boris Epshteyn, the communications director for the inaugural committee, has been quick to shoot down those rumors. ‘There is no truth to this insinuation. First-class entertainers are eager to participate in the inaugural events.’”
“Praise God,” says the psalmist. “Let everything praise God.” What does that mean for us, as a globe divided, not just over the meaning of the U.S. presidential election, but over so many things that impact people’s lives – war, economic disparity, the rights of women and children, the environment, and on and on? It’s easy to praise God when your “side” appears to be winning, when you believe that your wants and needs will be addressed. But what does praise look like when the opposite is true, when we are afraid for our future and the future of others?
And what does our praise mean when we know that life and history, are capricious, and that political reversals, especially, are the norm and seldom bring what is promised or desired or truly needed in the first place? Victories and losses in life are often short-lived. Whether you see that as a blessing or a curse depends on where you’re standing when the shift happens.
Which raises the inevitable question. Where does your hope lie? Who or what, for you, is praiseworthy?
Explore… Psalm 148
Divine Presence, within us and beyond us, fill us with love and compassion, we pray. Help us to embody your grace, your presence – today and in all our days to come. May we live in such a way that our lives become a song of praise to you. Amen.
The day after Thanksgiving was celebrated in the United States this year, the Army Corps of Engineers wrote to the Standing Rock Sioux tribe telling them that they were going to close access to the campsite where the Standing Rock Sioux have led other Native American tribes for many months in protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline project.
The protesters’ main concerns are that the pipeline route goes through sacred burial grounds and has a very real danger of causing irreparable damage to the Missouri River and Lake Oahe, the main sources of drinking water for the Standing Rock Sioux.
In September, the U.S. Government temporarily stopped construction of the pipeline, but the company building the line, Energy Transfer Partners, said it would not consider another route for the pipeline.
The Standing Rock Sioux and the other tribes are asking the U.S. government to honour their treaty rights. In a statement in response to the Army Corp of Engineers’ letter, Dave Archambault II, Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s chairman, said, “Our tribe is deeply disappointed in this decision by the United States, but our resolve to protect our water is stronger than ever. We ask that all [sic] everyone who can appeal to President Obama and the Army Corps of Engineers to consider the future of our people and rescind all permits and deny the easement to cross the Missouri River just north of our Reservation and straight through our treaty lands.”
These treaty lands, carved away illegally by Congress piece by piece over the years were declared in the 1851 Treaty of Ft. Laramie. It is that treaty, signed in good faith by the Sioux, that the tribes are asking the U.S. government to honour.
At the time of writing this, the water protectors, as the protesters are calling themselves, are refusing to abandon their protest even in the face of violence and intimidation.
According to the website sacredstonecamp.org, “Over 300 police officers in riot gear, 8 ATVs, 5 armored vehicles, 2 helicopters, and numerous military-grade humvees showed up north of the newly formed frontline camp just east of Highway 1806. The 1851 Treaty Camp was set up this past Sunday directly in the path of the pipeline, on land recently purchased by DAPL. Today this camp, a reclamation of unceded Dakota territory affirmed as part of the Standing Rock Reservation in the Ft. Laramie Treaty of 1851, was violently cleared. Both blockades established this past weekend to enable that occupation were also cleared.
In addition to pepper spray and concussion grenades, shotguns were fired into the crowd with less lethal ammunition and a sound cannon was used. At least one person was tased and the barbed hook lodged in his face, just outside his eye. Another was hit in the face by a rubber bullet.
At the time of writing, the deadline the government has given for protesters to leave is Monday December 5. According to The New York Times, the government said it would not forcibly remove anyone, but could cite people for trespassing or other offenses.
As you read this, you will know whether the water protectors remain or not…
Explore… Matthew 1:18–25
In a world that often undervalues girls and women, where abuse is all too common and achievements by women go unnoticed, a website and blog for teens and kids – A Mighty Girl – provides stories of girls and women who have left their mark in history and are providing leadership of consequence today.
