Past Spirit Sightings (The Archives)
Three weeks ago, the sixth Oslo Freedom Forum brought together dissidents, journalists, authors, artists, philanthropists, photographers, musicians, students and many others from 81 countries. They came together to share their stories, brainstorm ideas, and experience solidarity as they individually challenge arbitrary powers. Speaking to the issue of human rights, Thor Halvorssen, the forum’s founder said, “Things are unquestionably getting worse.”
Halvorssen went on to say, “People say the truth will out, but it needs a little help.” Those gathered for the forum are among those who, with their lives, seek to proclaim the truth and to give it a little help, some in dramatic ways, others more quietly.
There was Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the Russian billionaire turned dissident, and Bangladeshi women who campaign against the forced marriage of teenage girls. From Egypt there was Bassem Youssef, his country’s Jon Stewart, who told of his show being canceled under pressure from the current military regime.
There were many stories of the dangers faced by journalists and artists expressing new ideas and trying to tell the truth. One appearing recently in the news was of the Greek investigative journalist Kostas Vaxevanis, who, back in 2012, published a list of some 2,000 possible Greek tax evaders who held Swiss bank accounts – a list that officials claimed to have lost. The named included politicians and wealthy businessmen. Within 24 hours a warrant was issued and 50 police officers were deployed to arrest, not the tax evaders, but Mr. Vaxevanis. He was ultimately acquitted , but the efforts to stop him and other journalists from digging too deeply into corruption are all too familiar in many countries. Vaxevanis says he has no regrets. “I’m a journalist, and I did my job,” adding, “I want to be a journalist in a country that is not afraid of the truth.”
Among the forum’s recipients of a prize for “creative dissent,” one, a Tibetan film-maker is serving six years in prison. Another is a Turkish performance artist who attracted attention by standing still for many hours in Istanbul’s Taksim Square in June 2013 while protests and brutal police action took place nearby. And there are the two Russian punk-rock artists from the group Pussy Riot, who served 21 months in a Russian prison camp after their protest in a cathedral. The list goes on.
We pray, O God, that we may hear the still small voice that reminds us who we are and whose we are. We pray for the courage to speak and act in ways consistent with the values of our faith and always on behalf of those who are oppressed by the systems of this world. Amen.
From Sandra Rooney
Ebola has become a main focus of the news in recent weeks. Here are just a few headlines at the time of this writing: “In Homeland Liberian Finds Resilience Amid Horror,” “Fear of Ebola Closes Schools and Shapes Politics,” “How to Defeat Ebola,” “Ebola Quarantine Serves as Barrier to Volunteers.”
The picture changes daily as we receive new information and wait – for clarification about how the virus is spread, for reports of new cases of the virus in our own countries, for news of new treatments and possible vaccines, for the announcement of new safety procedures, for signs the epidemic might be waning. And as we wait, rumors abound, anxiety increases, fears rise.
In an Op-Ed piece, Nicholas Kristof says, “An alarming new symptom of Ebola in America: It seems to make brains mushy and hearts hard.” The quarantine use grows daily, with repercussions reaching far beyond any one individual’s isolation, time lost from work, and anxiety, possibly affecting our ability to stop the virus at its source. Responding to the announcement by the governors of New York and New Jersey that all people arriving at their international airports who had direct contact with Ebola patients in Liberia, Sierra Leone, or Guinea, would be quarantined, many medical professionals are expressing concerns. They fear that such restrictions may seriously affect volunteers’ efforts at the front lines of the epidemic. Dr. Rick Sacra, who contracted Ebola in Liberia and was treated in the US in September, said he believes that the new rules in New Jersey and New York will reduce the number of people willing to volunteer their time to treat Ebola patients.
