Past Spirit Sightings (The Archives)
From Ray McGinnis
For over 100 years, scientists have believed the reason why it took such a lengthy time for animals to evolve was due to a lack of oxygen. Once animals had the capacity to breathe in more oxygen, as the structure of their bodies changed, and as their access to oxygen in their habitat changed, the process of evolution quickened.
According to the scientific consensus, about three billion years ago the levels of oxygen in the earth’s atmosphere increased, from about 20% of what they are today, to the present-day levels, which have remained constant for the past three billion years. A dramatic increase! Scientists have assumed that animals needed these higher levels of oxygen to survive and evolve.
Yet a new study out of the Nordic Centre for Earth Evolution at the University of Southern Denmark is confounding the prevailing consensus. The study, with an international team of scientists, examined sea sponges. Sea sponges are technically considered among the earliest forms of animal life. This is because they are always multi-cellular, and they grow from an embryo, just like humans. Sea sponges raised in a lab were able to survive on 0.5% of the oxygen now available in the earth’s atmosphere. This is a mystery to the scientists. Why are sea sponges able to exist on such little oxygen? And why did sea sponges take over 800 million years to start evolving if low levels of oxygen were not an inhibiting factor in their growth? These are questions scientists will be debating for years to come.
Explore… Matthew 17:1-9
God who moves in mysterious ways, you take us to mountaintops. You astonish us. You surprise us. In your presence, the world we knew shifts. Sometimes we tremble. Sometimes we are at peace. Meet us in the places of life where the answers come slowly. Meet us in the spaces between what we know and what we do not know. Hold us in the secret places, too, where we contain ourselves as we lean not on our understanding, but grow toward your radiance. In Christ we pray. Amen.
From Ray McGinnis
In over 100 years of making films, Hollywood has shied away from doing a film about slavery from a slaves point of view. (Roots, a TV mini-series, did this in the 1970s.) So 12 Years a Slave carries a weight of responsibility on its shoulders. Steve McQueen adapts a much-admired antebellum memoir by Solomon Northup concerning a free Northerner kidnapped and dispatched into horrific servitude.
The film, like the memoir, details the brutal and endlessly suffocating world that slavery was. Filmgoers encounter the murderous circumstances of life for newly kidnapped “negroes” on paddle-wheel steamers heading into the slave states with their fresh “cargo.”
At the beginning, Solomon is an expert violinist. Then, in 1841, he is kidnapped. Solomon is taught by a fellow captor to hide his education and ability to read and write at all costs. His white masters would sooner kill an educated black man than take the risk that he may use that social advantage to rise up and usurp his owners.
His first owner is Ford, who tries to be a humane slave-owner. But the system of oppression inherent in slavery makes Ford’s efforts to soften life for his slaves a delusion. Then he is sold to Edwin Epps, a ruthless slave-owner who oversees a world that is inexhaustible, vicious, and pitiless.
Type: DramaDirector: Steve McQueen
Film company: Fox Searchlight
Release date: October 18, 2013
Starring: Chiwetel Eliofor, Brad Pitt, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Sarah Paulson
Solomon Northup is hanged from a tree after daring to question his overseer’s ignorance. Desperately, he manages to keep one toe in contact with the mud in an effort to avoid slow strangulation as everyday life goes on around him – other slaves in the yard next to him keep on doing their chores, hoe the ground, do the laundry. In secret, Northup takes time to write down his experiences of being a slave hoping one day someone will appear whom he can trust, and who will get word about his kidnapping out and return him to being a free man.
Explore…Psalm Matthew 5:21-37
What is the heart of the matter in this passage? What does Jesus say are the consequences of murder, anger, contempt, and mockery? What does a path of reconciliation offer for Gospel living? How do the slave traders and owners in 12 Years a Slave behave towards their slaves? What difference does it make that Bass (Brad Pitt), the contractor from Canada, takes a letter from Solomon Northup to authorities in New York State to report Solomon’s kidnapping? What is the heart of the matter in 12 Years a Slave? What is its message for us today?
Loving God, life is short and we have never too much time to gladden the hearts of others who travel on the way with us. So be swift to love. Make haste to be kind. In Christ we pray. Amen.
From Ray McGinnis
The film Saving Mr. Banks begins in 1960. We meet P. L. Travers (Emma Thompson), the pen name of a reclusive Australian author torn by her distaste for a film adaptation of her seminal book Mary Poppins.
However, her economic circumstances place her in need of the funds that would be generated by an agreement to adapt her book for movies. Meanwhile, Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) is a fan of the material since his daughter first introduced him to the Mary Poppins books (of which there would be eight written by Travers). Disney has been aggressively trying to persuade Travers to sign over the rights for 20 years. During World War II, Travers was working for the British Ministry of Information. It was while on a trip to New York City in 1941 that Disney discovered that the author of Mary Poppins was in America. That was when he made his first offer to pay for the rights for the book adaptation. Saving Mr. Banks details their resulting collaboration and struggles. The perfectionist and stubborn author constantly criticizes Disney’s team during the script writing process, which started in 1961. In the midst of working on the script, she begins to experience flashbacks to her troubled working-class childhood and the influence her father (Colin Farrell) had on her writing.