Perhaps no young woman today has had a greater impact on the lives of young girls than Malala Yousafzai, the Afghan girl who was 15-years-old when she was shot in the head while on a school bus because she advocated for girls to go to school. Malala has become a leading spokesperson for the importance of educating girls. While the words of this young Nobel Peace Prize winner may not be poetry, they are music to the ears of young girls around the globe and a constant challenge to those who would devalue them. Her life and words have inspired numerous songs, in her native Urdu, in Hindi, and in English. Perhaps the most recent, composed by Eveline MacDougall, was sung earlier this year by her choral group Amandla at an event where Malala was speaking. Amandla means “power” in Zulu, and the power comes from singing, celebrating life and articulating social concerns, MacDougall explains.
The A Mighty Girl website, Facebook page, and blog, provide numerous stories of inspiration and list many books for children and teens, including at least eight about Malala. Facebook entries about her include stories about her father Ziauddin, and more recently her mother, Toor Pekai, who herself has been inspired by her daughter’s example. Toor Pekai grew up in a very traditional Pakistani family and only attended a few months of school because there were no other girls and she didn’t feel she belonged. She never learned to read or write, though she says as an older child she would drip ink on her clothes, pretending she was a student. The family now lives in the UK and with encouragement from Malala, Toor Pekai is going to school.
Malala used the story of a childhood friend who was forced to marry at age 11, thereby ending her life as a school student, to make a case for a new approach by the United Nations trying to lift the world’s poor: focus particularly on girls. In fact, focus on 10-year-old girls. They are at a critical point in their lives, both in challenges and potential. Investing in them holds great promise, according to the UN Population Fund in its annual report. In fact, “The future of 10-year-old girls will shape our collective futures,” the report states.
Read more. . .
Anti-immigrant sentiments coupled with anti-Muslim views seem to be sweeping across the United States and much of Europe, and the divisions among people seem to be deepening. Yet even as recent elections seem to reflect this growing intolerance and fear of others, that’s not the only story to be told.
The same day Donald Trump, whose campaign echoed these positions, won the presidential election in the U.S., a Somali-American Muslim was elected to the Minnesota House of Representatives. Ilhan Omar, the 34-year-old mother of three, who had defeated a 44-year incumbent to be become the Democratic nominee, had campaigned on a progressive platform, advocating for affordable college, criminal justice reform, economic equality, and clean energy. “To believe in the possibility that all of my identities and otherness would fade into the background, and that my voice as a strong progressive would emerge if I was bold and believed in that — that made a huge difference for me and my candidacy,” she said.
Born in Somalia, Omar spent four years in a refugee camp in Kenya before coming to the U.S. at the age of 12. When she arrived, she says she was disappointed to find so much racial and economic inequality and religious intolerance in the U.S. As a teenager, she was inspired to become involved in politics, fighting for justice in her community. Her platform as a candidate for the Minnesota House was built around the same vision she had for America when she moved here over two decades ago: “liberty and justice for all.”
In an interview with Rachel Maddow, the same evening she interviewed Omar, Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges said, “Minneapolis is a better, stronger place for having our Somali and East African immigrants and refugees in it. It’s a privilege and an honor to be a mayor of a city with the largest Somali population in this country.”
As Americans come to grips with the results of a very acrimonious presidential campaign rife with charges of racism, and with an environment of increasing racial tensions following police shootings of young black men, we are all called to examine the fractures and animosities in our communities and nations. And to heed the injunction “to be the change you want to see.”
Earlier this fall, CBS aired the report of a modest yet ambitious program at Congregational Community Church in Sunnyvale, California. Starting a year ago, Pastor Ron Buford called on his parishioners to courageously gather together to examine their own unconscious prejudices and racial biases. The program, Racists Anonymous, follows a familiar 12-step approach, and focuses on the individual. The goal is to abolish racism in their community by first eliminating it in themselves. Doing that begins with the acknowledgment that “we often don’t realize we’re being racist,” Buford said. “The reality is that the white experience in America, the black or brown experience in America, are so radically different that there is no way that the person who is white could even understand what’s happening to the black person, except it’s starting to happen. So I think people are coming to a place of discovery.”
With the election of Barack Obama eight years ago, many in the U.S. thought they had put racism behind them. We know now that it wasn’t true. “The first step is that you have to acknowledge that you have a problem,” Buford said, something “we as Americans don’t want to do.” We want to say it’s someone else. “We all swim in this culture of racism,” according to Buford. “It’s impossible to not be racist to some degree.”