In the West African countries where the number of cases is still doubling every two to four weeks, it’s clear they can’t defeat the outbreak on their own. Volunteers are critical to the care of patients in these countries. The medical community seems in agreement that, as Larry Gostin, Georgetown University Law School, said on the Diane Rehm Show, “Our risk is directly tied to the source of infection in West Africa.” Also speaking on the show, Dr. Rajiv Shah, administrator for the U.S.. agency for international development, added, “Our immediate priority is to stop this problem at its source and to make sure we get the technical leadership and support in the region to be able to do that.”
Syndicated columnist Mark Shields, speaking on the PBS News Hour, reminded us that, “These are people who actually put themselves on the line to help strangers they don’t know, their knowledge, their careers, themselves, not for money, not for power, but just for humanity…and that is the most admirable development in this whole terrible panorama.”
Explore Matthew 25:1–13
If this passage is not really about staying awake and “lamp oil” is a metaphor for righteousness, what does this passage say about the state of “waiting”?
Prayer links. . .
God of all our days, and nights, in our waiting, for opportunities or outcomes, quiet our fears and move us beyond anxiety to continue to work with compassion for the health and well-being of all, that together we might experience your kingdom. Amen
Learn more. . .
From Paul Turley
When both The Economist magazine and the United States Federal Reserve start talking about inequality you can be sure that the issue is firmly on the front page.
At least once a month during the last year, The Economist has featured an article on the issue of rising inequality in western economics.
Just last week, United States Federal Reserve Chief Janet Yellen, in one of her first major speeches since taking on the role, addressed a conference on inequality in the U.S., in Boston.
Inequality in income between the richest and the poorest is growing. The fabled 1% now see their incomes and their share of wealth in stratospheric figures, while those at the bottom end of the income pool have stagnant or falling incomes.
“By some estimates, income and wealth inequality are near their highest levels in the past hundred years,” Yellen said in her Boston speech.
And now it’s not just people who study these figures who are worried. Nor is it just those who are reading Thomas Piketty’s book Capital in the Twenty-First Century, the biggest selling economics book in decades. According to new studies by the Pew Research Centre, Americans and Europeans both rank inequality as a greater threat than pollution and the environment, religious and ethnic hatred, and nuclear weapons.
Surely it is inequality that is at the heart of our text from Matthew’s gospel this week. Leaders who say one thing about how life should be led and then lead their own lives in a totally different way come in for Jesus’ intense criticism.
Leaders in our communities who call for people to get off benefits and to work hard but who, at the same time, reduce the funding to support services for the unemployed and increase the red tape and taxation burden on small business who might be able to offer employment are, in Jesus’ understanding, hypocrites. Those who insist on tax breaks for the rich and for corporations while loading tax onto the poor and the middle class are those who would be condemned by Jesus.
Explore… Matthew 23:1–12
God, in our hearts we know that if we live well while another starves, we do not truly live well. We know that if we ignore the inequalities of wealth, opportunity, and safety in our world, none of us will ever truly live in peace and harmony. Give us courage to face the truth and to change our world. Amen.
From Paul Turley
This week, as we read of the arrival of the Hebrews (who had escaped Egypt) into the land of Israel, the war in the Middle East over the tiny bit of land known as the Gaza Strip goes on.
“They keep on trying to kill us, every day, all day, this is their one and only goal. They want Israel to be Palestine with not one Jewish person alive.” These are the words of Mati Bloomberg, a resident of the illegal Jewish outpost of Esh Kodesh in the Palestinian Territories – Territories that Bloomberg and her fellow Esh Kodesh residents refuse to acknowledge is anything other than the ancient home of the Jews, as promised by God in texts such as the reading for today.
Less than two kilometres from Esh Kodesh is the Palestinian town of Kusra. In 2007, two boys from the town were chased from the vineyards of Tsviki Strouk by the owner. One of the boys escaped; the other, 16-year-old Imran Farach, was caught by Strouk and beaten.