Director:John Lee Hancock
Film company:Buena Vista
Release date:December 13, 2013
Starring:Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Colin Farrell, Annie Rose Buckley
It’s not until Walt Disney begins to dig into Travers’ childhood that he learns why she’s so protective of her story. Flashbacks that begin when the movie starts have already revealed scenes of her as a child, Helen Lyndon Goff (Annie Rose Buckley). Her family was in hard times in Australia. Her bank-employee father (Colin Farrell) – a heavy drinker – was rarely able to support the family, but loved Helen nevertheless. He always rebuffed her defeated and ill-spirited mother’s (Ruth Wilson) wisecracks. Disney discovers the seeds of P. L. Travers inspiration for Mary Poppins in Travers’ upbringing. By confiding his own difficult childhood, Disney, at last, softens Travers frostiness and she relents to grant him rights to the book.
Explore…Psalm Matthew 5:38-48
What is the scripture teaching? What does “turning the cheek” or “going the second mile” achieve in Jesus’ view? How does Walt Disney go the second mile with P. L. Travers? Are the concessions Disney gives to her in writing the script a form of turning the other cheek? How might Disney’s empathy with Travers – when he shares with her his own difficult upbringing – be an attempt to be loving?
Loving God, you break down our defenses, seeking us, pursuing us, going the second mile with us, no matter how often we turn away from you or those around us. When we have been through difficulties, you seek to love and understand us. Help us to be present to others without judgment, to be a witness in ways that are disarming and compassionate. In Christ we pray. Amen.
From Fraser Macnaughton
Surely one the most clear examples of letting your light shine is when people decide to work cooperatively for the good of all rather than from an “every man for himself mentality.” News that a village in China became rich after locals invested in pig farms, cherry growing and hydroelectric energy demonstrates the value of working collaboratively. This village became so rich that the rural farmers from southwest China have become instant celebrities at home after building a £1.3 million “money wall” in their village with rectangular bales of cash.
The seven-foot wall was built from a total of 13.1 million yuan in cash bonuses that were paid out to members of a rural cooperative this week ahead of Chinese New Year celebrations at the end of this month. The cash was distributed to the 340 households in the Jianshe village, Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture, who are shareholders of a rural cooperative that owns farm enterprises and investment companies, the local newspaper Huaxi Metropolis Daily reported. Bales of bright pink 100 yuan (£9.89) notes stacked up in a tree-lined squared on Monday before the money was distributed.
“It took me so long to count the money that I almost lost strength and feeling in my hands,” one villager was quoted as saying by Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post.
The government-controlled China Radio International said the village became rich after “piloting a land circulation project, which introduced a new farming company and an investment company” to the area.
However, one local wit demonstrated his unease at their new-found wealth. He complained that in order to protect the giant wall of cash from thieves he had been forced to sleep on top of a rock-solid “mattress” of money worth around £808,000, with pillows that cost around £424,000. “It is not comfortable at all to sleep on cash,” he was quoted as saying!
Explore… Matthew 5:13-20
Jesus came to bring good news to the poor, asking that his followers might be salt and light in that task. May we be informed, educated, and inspired to change our world by starting right where we are in the small things of life. Amen.
From Fraser Macnaughton
So much of our political life is a minefield of decision-making. In the current debate over the UK’s continuing membership in the European Union, views swing between the sense of a reversal in progress made in keeping European peace for nearly 70 years and the economic advantages or disadvantages or reversals of being in or out of the European trade zone. The latest episode sees UK Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne warning the EU it must reform or face an ongoing crisis and economic decline, in a significant toughening of the Conservative leadership’s position on Europe.
Mr. Osborne said the UK Government wants to remain part of the EU after the in/out referendum on the issue pledged by David Cameron. But he added, “There is a simple choice for Europe: reform or decline. Our determination is clear: to deliver the reform, and then let the people decide.” The Prime Minister has pledged to renegotiate the UK’s relationship with the EU before the 2017 referendum. Mr. Osborne said that the “biggest risk” facing the EU comes not from the referendum vote, but from doing nothing to change the organization.
Sounding the alarm on economic growth, he said that over the past six years Europe’s economy has stalled while other countries have stormed ahead. “In the same period, the Indian economy has grown by a third, the Chinese economy by 50%,” he said. “Make no mistake, our continent is falling behind.”
He also warned that the EU faces another crisis – like that which engulfed the nations within the Eurozone – unless it changes. His speech suggested that Europe’s problems include a lack of innovation, growing youth-unemployment, and high welfare spending.
In all our deliberations and musings on matters great and small, may we always apply gospel values to actions, to help us discern the way of Jesus, whom we seek to follow. Amen.
From Fraser Macnaughton
In September 2014, the people of the ancient nation of Scotland are to be called to vote as to whether they wish to become independent of the United Kingdom. Until then, both sides in the debate seek to press their claims that either independence or staying part of the UK is in the peoples’ best interests. But how do people discern what is best for them. Each week a new issue or topic comes into the media, with both sides claiming the high ground resulting in claim and counter claim.
Recently, the Scottish government has come under pressure to publish legal advice suggesting universities could continue to charge fees to students from the rest of the UK after independence. The European commission has cast serious doubt on the legality of the plans of Scotland’s First Minister, Alex Salmond, to continue charging university tuition fees for English, Welsh, and Northern Irish students in an independent Scotland. European Union law prevents undergraduates from European countries outside the UK being charged fees by Scottish universities because they have to be given parity with home students – who have their tuition paid for them. However, if Scotland were to become independent, it seems likely that students from the rest of the UK would have to be treated like European students and be given free tuition.