Buford, who is African American, says a person of any race could benefit from this format of self-reflection. The Sunnyvale group includes members who are white, black, and Asian, though most have been white. Meeting weekly, people confidentially share their thoughts and experiences with race, including thoughts or feelings they may have in the course of their daily lives, which they may come to realize are, in fact, racist. Since the program at Sunnyvale began, more than 50 churches in 22 states have requested materials to start their own groups.
Explore… Isaiah 2:–5
Several weeks ago, political news in the United States was briefly upstaged by another story that had been brewing on the plains of North Dakota since last April. There the Standing Rock Sioux tribe has been peacefully protesting the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Over the summer, thousands of people – including celebrities, environmental activists and members of many faith communities, as well as Native Americans from tribes all across the country – gathered to support the actions of the Standing Rock tribe. Calling themselves “water protectors,” they maintain that the pipeline threatens water supplies and sacred sites.
Originally, the 1,170-mile pipeline was to cross the Missouri River just north of Bismarck, North Dakota. Then concerns were raised about how possible leaks could threaten the drinking water of North Dakota’s second biggest city. The route for the pipeline was changed to cross just above the Standing Rock Reservation, where such a leak could similarly threaten the drinking water of the tribe and create an environmental disaster downstream. Such a leak would also disturb ancestral homelands and burial grounds covered by the Treaty of Ft. Laramie in 1851 and 1868.
Law enforcement officials have used police dogs, pepper spray, militarized tanks, and SWAT teams, first to intimidate the demonstrators, then to forcibly remove them, destroying teepees and sweat lodges and arresting elders. The head of the Native American tribe who has led the months of demonstrations has said that they are prepared to keep up their actions through the state’s bitter winter if necessary.
On November 3, a group of 524 clergy (spiritual leaders of 22 faith traditions from all parts of the U.S.), gathered for a day of solidarity and repentance on the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation. Repentance included burning a copy of the Doctrine of Discovery, repudiating the document which, 524 years ago, justified the killing and oppression of indigenous people by giving European explorers the right to claim non-Christian land and resources.
The pipeline, scheduled to be completed by the end of the year, would carry 470,000 barrels of oil a day from the oilfields of western North Dakota to Illinois, where it would connect with other pipelines. Energy companies say it is far safer to move oil and natural gas in underground pipes than in rail cars or trucks. However, pipeline spills and ruptures occur regularly.
Snowdenis an Oliver Stone movie about the trajectory of Edward Snowden’s life. Some, of course, call Snowden a hero and others call him a traitor. The film begins in the Mira Hotel in Hong Kong, where Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) meets American documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras (Melissa Leo), investigative journalist Glenn Greenwald (Zachary Quinto) and intelligence reporter for the The Guardian, Ewan MacAskill (Tom Wilkinson). In the hotel for four tense days – June 5 to June 8, 2013 – Snowden goes over the major events in his life and how they changed him from patriotic conservative to whistle-blower.
After being discharged from the army due to an injury, Edward Snowden is seen rising through the ranks at the CIA and impressing both mentor Corbin O’Brian (Rhys Ifans) and scientific computer whiz Hank Forrester (Nicholas Cage). It is here Snowden starts to comprehend that the evolving spy technology in the hands of U.S. intelligence agencies was being promoted to enhance security and anti-terrorism measures. But in reality, the technology is being used even more to secretly monitor the American public. This bothers Snowden since he created some of the computer programs now used by the government.
His work as an NSA technology expert takes him to Oahu with his girlfriend, Lindsay Mills (Shailene Woodley). It is there Snowden concludes he has to blow the whistle, no matter the repercussions, due to his own vision of the kind of country America is meant to be. This despite the possibility that he could be subject to a secret military trial and execution.
Director: Oliver Stone
Film company: Open Road Films
Release date: September 16, 2016
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Nicholas Cage, Rhys Ifans, Melissa Leo, Tom Wilkinson, Shailene Woodley
During a meeting with his CIA mentor, Corbin O’Brian, he is told that Americans don’t really want freedom, they want security. And to achieve that, the government needs to wage a secret surveillance war. “Secrecy is security and security is victory.” But Edward Snowden has a vision for America where freedom to know how much one’s government is watching you matters more than blindly accepting the line that no harm can come from being spied on, no matter who is in charge of the government. After he goes public, the film shows several newspaper headlines stating how the U.S. Congress has passed legislation limiting what U.S. Intelligence Agencies can do with their spying apparatus.