Farach’s brother says, “They caught him and they started hitting him using weapons, their hands and sticks until he lost consciousness. Then they carried him in the car and they took him to the settlement Esh Kodesh, and there they continued to beat him even more. And after that, he woke up and he heard one of them tell the other, ‘Kill him!”’
Strouk was convicted by an Israeli court and spent 20 months in prison for the crime.
The most recent round of fighting between Israel and Hamas lasted for 50 days and left over 2,000 dead, the majority of them Palestinian civilians. Over 100,000 Gazans remain homeless.
Now, in the last week, a conference in Cairo has concluded with the international community pledging $5.4 billion to rebuild the shattered province.
But what will this rebuilding mean for Tsviki Strouk, Imran Farach, Mati Bloomberg, and the neighbouring settlements of Esh Kodesh and Kusra?
Explore... Deuteronomy 34:1–12
God, no matter our age, we have been aware of the troubles in the ancient lands on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea all ofour lives. With so much past pain, so much current hurt and damage, it is easy to despair. Remind us, God, that your plan for this region was delivered, in our great story, by an angel: “Peace on earth and goodwill to all people.” Amen.
From Paul Turley
Research by the Jet Propulsion Lab, published in the last week, has concluded that the upper 701 meters or 2,300 feet of the Southern Hemisphere’s oceans may have warmed twice as quickly after 1970 than had previously been thought.
We are used to getting bad news about our climate. Perhaps we are too used to bad news; sometimes it rolls over us while we shrug and feel helpless to do anything about it. We know, too, in the back of our minds, that those who for their own reasons continue to deny the human impact on global warming have sown a seed or two of doubt for us.
We also know that what we truly believe is what we actually do, rather than what we say or think. And we know that those of us in the wealthy West make the greatest per head contribution to global warming. Yet we often feel powerless or we lack the motivation to change our habits in meaningful ways.
The Jet Propulsion Lab research tells us that the temperatures in the upper levels of the world’s ocean have been rising 24% to 58% faster than previously thought. Warming oceans effect fish stocks and melt polar ice quicker. Sarah Gille, a Scripps Institution of Oceanography professor describes the result: “Extra heat means extra sea level rise, since warmer water is less dense, so a warmer ocean expands.”
What do we do with this new truth, one that only confirms the worst of the information we have been receiving from science? Will we bury it deeper into our minds and let it fester there as we begin to dread that we will never be able to pass on what we have received to those who come after us?
How do we live in the harsh truth of this new information without succumbing to despair? How do we live with the still mostly-invisible truth of global warming and let it shape our lives?
How, in our text, do the people of Israel live with the mostly-invisible presence of the God who promises to be present, but whom they cannot be seen? How do they and we now let this presence shape our lives?
Explore… Exodus 33:12–23
God, the world is a confusing place. We know some truths so clearly, and some are so difficult for us to grasp. Teach us how we can understand your presence with us, and in all the world. Amen.
From Ray McGinnis
The Hundred-Foot Journey is a movie about the Kadam family, who have fled their native India after their restaurant was burned down during a political protest and the mother killed (presumably a Muslim-Hindu clash). After spending a year in England, the family heads to France, where it wanders around the countryside while Papa (Om Puri) looks for the right place to open a new Indian restaurant in Europe.
When the van the Kadam’s are driving breaks down in a picture postcard village due to break failure, the location of the restaurant falls into place as they get the van fixed. Papa discovers an empty restaurant for sale right across the street from Madame Mallory’s (Helen Mirren) top flight classic French restaurant Le Saule Pleureur. Papa’s son, Hassan, has an innate gift for cooking. Hassan makes an omelette for Madame Mallory, which results in her offering Hassan a position as chef in her kitchen. Hassan is also fond of one of the chefs at the restaurant, Marguerite. When Marguerite learns that Hassan is to join the kitchen at her restaurant another competition and mixed emotions cloud their budding relationship.