This has escalated a dispute over the future of one of the Scottish government’s most prized and popular policies: giving all Scottish-domiciled and EU students free university tuition, while charging an average of £7,500 a year for all other UK students. Mike Russell, the Scottish education minister, fears giving free tuition to all UK students would lead to a flood of “fee refugees” applying to escape charges of up to £9,000 a year at top English colleges.
A report by Academics Together added: “Even if the numbers of students from elsewhere in the UK stayed at the same level as today, this would represent a loss of income to Scottish universities of £150 million. If the numbers were to increase – and there would be a very strong incentive for young people from England to come to Scotland for a free education – the effect could be even greater.”
Jesus teaches us to be wise as serpents and as innocent as doves. May we be enabled to make choices for our lives, our faith, and our communities with our eyes and ears open, and with discernment enough to be true to ourselves. Amen.
From Sandra Rooney
It’s easy to despair when the news is so filled with stories of ethnic conflict, sectarian violence and hatred, and political animosity. Then we read a story such as this one coming from Nigeria, where, although an insurgency has killed hundreds just in recent months, something potentially more powerful is happening. For it is here in Nigeria that Imam Mohammad Ashafa and Pastor James Wuye have turned from being leaders of militias fighting to defend their faiths, to spreading the practice of tolerance and reconciliation. Two decades ago, both men heard sermons on forgiveness, one in a mosque and the other in a church. A senior colleague told Wuye that “you cannot preach Christ with hate in your heart and you must learn to forgive.” Ashafa heard a similar message at a mosque. Both men heard the message and it was God’s call to them.
They formed the Interfaith Mediation Centre in Kaduna, Nigeria. In this country where the population is evenly split between Muslims and Christians, religious tolerance and interfaith understanding are the key to political stability and development, as they are in so many places around the world. Using their personal story to challenge others, the two men teach and preach respect for one another’s beliefs and mutual recognition of the common humanity we all share. They do not seek to convert, but to bring the true teachings of their respective faith traditions to their fellow Christians and Muslims.
The center trains young men and women how to bring different religious communities together for dialogue. Teams of Christians and Muslims go to trouble spots. There are workshops and community forums. People talk about why they changed their minds about people of other faiths, building trust and paving the way to peaceful interaction between their groups.
The work of teaching and learning tolerance and respect is slow but steady. Wuye and Ashafa have shared their story in many places, including Iraq, Lebanon, Kenya, Croatia, and Northern Ireland. In October 2013, in recognition of their work, Ashafa and Wuye received the Hesse Peace Prize, awarded by the Peace Research Institute in Frankfurt, Germany. Now, partnering with the Public Conversations Project in Watertown, Massachusetts; and the Centre for Peace, Democracy and Development at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, The Interfaith Mediation Centre hopes to extend the reach of its message. They hope to “sow a seed that will germinate and become the antidote to terrorism, fanaticism, bigotry, and extremism,” says Muhammad Sani Isah, considered the “alternate imam” at the center.
Explore…Isaiah 49:1-7; Psalm 40:1-11
Ever present God, too often we have eyes only for the wrongs in our world. May we have eyes and ears to perceive also the many ways you are at work in the hearts and minds of your faithful people. Then may we bear testimony to your love and power with our own lives. Amen.
From Sandra Rooney
National Public Radio recently aired this story: “After Discharge Upgrade, Marine Finally Finds a Reason to Live.” It is the story of one Marine, Michael Hartnett, and his two-decade-long journey into darkness and back to life. On the one hand, it’s an all-too-common story, but it’s also a very special story.
Hartnett enlisted in the Marines to be a tough guy. Deployments in the first Gulf war left him haunted by nightmares, unable to sleep. It hadn’t been what he and the other Marines expected. The ground war ended in just four days and they found themselves working in the aftermath of the massive air campaign – “miles of charred bodies of Iraqi soldiers.” He turned to alcohol, and though he got treatment, the nightmares and the drinking continued and he was eventually busted down in rank.
The Marines gave him a way out, he thought, through Somalia, where he volunteered for convoy security, escorting trucks delivering humanitarian aid. The situation in Somalia deteriorated in unimaginable ways; Hartnett’s nightmares worsened and he went back to drinking, adding meth and crack cocaine, which led to a “bad conduct discharge.” Denied military benefits, Hartnett described his life as “nine rehabs, seven psych wards, six arrests, five jail stays…and a thousand wasted opportunities.”
Then he met Molly. She saw something in him he couldn’t see himself. After dating six years, they got married. But the drinking continued and there were fights. Everybody told her to leave, but she couldn’t. She feared he might commit suicide.
But there’s more to the story. Because Hartnett had a special court martial, a discharge review board could upgrade it. Encouraged by his parents, he got a lawyer, whose advice was for him to tell the truth and speak honestly from his heart.
Hartnett started going to AA, but had been sober only about two weeks when he had his hearing. Fortunately, military attitudes toward post-traumatic stress disorder had changed since his court martial. Seven weeks after hearing his story, the review board voted three to two in favor of upgrading Michael Hartnett’s discharge.
Things are looking up. Hartnett gets full medical care and disability for this PTSD. And he hasn’t had a drink in nearly three years. He says he feels forgiven. “It was the Marines saying, you’ve had enough, Michael. Just go live your life. Do something with it.” Which is exactly what he’s doing. He’s studying to be a social worker and hopes to work for the VA, where he thinks he’ll be able to reach combat vets in a way others can’t. As for Mary, she says after all he’s been though and everything those around him have been through, if he doesn’t do something with this gift that has been given him, that will be his greatest sin.