Explore… Isaiah 65:17–25
One way to meditate on the wonders of God’s creation is to get outdoors and choose a place to discover. One of the places that people in Canada have been paying more attention to lately is Haida Gwaii. This is an archipelago on the North Coast of British Columbia that, until June 3, 2010, was known as the Queen Charlotte Islands. It reverted to its original name, which means “Islands of the Haida people,” as a result of discussions between the Government of British Columbia and the Haida First Nations people.
In late September and early October, Haida Gwaii was visited by members of the British royal family. Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, and Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, arrived in the archipelago on September 30, in a 49-foot Haida war canoe. They were ferried to the island by paddlers. When they arrived, they were welcomed by over a dozen chiefs and elders at the Haida heritage hall. There, young dancers in brightly coloured and beaded costumes performed a dance emphasizing the animals that provide spiritual, cultural, and life-sustaining nourishment to the Haida.
“We are survivors,” Haida Nation spokesman Peter Lantin told William and Kate. “We owe our existence to these islands and these waters. We know that good will come from your visit to Haida Gwaii because you bring hope.”
Among the treasures in Haida Gwaii is the Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve. It is located in the lower half of Haida Gwaii and is accessible by boat or plane. In addition to a large chunk of Moresby Island and thousands of diverse, secluded islands and islets covered in thick vegetation and wildlife, Gwaii Haanas features a natural hot spring island and the UNESCO World Heritage site, S’Gang Gwaay. It is one of the last authentic examples of a west coast First Nations village that has totem poles still standing in their original locations. The youngest totem pole here is 160 years old. SGang Gwaay is naturally decomposing, and in keeping with Haida Gwaii customs, will not be preserved or resurrected.
In the National Park Reserve and elsewhere in Haida Gwaii, visitors are taken to watch birds, marvel at old growth forests, observe bears and whales from a distance in their habitat, and explore the breathtaking coastline. Some canoe while others soak in hot springs.
Explore… Psalm 145: 1–5, 17–21
O God, you have created a planet ringed with splendour and beauty. You offer us the challenge to worship you as we delight in your creation. Help us to find ways to be present to your unfolding creation so that our spirits may be renewed. In Christ we pray. Amen.
The story of Zacchaeus is nothing if it is not the story of transformation. By the story's end, Zacchaeus and the lives of those around him are transformed by the arrival of Jesus. Two stories that offer the possibility of community transformation are in the news at present.
Scotland is the most unequal society in the global north when it comes to land ownership. Fifty percent of the Scotland, mostly in the Highlands, is owned by only 432 individuals, with 16 individuals owning 10% of Scottish land. However, a group formed in 2010, Community Land Scotland, has plans to make Scottish landholding more equal. Community Land Scotland is part of the growing community land movement that seeks to rethink and reorder land for the benefit of whole communities, not just for individuals.
The Scottish government’s aim is to double the amount of land owned by communities from 500,000 to 1 million acres by 2020. The Scottish Land Reform Act of 2003 allows crofting communities the right to buy the land with which those communities have a connection. This right can be exercised at any time, even if the land is not for sale. (Crofts are small farms and other small landholdings.)
“This is about building sustainable communities and futures in a region where, up until very recently, young people were left with no choice but to migrate in search of opportunities elsewhere,” says Peter Peacock of Community Land Scotland.
Another initiative seeking to transform communities is what is most often known as the guaranteed minimum income, or GMI. This is the concept, long talked about by economists seeking alternatives to poverty and the inadequacies of the welfare state, where all residents in a nation receive a basic income from the state by right.
GMI is a controversial and largely untested idea, but that is changing. In both Ontario, Canada, and in Finland, major trials of GMI are planned. In Ontario, the trial seeks to top-up incomes so that everyone is able to live above the poverty line. Strictly speaking the Ontario trial is not a GMI in that it does not provide all individuals with a regular payment of the same amount regardless of other earnings. However, proponents hope that the trial will lead to the implementation of a true GMI at a later date.
Former Conservative senator Hugh Segal, who has been appointed to conduct the trial says, “70 per cent of the people who live beneath the poverty line in Ontario … have jobs. They just don’t earn enough through minimum wage to be above the poverty line.”