Director: Lasse Hallstrom
Film company: Weinstein Company
Release date: August 8, 2014
Starring: Helen Mirren, Manish Dayal, Om Puri, Charlotte Le Bron
Papa Kadam believes he’s found the perfect spot to open an Indian restaurant in France. The only problem is he’s selected a location that’s only 100 feet away from Le Saule Pleureur,one of best-reviewed restaurants in the region. Madame Mallory is tenacious in her purpose to earn a second Michelin star, a prized rating for restaurants in France. At one point, she orders all the shellfish and salmon in the village market to prevent the upstart Indian restaurant from being able to prepare many of the dishes featured on their menu. A feud begins between the restaurants, which is finally ended when an attempted arson of the Indian restaurant reveals elements of racism within the wider community.
God of journeys large and small, the steps we take are ours to make. As we journey, help us to discern our path and the places where spiritual qualities will infuse our living each day, so that our journey may not be in vain. In Christ we pray. Amen.
From Ray McGinnis
For one day, on September 23, the United Nations held a Climate Summit to bring attention to issues regarding climate change. Many in the worldwide scientific community have produced research the past few decades warning that human reliance on fossil fuels is a key factor in changes in temperatures around the globe.
Changing one’s behaviour is never easy, even when we want to make a change. To make a change as a global village takes even more determination.
On the occasion of the United Nations Climate Summit in New York City, there were efforts to address climate change through campaigns focusing on where dollars are invested.
In January 2014, 17 foundations with combined assets of $2 billion committed to divesting from fossil fuel stocks and move their money to invest in clean energy. This is part of the Divest-Invest Philanthropy initiative. Among these 17 foundations are the Russell Family Foundation, the Educational Foundation of America, and the John Merck Fund. Since that time, dozens more have committed to do the same. The names of these additional foundations are to be announced on September 23, during the United Nations Climate Summit.
Individuals can also play a role by hastening the transformation of business-as-usual by increasing demand for fossil-free financial products and other alternative economic vehicles,” said Lisa Renstrom, co-chair of Divest-Invest Individual.
It is one thing to encourage people to change, but without viable alternative energy sources, individuals can’t change their habits.
Meanwhile, this spring, the Norwegian government created a panel to review whether the country’s sovereign wealth fund should be invested in fossil-free products. Major religious denominations in the United States and the General Synod of the Church of England are also reassessing where to place their investments, such as ethical uses for church pension funds.
Explore… Exodus 20:1–4, 7–9, 12–20
God of all, long ago you sought ways to instruct us to how to live so that we could thrive in relation with one another and with you. Help us to discern how to respond to the ecological challenges in our times as one way to listen again for your words of life. In Christ we pray. Amen
From Ray McGinnis
In the movie Tracks, Mia Wasikowska plays an Australian loner named Robyn Davidson. John Curran directs this beautifully photographed account of Davidson’s 2,700-kilometre trek across the Australian desert in 1977. She is accompanied by her dog and four temperamental camels. She reluctantly allows National Geographic photographer Rick Smolan to meet her every six weeks to chronicle her perilous quest. It is a price she has to pay in order to get the funding for her journey.
There’s no love story here, although Adam Driver is convincingly dorky as thephotographer and might be nursing a crush. There’s minimal dialogue. Wasikowska’s convincing performance conveys all you need to know about how solitude can chip away at the mind. And there’s virtually no attempt to psychoanalyze Davidson’s motives for taking the journey; the script only hints at a tragic backstory and, in a voice-over, Davidson differentiates herself from being a women’s-rights activist or an environmentalist, exclaiming only that she longed to “feel free,” and to “be by myself.”
Despite, or because of, the minimal dialogue, what’s on screen will leave you in a state of wonder. The sweeping cinematography surveys the cracked earth and Davidson’s chapped skin with equal intensity, as if to remind us how vulnerable we mortals are. There’s a powerful message about human endurance in this movie and our yearning for a vision or experience that can transform our lives.