This brief account of Jesus’ baptism leads us to think about the fulfillment of promise, seeing in a new way, and living into a future more amazing than we can imagine.
Faithful and loving God, make your presence known in our lives. May we hear your still, small voice calling us out of our darkness into the service of others. May we know we are never truly left alone. You are our God and we your beloved children. Amen.
From Sandra Rooney
A month ago, as we entered Advent, we learned of the death of Nelson Mandela, the man who led South Africa out of the oppressive apartheid system to become the country’s first black president. We heard tributes and watched as leaders from all over the world joined thousands in a Soweto soccer stadium to pay tribute to the man who showed not only a nation, but a world, the way to freedom – freedom, not just from oppression and fear, but freedom of the spirit. We saw the long lines of those who waited for one last look as his body lay in state in Pretoria, and the crowds that gathered to bid him farewell when his body arrived in Mthatha, in his native Eastern Cape Province, for a state funeral and then burial in Qunu, the town where he grew up.
The path from herding cattle as a boy to the presidency of his country was long and difficult. He says he learned his early lessons of leadership listening to the endless consensus-seeking deliberations of the tribal council. His ties to the Thembu tribe also gave him insights into the tribal politics of South Africa and the divisions within the large Zulu nation.
During his 27 years in prison, Mandela further honed his skills as a leader and negotiator, among the other prisoners as well as in his relationship to the guards and prison administrators. He studied his oppressors and learned Afrikaans, their language, and urged other prisoners to do the same. He credited his prison experience with teaching him the tactics and strategy that would make him president, and more. In his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, reflecting on leaving prison, he wrote, “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”
Throughout his life, Mandela was never without his critics: as a young revolutionary, it was the older members of the African National Congress; as a prisoner on Robben Island, it was the radical younger inmates; after his release, it was the white extremists and factions within his own people. But what he and President F. W. de Klerk managed to negotiate was a peaceful transfer of power, with free elections in exchange for the promise of power sharing and a guarantee that whites would not be subject to reprisals.
In his tribute to Mandela, and alluding to the challenges we face in today’s world, President Barack Obama said, “Nelson Mandela reminds us that it [change] always seems impossible until it is done. South Africa shows that is true. South Africa shows we can change, that we can choose a world defined not by our differences, but by our common hopes. We can choose a world defined not by conflict, but by peace and justice and opportunity.” To these attributes we might add courage, compassion, patience and forgiveness, which also marked the life of Nelson Mandela.
Explore…Matthew 2:1-12As we read this ancient text, we reflect on longing and hope and fear, in Jesus’ day and our own. What do we imagine the wise men sought? What did the people of Israel long for? What did Herod fear?
As words of a familiar advent hymn echo in our minds, “Come thou long-expected Jesus, born to set thy people free,” may we be inspired by the lives of those of every generation, who have sought the truth and shown light on the path to freedom, human dignity, reconciliation and peace. Amen
From Ray McGinnis
The Book Thief is a movie adapted from a bestselling novel by Markus Zusak. In the movie version, Geoffrey Rush (Hans) and Emily Watson (Rose) play a World War II German couple who adopt Liesel, a young girl acted by Sophie Nelisse in a winning performance.
Liesel learns to love books from Hans. After the Nazis burn most of the village’s books, she ends up stealing them from the library of the wife of the town’s mayor. Liesel’s family also harbours a young Jewish man named Max, at the height of Hitler’s persecution of the Jews. Max and Liesel get to know each other as she reads to him beside his hiding place.
The Book Thief is a suspenseful coming-of-age story about the courage it takes to do the right thing. It is narrated by Death (voice of Roger Allam) and advises that all humans have to face death no matter who they are.
In the midst of the story, the backdrop of what is unfolding in World War II’s Nazi Germany is glossed over, which has a disorienting effect on viewers who know a bit of history.
Director: Brian Percival
Film company: Fox
Release date: November 8, 2013
Starring: Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson, Sophie Nelisse
Focus: In the movie, we encounter an affectionate narration of Liesel’s shift from illiteracy to love of the written word. Alongside her growing love for books, she is changed from a frightened youngster to a giving and brave young woman. Liesel becomes animated as she grows in her relationship with her foster father, Hans. He gives her shelter when her Communist mother is arrested by the Nazis.
“Your majesty,” says Hans, extending his hand to the scared child who cringes in the car on her arrival. Hans inspires Liesel with the notion that nobility is a gift that has nothing to do with birth and everything to do with the soul’s capacity to approach the light.
What does the psalm invite its readers to do? How are the people of Israel “close to God’s heart?” How might this psalm be a source of strength in difficult times? What is Liesel’s focus during her years under Nazi rule in Germany? How does her focus sustain her in the face of the disorienting and cruel events unfolding in her country? What role does innocence play in helping a person persevere in dark times? What do children see that is different from what adults see? What stories do you know about people who have had to deal with disorienting events in their lives and found a way forward?
God of the people of Israel, your heart is close; it aches at the sight of suffering, and rejoices to see individual acts of mercy and bravery. As we encounter you in each story we see or hear, in scripture, in books, in movies, in everyday life, stir in us the capacity to grow our own souls toward the light of your love that we may participate in the small victories that bring us close to your heart. In Christ we pray. Amen.