The Finish trial is not a true GMI experiment either. It too will offer a form of top-up to the benefits people already receive and will only be available to people on unemployment benefits.
The Finnish government says about the experiment, “The basic income experiment is one of the activities aiming to reform social security so that it corresponds better to the changes of working life, to overhaul social security to encourage participation and employment, to reduce bureaucracy, and to simplify the complicated benefits system in a sustainable way regarding public finances.”
“To be honest, I think I’m making more money on this new set-up than I was, but I hate the principle of it.” That’s Tom Pywell, a Dubliner, who is a delivery cyclist for Deliveroo, a food delivery company that allows people to order food from local restaurants via their smart phones and have it delivered to their doors. Deliveroo is part of what’s been dubbed the gig economy or the app economy. These are businesses based around the application of smartphone technology. Perhaps the best known are Uber and Airbnb, both of which are now huge multimillion dollar concerns that actually employ directly comparatively few people. Deliveroo started in London in 2013 and has seen phenomenal growth. In the 12 months to July 2016, the company took in €166 million in revenue by providing a smartphone-based service that allows customers to place orders in real time to local restaurants for take out meals.
The new set-up for Deliveroo contractors that delivery rider Tom Pywell is talking about is a move from a flat rate per hour plus a fee for each delivery, to only paying per delivery. While this might benefit the company, it leaves people like Tom in an uncertain place. A slow night means little or no income for hours spent waiting.
While the hospitality industry has for many years tried to minimize labour costs by offering split shifts and short shifts, companies in the gig economy take the idea of on-demand workers to a whole new level.
In the gig economy, workers support themselves with a variety of part-time jobs that do not provide traditional benefits such as sick leave or pensions. Rather than employ staff the conventional way, many of the new breed of start-ups use workforce management companies or self-employed contractors. While this provides flexibility for workers, the lack of benefits and certainty makes the gig economy a hard place to survive.
As Michael Taft of the union Unite points out, these companies are essentially not doing anything new “They’re taking existing industries and delivering them in what they see as a more efficient way, but it’s the person on the bottom of the rung that’s getting squeezed most.”
And it is here where the gig economy is in line for a growing number of conventional businesses that no longer employ workers directly, but that engage a workforce contracting firm that makes individual contracts with workers at often markedly reduced rates of pay and conditions.
What is business for? Is it only for the maximization of profits for shareholders and incomes for executives, or does a business have a responsibility to provide a fair and reasonable income to its workers?
So much depends on whether we truly see each other as sister and brothers and members of the one community.
Explore… Luke 18:9–14
Since the end of the apartheid era in South Africa, which promised a wonderful new society for all, there have been many disappointments for rural poor who were attracted to the main cities of the new “Rainbow Nation.” In Johannesburg, the notorious settlements of Soweto and Alexandria had become bywords for poverty and endemic violence, as well as for high rates of HIV/AIDS.
There was a time when the central district of Johannesburg became virtually a no-go area. Big business and retailers had abandoned the city centre and had relocated in shiny new out-of-town malls, and mainly white affluent satellite suburbs. Empty office blocks were taken over by gangsters and squatters and turned into dormitories for the floods of impoverished people from the countryside looking to better themselves. Violence was rife, with armed gangs roaming former commercial districts, enforcing gang law, and hijacking cars and lorries unfortunate enough to have stopped at traffic lights. Not the sort of society envisioned by Nelson Mandela.
Now, some 20 years on, big business is once again seeing the commercial value of the city centre of Johannesburg. The builders are moving back in and renovating malls and office blocks. These former no-go areas are building a reputation among the upwardly mobile and burgeoning South African middle classes as being trendy places to live and hang out, as fashion, culture, and the arts gain a foothold. While there is some hope in that there are a lot of former office blocks being turned into new, low rental accommodation, which is crucial for some people in providing a step up out of poverty, there remains a poverty gap which sees the poorest of the city centre inhabitants being passed by and overlooked as the shiny developments spring up around them. As Stuart Wilson, of the local NGO Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa comments, “regeneration has to be for everyone… I have no problem with land for luxury apartments, as long as there is commensurate land for the poor.”
As with all of these issues there are great layers of complexity and no one answer. What is clear is that is that those at the bottom of the economic ladder still find that they have to fight for any sort of justice and slice of the economic cake.
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