Director: John Curran
Film company: Weinstein Company
Release date in North America: September 19, 2014
Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Adam Driver, Rainer Bock
Haunted by abandonment issues from her childhood and a pattern of condescension towards her from family and neighbours, Davidson seeks the shelter of the Australian wilderness. She prefers it to the dysfunction of human interaction in her community. Setting herself on a quest across the outback, her destination is the ocean. On the way, she learns how to stay alive: remaining still while a snake slithers over her neck one night, learning some of the secret techniques aboriginals have used in order to make a life in what seems an inhospitable setting.
The very different approaches or responses humans have to “wilderness” makes a uniform statement about how we view it virtually impossible. These perceptions are at the heart of how humans view “stewardship” of the earth. For example, a recent story tells of how “great stretches of Europe’s last wildernesses risk being damaged and polluted as the international mining industry gears up to develop northern Finland, Sweden, and Norway” in search of valuable rare earth minerals.
“The prize for British, Australian, Canadian and other companies is billion-dollar mega mines in Lapland, a region which covers all three countries and Russia, able to supply burgeoning industry in Asia.”
Increasingly around the world, a dangerous dichotomy is developing between conflicting human perceptions of the natural world. Some see Nature as wilderness, totally untouchable and sacred; others see it as a wasteland open to development and exploitation. Neither of these views fosters a healthy relationship between humanity and our environment. They also depend upon one another. Wilderness areas are areas that lack humanity and the influences of humanity. They are areas defined by our absence. However, there are very few surviving areas that lack human influence. So to what extent should these vast areas be left alone, or how are they to be best managed. Indeed if they are managed at all, do they lose some of their “wilderness” by definition?
While debate rages about mining and degradation of land and habitat for wildlife, there is also the question of wilderness becoming a playground, or an escape, only for those who can afford it. The ability to access and experience wilderness areas is limited to those who have the knowledge, equipment, time, and financial resources to get there. Far too often, it is only individuals in the middle to upper classes who have these opportunities and resources, while the poor or marginalized, who lack these opportunities and resources, are left out, consigned to a different kind of “wilderness” – a “wilderness” without wilderness. Similarly our high standards of purity for wilderness preservation foster the idea that the land we actually live and work on is second class, inferior to wilderness. The forests in the U.S. state of Maine, for example, are all second-generation growth, so it’s acceptable to clear-cut them. Another facet, highlighted by Arctic mining, relates to human rights. As mining increasingly intrudes into Artic spaces, the Lapland and Sami indigenous communities,who live by reindeer herding and fishing, will be hit, along with the region’s tourist industry, which depends on pristine nature.
The God in whom we live and move and have our being can never be out of our reach or beyond our experience. Whether we are in a wilderness of spirit or in a place of activity and busyness, we know God is there. Amen
From Fraser Macnaughton
In the ongoing struggle between Israel and Palestine, the land issue underpins much of the tension.
Israel has announced plans to expropriate 400 hectares of land in the occupied West Bank in a move Palestinian officials claim will cause more friction after the Gaza conflict.
The announcement concerning land south of Bethlehem, inside what Israelis call the Etzion bloc of settlements, comes after Israel determined the land was not cultivated with enough intensity for the Palestinians to maintain their ownership rights.
The notice published by the military gave no reason for the decision, but Israel Radio said the step was taken in response to the kidnapping and killing of three Jewish teenagers in the area in June. The United States has criticized the announcement and branded it counter-productive to peace efforts. “We have long made clear our opposition to continued settlement activity,” a State Department official said. “This announcement…is counterproductive to Israel’s stated goal of a negotiated two-state solution with the Palestinians.”
Peace Now, which opposes Israeli settlement activities in the West Bank, said the land seizure was the largest announced by Israel in the West Bank since the 1980s. A local Palestinian mayor said Palestinians owned the tracts and harvested olive trees on them.