From Ray McGinnis
Bali is a very popular tourist destination. The tourist boom has been accompanied by rising prices in housing, which has placing farmers at risk of not being able to earn enough with the traditional crops they’ve grown to absorb the changing fortunes of the island’s increased land values. In the face of these changes, the island administration in Bali has set a goal to make Bali an “organic” province, where local farmers switch to more sustainable and healthier organic farming. On December 5, Bali Governor, Made Mangku Pastika, announced that his government would increase the subsidy offered for organic fertilizer. The initiative is intended to help local farmers make the transition from chemical to organic fertilizer.
“We’ll continue to increase the subsidy for organic fertilizer and hope our attempt to transform the island into an organic island can be realized soon,” Pastika said in a seminar in Denpasar. Pastika promised that his government would earmark Rp 10 billion from its annual budget for the subsidy by 2014. This is an increase from Rp 4 billion set aside for the same program in 2013.
Organic farming has been one Pastika’s initiatives since 2008. The governor trusts that organic farming is essential to the continuity of the island’s agriculture. Bali’s farming sector has been threatened by land conversions related to tourism and the booming property sector. Organic farming could provide the difference local farmers need to corner competitive food product markets in the tourist sector.
It is hoped that organic farming will enhance the environment for the island and the economy of the island’s farmers.
Explore… Matthew 1:18–25
How does the story told in Matthew’s gospel plant the message that God is with us? What is the impact of the angel’s message? What difference does it make that administration in Bali is offering a program to increase organic farming on that island? How is this initiative in Bali sowing seeds of new birth in their community? What other stories can you point to that are examples of new life, of God being with us in surprising ways in these times?
God who makes all things new, be with us. Move in the womb of this life to empower us to dream new dreams. Help us to be open to the messengers you send to us. Make us receptive to the announcements you bring, and able to respond and make adjustments to the plans we have made, so that we may be free to be present to you and follow you into the light. In Christ we pray. Amen
From Paul Turley
If there was ever a time when, in the words of our text for this week, the hungry need to be filled with good things and the rich sent away empty, it would be now.
The United States, according to Robert Reich, former Clinton cabinet member, has, “Of all developed nations, the most unequal distribution of income, and we’re surging towards even greater inequality.” In 2012, the top 1% of US earners collected 19.3% of household income, breaking a record previously set in 1927.
In 1978, according to Reich, a “typical male worker” made $48,302, while the typical person in the top 1% earned $393,682, more than eight times as much. In 2010, even as overall gross domestic product and productivity increased, the average male worker’s wage fell to $33,751. Meanwhile, the average top 1% earner was making more than $1.1 million – 32 times the average earner.
But it is not just in the U.S. where inequality is growing. On November 26, 2013, the Vatican released Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, or The Joy of the Gospel. In this letter to “the Christian faithful,” Francis directly tackles inequality and specifically the “trickle down” economic theory.
“Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting.”
As the Washington Post reports, “Many of the world’s richest countries are experiencing historic levels of income inequality. And even in the developing world, there are emerging concerns about whether workers will benefit from their countries’ increasing prosperity.”
The song of Mary, ancient words put into the mouth of a young girl in desperately unequal Palestine in the first century CE, continue to be a cry of hope for all.
Explore... Luke 1:47-55
God, we are not living the way you long for us to live, with generous and open lives, joyful and giving in our relationships with each other and this good earth. Forgive us, renew us, give us courage for the long journey ahead to the place where all have enough. Amen.
From Paul Turley
Woody Allen once said, “the lion might lay down with the lamb, but the lamb ain’t going to get much sleep.” And isn’t that how we often feel about peacemaking? When violence is often our first thought in so many situations, it’s not easy to be hopeful and to continue working for a different kind of world.
Padraig O’Malley, from the University of Massachusetts in Boston, is an academic who teaches and writes about peace and reconciliation. But that’s not why O’Malley is a gift to the world. O’Malley doesn’t just teach and write about better ways of resolving conflict, he has spent much of his career in the thick of the struggle. In particular, he has done a lot of work out of the public eye supporting the rebuilding of South Africa and supporting and advising Nelson Mandela.
Recently, as the founding director of the Forum for Cities in Transition, he has been part of organizing a peacemaking conference in the northern Nigerian city of Kaduna, a place that has seen much violence in the Nigerian civil war.
Two hundred delegates and observers from some of the world’s most troubled areas were present in Kaduna, in early November 2013: areas such as Northern Ireland (O’Malley’s home country), Lebanon, Israel, Iraq, Palestine, and Kosovo. The conference itself required armed guards as it was a target for those who do not want to see an end to conflict in Nigeria, or anywhere else.
As a part of his opening address to the conference, O’Malley said, “Cities that are in transition in countries divided by conflict are in the best position to help other cities in transition in other such countries. Through the process of sharing their narratives they can learn from each other and create a dynamic that becomes a catalyst for change.”
Explore... Isaiah 11:1–10
God of peace, it is for peace that we hope and pray. Peace in ourselves, peace in our homes, peace in our communities and peace in our world. Give us the wisdom and courage to be your lions and your lambs, to be your peacemakers. Amen.
From Fraser Macnaughton
For me, Remembrance Day is about considering how we break the unending cycles of violence. It is about working out how we reduce our dependence on the bullet and the gun while increasing international understanding and tolerance.
– Rev. Dr. John Chalmers Principal Clerk of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.