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat called for diplomatic action against Israel. “The Israeli government is committing various crimes against the Palestinian people and their occupied land,” he told AFP. “The international community should hold Israel accountable as soon as possible for its crimes and raids against our people in Gaza and the ongoing Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.”
Israel has been long criticized by the international community for its settlement activities, which most countries regard as illegal under international law and a major obstacle to the creation of a viable Palestinian state in any future peace deal.
We belong to the land, but does the land ever belong to us? Are we called in the way of Christ to a radical agenda of proper land stewardship which is held in common, a which will restore our right relationship to creation. Amen.
From Fraser Macnaughton
Britain is celebrating one of its earliest and most abundant harvests on record, say foragers, gardeners, farmers, and conservationists. In his poem “To Autumn,” John Keats observed that the season loads and blesses “with fruit the vines that around the thatch-eves run/To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees/And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core.”
Shrub and tree watchers around the country are eagerly anticipating the greatest abundance of fruit, seed and berries since 2006, with apple, haws (from Hawthorn), holly berry, rowan (Mountain ash), figs (sycamore), and blackberries all showing signs of unusually high yields.
The abundance is coming as a welcome relief for wildlife, which suffered badly from exceptionally poor crops of wild fruit last year as trees and shrubs were hammered by the poor weather.
Matthew Oates, a naturalist at the National Trust, said he was amazed by the prolific wild harvest, emerging three weeks earlier than usual. “It’s almost as good as it’s ever going to get. The hedgerows are already well-reddened. It’s been a stupendous year for nuts, seeds and berries, both wild and domesticated – so it’s good for the birds, the mice, squirrels and voles. The holly has done so well we should bring Christmas forward. The sloes will be great. Virtually all our trees and bushes flowered ridiculously early this year and produced nuts. In theory, there is plenty for everyone.
“It’s not because autumn is arriving early but because we had a very early and rapid spring on the back of a mild and wet winter. While 2013 saw one of the coldest and latest springs ever, this year was the absolute opposite.
“Nature is really good at fighting back. Most of this year’s comeback is down to the spring and early summer weather, but there may be other factors of which we are blissfully unaware. Wildlife has ways of compensating to make up for a bad year that we don’t fully understand,” Oates says.
On some level, it seems that Nature is crying out “Enough” and defying science, experts say. After a prolonged period without enough food, wildlife needs to replenish itself and to build up energy levels for the future, while seeds need to be sown to build up the stock of trees and shrubs. And the result is a hugely bountiful supply of fruit, seed and berries to feed everything from blackbirds to door mice.
We celebrate the abundance creation has to offer at the same time expressing our regret at human wastefulness and destruction. May we live in God’s way and do what we can each day to be more conscious of our place in creation and act accordingly. Amen
From Sandra Rooney
Earlier this month the prayers of a grandmother were answered. And her 37 years of labour were rewarded. Estela Carlotto – founder of the Argentinian human rights organization Abuelas (Grandmothers) de Plaza de Mayo – learned that her own grandson had been found.
During Argentina’s 1976–1983 military dictatorship, some 500 babies were taken from young opponents of the regime and given to military families. Their real parents were murdered. In the case of Guido Carlotto, 36, who was raised as Ignacio Hurban, his mother, Laura Carlotto, Estela’s daughter, was two months pregnant when she was kidnapped, “disappeared,” in 1977. She was sent to La Cacha, one of the regime’s many death camps, where she was kept until her baby was born. Then she was murdered.
The mothers of “disappeared” children, like Estela Carlotto, began searching for their grandchildren, going to the courts, visiting orphanages and daycare centers. And they began demonstrating in the Plaza de Mayo in Argentina’s capital city Buenos Aires. In 1977, the non-governmental organization called Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo was established, its purpose to fight for the return of their grandchildren. The searching and the demonstrating have gone on for 37 years.
In recent years, as they realized that their grandchildren had grown up, the grandmothers have expanded their efforts to try to draw these young adults to Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo. To date, 105 grandchildren have been found, many of whom approached Abuelas directly in search of their origins. This was the case for Guido, who said he had doubted his identity. He approached Abuelas when someone suggested he might be the son of disappeared parents.
The abuelas have used many avenues to try to reach their grandchildren, including conferences and seminars on the topic of identity, literary and photographic contests and exhibits, and the arts. Two years ago, Guido (Ignacio Hurban), who is a pianist, took part in a concert called Music for Identity sponsored by Abuelas.
Through the grandmothers’ determined efforts, The International Convention of the Rights of the Child includes the right to an identity. And the government of Argentina created the National Committee for the Right to Identity, to assist young adults who doubt their identities, by investigating all existing documents and by referring them for blood analysis. The National Bank of Genetic Data has the power to perform such analyses without legal intervention. It is thanks to a DNA test that Estela Carlotto can be certain she has found her grandson.
Oh God, who calls each of us by name, strengthen our resolve as we seek truth and justice in a complicated world. May we not rest easy until each person is able to answer the question, “Who am I?” and “Where do I belong?” Amen.
From Sandra Rooney
All too often we hear reports of violence against women, including so-called honour killings, when women, or men, have violated local norms. Often they are risking their very lives by their actions.
Mohammad Ali, 21, and Zakia, 18, are two such people. They found themselves forced to flee their village in the Bamian Valley of Afghanistan, after being kept apart by their disapproving families and the taboo of their difference ethnicities and sects.
Their story was first reported back in March. The two had grown up knowing each other, and then had fallen in love. They repeatedly approached their families for permission to marry, but not only were they denied, each was badly beaten. After Zakia was beaten, Mohammad Ali took her to the Bahamia Women’s Ministry where she was given shelter and her case referred to court.
The court in Bamian ordered Zakia returned to her family, but the Women’s Ministry intervened because Zakia’s father, who maintained she was already married to a cousin, had publicly threatened to kill his daughter to avenge his family’s honour. Fatima Kazimi, head of the Bahamia Women’s Ministry, subsequently found herself dismissed from her position for protecting Zakia.
When Zakia’s case was transferred to Kabul, she feared the court there would side with her family and decided her only option was to elope. Mohammad Ali had managed to smuggle a cell phone into the shelter and the couple plotted her escape. A friend then drove them to a mullah who had agreed to marry them. The police arrested two women for helping Zakia escape and Ms. Kazimi was forced to flee for fear of retaliation against her and her family for helping Zakia.
The couple has been on the run since, sometimes staying with friends, sometimes sleeping in caves at night. Their whereabouts remains unknown. If they are found, they will likely be imprisoned while the courts try to sort out the dispute. The case illustrates the conflict between Islamic law, customary practices, and civil law. Zakia, legally an adult, can marry under civil law, but under Islamic law she still must have her father’s consent. In addition, it is possible that her father could have married her to his nephew without her actual presence or consent.
Some 75% of women in Afghan prisons are held on a variety of such so-called social offences. Ms. Kazimi, too, is worried about her future. Three of her colleagues in other districts have been killed by insurgents for their efforts on behalf of women. “I sacrificed everything because I thought it was what was right,” she said. “I’ve lost my job. I won’t be able to work anywhere in Afghanistan now.”
Loving, empowering God, it is all too easy to go along. May we be emboldened to speak up for what we believe and take such actions as may be required of us. Amen.
From Sandra Rooney
From the Central African Republic recently came word of a cease fire. However, the same announcement detailed continuing violence. At the same time, the anti-Balaka militia announced it was dissolving itself and former leaders asked for forgiveness for the crimes and other abuses committed against civilians. What happens next is uncertain.