Is this not what learning peace – whether it’s Remembrance Day, or Advent, or any other time of year – isn’t that what learning peace is all about?
Across many parts of Africa, what are euphemistically called “low intensity conflicts” continue to blight the lives of millions. For example, in Nigeria themilitary has said that troops killed 29 Islamist militants in two days of fighting in the north-east, where President Goodluck Jonathan’s forces are trying to stamp out Boko Haram’s four-year-old insurgency. In a separate shootout in the Damboa region of the same state, the military said it had killed nine militants. Recently, gunmen kidnapped a French priest working in northern Cameroon in an area where Boko Haram is known to operate. No one has yet claimed responsibility.
In many African countries, the task is to build modern states in nations where most people’s affiliation lies with their family and their tribe, and where violence has become the norm. Gun violence is widespread, as weapons left over from wars remain in the hands of many former combatants who have now returned to their home provinces – and there are no border police forces to stop criminals from crossing from one country to another. Activities such as cattle rustling remain a huge problem among many nations’ mostly rural populations. Several nations, after prolonged periods of low intensity conflict, have to try to rebuild national institutions from the ground up, as leaders cope with the legacy of years of war, chronic poverty and warring factions within and across borders.
One police chief observed, “We have many communities, but they are fighting themselves and sometimes you get policemen and women taking sides with their tribe. We need to develop their minds and become conscious of their national duty, and should not look at their tribes but look at the national interest.” He added, “Peace in a community is better than fighting, but we have a long way to go. It can take a long time for people to stop fighting among themselves. But if we can develop this, we will have communities who will be effective."
How many times must the cannon balls fly before they’re forever banned? How many deaths will it take till we know that too many people have died? The answer my friend is blowin’ in the wind, the answer is blowin’ in the wind. [With thanks to Bob Dylan]
From Fraser Macnaughton
Two similar-but-unrelated stories recently highlight the enduring fascination the world has with Jesus. Reports came through that a giant statue of Jesus apparently survived Typhoon Haiyan unscathed, even as the massive storm flattened many parts of Tanauan, a coastal town in the central Philippines. It’s not the first time religious statues have survived natural disasters in the heavily Roman Catholic Philippines, according to local reports. Two statues of the Virgin Mary withstood a devastating earthquake last month.
Meanwhile, in Syria, aLondon-based charity has erected a giant bronze statue of Jesus on a Syrian hilltop, after organizing a truce between warring factions to safeguard its passage from Lebanon. The statue stands, arms outstretched, on the Cherubim mountain, overlooking a route pilgrims took from Constantinople to Jerusalem in ancient times. The statue is 12.3 metres (40 ft.) tall and stands on a base that brings its height to 32 (105 ft.) metres.
The delivery of the statue is the result of eight years’ work, which has been set back by the civil war that followed the March 2011 uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.
“Christians and other minorities are all targets in the conflict and the statue’s safety is not guaranteed. It stands among villages where some fighters, linked to al-Qaida, have little sympathy for Christians,” according to an Associated Press report. Project organizer Samir al-Ghadban said it was worth erecting the statue, created by an Armenian sculptor, because “Jesus would have done it.” Ghadban said the main armed groups in the area – Syrian government forces, rebels, and the local militias of Sednaya, the Christian town near the statue site – stopped fighting for three days while the statue was erected. He also said most of the financing came from private donors.
Russians have been a driving force behind the statue project. The Kremlin is the chief ally of the embattled Assad, and the Orthodox churches in Russia and Syria have close ties.
Ghadban, who is Syrian-Russian and who lives in both countries, said he hoped the statue, which was inspired by Rio de Janeiro’s “Christ the Redeemer” statue, would in turn inspire Syria’s Christians.
These stories have inspired writers in the media to challenge our thinking of the place of Jesus in our globalized world. Some ask “Is the unscathed Jesus statue in the Philippines a miraculous sign of hope amid the ruins, or just a random coincidence? Is the ability of a Jesus statue to halt a civil war, even for a short while, a sign of hope?”
Explore… Luke 1:68-79, 23:33-43
Since the beginning, the person of Jesus has been an enigma, thrilling, puzzling, inspiring, challenging, and succouring millions around the world. For this we give thanks as we, on Christ’s Way, seek to understand him more fully and deeply. Amen.
From Sandra Rooney
Ever since his election, by both behavior and speech, Pope Francis has caught the attention and imagination of not only millions of Catholics around the world, but other believers and non-believers as well. From choosing to name himself after Saint Francis, revered by Catholics and many other Christians for his simple values, poverty, and love of nature, to shunning the papal apartments for more modest quarters in a Vatican guesthouse, he has shown his intention to move the church from its preoccupation with appearance to being a poor missionary church in dialog with the world, and a church that serves the needs of the people.
He has said that all members of the church need to avoid the pitfalls of attachment to worldly things and be more humble, urging all members of the clergy to spurn comfort and get out among the poor and needy. He made headlines last month when he suspended Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Else, Bishop of Limburg, Germany, whom the media dubbed the “bishop of bling,” for his alleged lavish spending. Pope Francis has said the Vatican must become more transparent in its financial dealings. He has even suggested that Catholic convents and monasteries that are empty should be opened up to house migrants and refugees.
That the Pope is reaching his flock seems demonstrated by the fact that, as of October 29, he had passed 10 million followers across nine different language accounts on Twitter, the popular social media network. His tweets include prayers and short passages from his homilies. In July, the Pope was named “the most influential world leader on Twitter” by Burson-Marsteller, a Swiss public relations and communications firm.
Pope Francis has emphasized the need to be aware of the trap of becoming an apostle of one’s own ideas, and warned of those whom he said were obsessed with ideology, forgetting the commandment to love without exceptions. He has faulted the Roman Catholic church for focusing too much on issues such as gays, abortion, and contraception, to the detriment of its larger mission to be “home for all.” “This is the way of the Lord,” he concluded one homily, “It is to worship God, to love God above all things, and to love your neighbor.”
What contemporary images come to mind as you read this passage from Isaiah?Where do you see initiatives of compassion and justice in the world today that might point to a new day? What might you do where you live and worship, in order to be participant in the kind of world Isaiah envisions?
God of infinite possibilities, it is easy for us to look at our world and see only the clouds of hunger, pain, and injustice. Help us to recognize also the many ways in which you seek our participation in creating a better world, a world of compassion, justice, and love. Amen
From Sandra Rooney
In recent weeks, the media have given us vivid images of wild fires raging in New South Wales, Australia; a category 5 cyclone, which hit the east coast of India forcing tens of thousands of coastal villagers to flee their homes; millions of displaced Syrians, on the streets and in refugee camps, facing starvation as well as winter’s cold as the civil war there drags on.
We’ve also seen images of Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani schoolgirl shot in the head a year ago by Taliban extremists. Malala, a Taliban target because of her outspoken support of education for girls, has made a full recovery and her voice as an advocate for education, especially for girls and women, is being heard around the world. A nominee for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, she has met with President Obama and spoken at the United Nations.
She appears fearless in the face of continued threats against her, saying, “Now I’m living a second life. God has given me this new life for the cause of education.”
Appearing on The Daily Show, she left John Stewart speechless with her response when he asked her how shereacted when she learned that the Taliban wanted her dead. “I started thinking about that, and I used to think that the Talib would come, and he would just kill me. But then I said, ‘If he comes, what would you do Malala?’ I would reply to myself, ‘Malala, just take a shoe and hit him.’ But then I said, ‘If you hit a Talib with your shoe, then there would be no difference between you and the Talib. You must not treat others with cruelty… you must fight others, but through peace and through dialogue and through education.’ I will tell him how important education is and that ‘I even want education for your children.’ And I will tell him, ‘That's what I want to tell you, now do what you want.’”
A fund, named for Malala, has been established to promote primary school education for children around the world. The fund’s first program is in the Swat Valley, where Malala’s home is. Schools destroyed by the Taliban are being rebuilt, but poverty is often the key obstacle to education for girls. Girls, whose mothers must work in the fields, often miss school because they have to look after the home and younger children. The Malala Fund is offering families of girls a stipend if they will agree to take them out of work and send them to school.
Explore… Psalm 145:1–5, 17-21; Haggai 1:15b–2:9; 2 Thessalonians 2:1–5
This week’s scripture passages link David’s psalm of praise with Haggai’s effort to motivate the people to rebuild their temple, assuring them of God’s presence with them and promise for the future. The author of Thessalonians warns the faithful about those who would read the events of the day as signs of the “end times.” Many of the events that fill our news media might well prompt us to wonder if they are signs of the “end times.”
Merciful God, restore our spirits with the assurance that a way can be made where there seems to be no way. Give us strength and wisdom to see beyond the dark shadows and lead us into light. Amen.
From Paul Turley
Is it possible that the story of Jesus meeting Zacchaeus as told in the 19th chapter of Luke’s gospel could be the first recorded “truth and reconciliation commission”?
The purpose of a truth and reconciliation commission is, of course, first to establish the truth. According to The International Center for Transitional Justice,
Societies and individuals are entitled to know the truth about mass human rights violations in the wake of armed conflict or repression. All cultures recognize the importance of proper mourning to achieve personal and communal healing.
International law clearly recognizes the right of victims and survivors to know about the circumstances of serious violations of their human rights and about who was responsible.
The ICTS recognises, as of early 2011, 40 official truth commissions around the world each seeking to provide accounts of past abuses.
One of these commissions, The Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Canada, established in 2008, has recently conducted the sixth of seven planned national events to hear the stories of Aboriginal children who for more than 120 years were removed from their homes and placed in Indian Residential Schools. British Columbia Reconciliation Week took place between September 16 and 22, 2013.
According to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the Indian Residential Schools were part of the Canadian government’s attempt wipe out Aboriginal culture. Or as Amy Georgeput it, “Those schools were built so that we would die.”
Only after the truth has been established can reconciliation begin. Shawn Atleo, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations in Canada, put it this way:“Our healing journey requires that we fully understand this history, the government policies and the actions that resulted, and that everyone understands that what happened to us was not our fault,” he said. “From this understanding, we are breaking the cycle of historical abuse and violence.”
One of the most important things that reconciliation requires is remembering. The International Center for Transitional Justice says, “Victims of human rights abuses cannot forget, and states have a duty to preserve the memory of such crimes.”
As an example of how difficult even the preservation of memory can be, in the Bosnia and Herzegovinan village of Prijedor, in the early months of the Bosnian war in 1992, 3,000 citizens were killed or disappeared. As of this date, the municipal government of Prijedor still refuses to memorialise the suffering of non-Serb citizens of Prijedor, who have no memorial for their dead, while the government has built numerous memorials to Serb combatants who died in the conflict.
In a letter sent to the government of Prijedor by the United Nations Secretary General and notable human rights advocates, the authors call on the authorities to “uphold victims’ universally recognized right to truth, which encompasses the basic right to grieve and honor their dead.”
Explore... Luke 19:1–10
If we imagine the story of Zacchaeus as a kind of truth and reconciliation commission, which elements of the story establish the truth of the situation? Which elements point toward the beginning of reconciliation?
Why do you think the detail that Zacchaeus was short and climbed a tree was retained in the telling of this story?
In what sense was Zacchaeus lost?
God, we need truth and reconciliation in so many places and in so many relationships. Give us the courage and the perseverance to seek the truth and to face it. Remind us, too, of the reconciling work of Christ in our lives and give us the wisdom and the grace to reconcile with one another. Amen.
From Paul Turley
Just 1% percent of the world’s population now holds 46% of the world’s wealth, while 86% of the world’s wealth is held by 10% of the population.
These extraordinary figures come from a new report by the Credit Suisse Research Institute. While global wealth has increased to $241 trillion, the amount siphoned off by the super rich has grown even faster so that the old saying “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer” continues to be true even in these time of unprecedented wealth creation.
This is bad news for the world’s poor – doubly so because wealth is still stubbornly linked to goodness in the minds of many people. If a person has money, the story goes, it is because they have worked hard and have been frugal or even blessed for their goodness by the gods. Conversely, if a person is poor or unable to find work, the idea still persists that there is something wrong with them; they are profligate or they truly don’t want to work.
But these figures might also be bad news for the wealthy and the super wealthy.
Robert Reich, former U.S. Secretary of Labor, explains: “When so much of the purchasing power, so much of the economic gain, goes to the very top, there’s simply not enough purchasing power in the rest of the economy.”
As Reich points out, consumer spending accounts for 70% of all economic activity. (Remember George Bush’s plea to Americans following the events of 9/11 to keep spending?)
In 1928 and again in 2007, about one quarter of all income was held by one percent of the U.S. population and in both 1928 and 2008 the economy went into depression, a disaster for the U.S. and for the rest of the world.
And what of the psychological damage to those who cannot provide properly for themselves and their families – even as they see the “good life” on television and the internet, and are constantly told that all they have to do to join the rich is “think positive” and do work they believe in?
As gap between rich and poor widens, a divide opens that allows us to talk about “them.” And “they” are always different from “us,” and “we” are always morally superior. After all, isn’t it true that “we” have the money and “they” do not?
Explore... Luke 18:9–14
If you were to tell this story today, who would replace the Pharisee and who would replace the tax collector? Are their people in your community or country who are constantly referred to as a group, as “them”? What does it mean in the context of this story to be justified?
God, we are sad and ashamed that the great dream of equality, of a true common-wealth that was so much a part of the global conversation following the Second World War, the urge that led the recovery of Europe and that moved on to the Green Revolution, now seems to lie in tatters in so many parts of the world. Forgive us and let us not loose hope that the world you want, a world of justice and enough for all, is still possible and is still our shining goal. May we never loose hope. Amen.
From Paul Turley
"We come here for strength."
That’s how Laurie Odjick, from the Quebec First Nations community of Kitigan Zibi in Canada, explains her involvement in the eighth annual Sisters in Spirit gathering.
Odjick and hundreds of other women gathered on the steps of the steps of Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Canada’s capital. They gathered, as they have done for each of the eight other gatherings, to demand justice.
They want the Canadian government to hold a national inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada dating back to the 1960s.
Some estimate the number of missing and murdered women at 600; others say the figure could be much higher. The Native Women’s Association of Canada says many cases have gone undocumented.
Reminiscent of theAsociación Madres de Plaza de Mayo, who, in weekly protests on the Plaza de Mayo for nearly 30 years, carried photographs of their children who had been “disappeared” by the military dictatorship of Argentina. The Sisters in Spirit in Ottawa carried photographs of missing women and girls and two large display boards filled with hundreds of felt figures representing aboriginal women.
Like the mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, the First Nations women of Ottawa are gathering international recognition and support. As you read this, the United Nations special rapporteur on indigenous rights is traveling around Canada speaking with aboriginal leaders and governments. His attention is being drawn to the issue of the missing and murdered women.
Surely we are entitled to hope that the democratically elected government of Canada will not be as unresponsive as the brutal dictatorship of Argentina in its attitude to women seeking justice for their children?
Explore... Luke 18:1–8
There are at least two elements of our text that are present in the experience of the Sisters in Spirit: the persistence of the woman not only in her willingness not to give up but also in her unshakable faith in justice. The second element is the woman’s willingness to be a public spectacle in order to receive the justice that she fervently believes is hers. What do these two elements of our text (and others that you might identify) tell you about the work of justice seeking?
What lessons do you think our text has to teach us about prayer? Is God the judge who needs to be cajoled into being just? Is God testing us to find out if we have enough faith or trust before God responds?
Our text assumes that justice is required from those who have power. Are there relationships in your life where you have power? What kind of justice is required from you in these situations?
God, we do not need to be historians to know that getting justice has always been a long and difficult struggle. We do not need to even read the papers to be sure that justice is denied to many, even as we pray this prayer.
God, it is our prayer that we will be sensitive to injustice, dissatisfied with the lack of justice, angry at how slow justice is in arriving, and persistent in our work for a just world for all.
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