From Chicago comes the story of a new approach to gang violence. The police are using statistics and algorithms to help predict where shootings might occur and who might be involved, both victims and offenders. They are able to visit the people who may be most at risk of becoming either the next offender or victim. In conversations with the identified gang members and their families, they explain the significance of the statistics and the potential consequences. One Chicago police officer says, “When you have these kinds of conversations with their families, and the [gang members] see the hurt in their mother’s eyes, I think that hurts them, because the family means everything to them.” Johnny Outlaw, who provides legal services and helps offenders find jobs, reports that many gang members tell him that they want to put down their guns but are afraid of retaliation or don’t know how to go straight. He says he’s had high profile gang members break down in tears in his office because they don’t see any options for their lives. “They say, ‘I’m tired of shooting people, I’m tired of robbing people. I want to do something with my life.’”
Then from China comes the story of Guo Meimei, a young woman who recently appeared on state television, confessing to having fabricated her relationship with the Red Cross Society of China three years ago. “Because of my own vanity, I made a huge mistake,” she said in the video confession. “I would like to offer my deep apologies to the Red Cross, and even deeper apologies to the public and even deeper apologies to the people who have not been rescued.”
In 2011, Ms. Guo posted ostentatious photos of herself on her website, showing a lavish lifestyle. She also claimed to be “the commercial general manager” at the Red Cross, which created suspicions about corruption at the Red Cross Society of China. They say they are still struggling to rehabilitate the reputation of the Red Cross of China and to regain public trust. Following the highly publicized confession, Red Cross leadership has pleaded with the public to forget Guo Meimei and urged public support for relief efforts as they seek to respond to the 6.5 magnitude earthquake that hit Yunnan province three weeks ago.
Explore… Genesis 45:1–15
Loving Creator, though we are flawed, we are assured of your forgiveness. In that knowledge, may we have the courage and grace to reach out to those with whom we have frayed relationships, to offer the apologies and extend the forgiveness we would hope to receive. Amen.
From Paul Turley
After nearly a month in legal limbo and most of that time locked in windowless cabins, 157 Indian asylum seekers are this week being taken to the Australian mainland for processing.
The group of men, women, and children were intercepted, according to the Australian Solicitor-General Justin Gleeson, on a boat inside Australia’s contiguous zone and not its migration zone. The Solicitor-General says that asylum seekers who do not reach the migration zone have no legal right to claim asylum in Australia.
This incident is the latest in ongoing attempts by the Australian government to “protect the borders” of Australia and stop what it calls “illegal” arrivals by boat.
The policy, condemned by the United Nations and international humanitarian groups, is, according to Australian Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, being made up as the government goes along.
However, it is not only the treatment of those seeking to reach Australia and find asylum – something they are legally entitled to do in international and Australian law – that is of concern to those who seek a fair and just treatment of all who are in need. There are 1,100 asylum seeker men on Manus Island, just off the coast ofNew Guineawho are being held in detention by the Australian government. Few of these men have had their claims for refugee status assessed and they may be held for years in a camp that the United Nations claims is “rat-infested, cramped and very hot.” Their 2013 report on conditions on Manus Island (and the Australian government’s other camp on Nauru) says, “People are being held in what we found to be mandatory, arbitrary detention.”
There are also other asylum seekers who are on the Australian mainland, have received bridging and other temporary visas, but who have no legal access to work, medical support, or study. They live in limbo while waiting for the government to finally process their claims, claims which, if past experiences can be a guide, will find more than 90% to be genuine refugees.
All of this is being done by a government that claims to be trying to prevent deaths at sea of those who, in desperation, attempt to reach Australia by boat. However, like we read in the story of Joseph, injustice and cruelty is injustice and cruelty, even if it is an attempt to prevent even more injustice and cruelty. Was Ruben right to do what he did to his brother? Is the Australian government right in its harsh treatment of asylum seekers? These are difficult questions for us.
Explore... Genesis 37:1–4,12–28
God, in a complex world give us faith. In a broken world give us hope. In a beautiful world give us eyes to see. Amen.
From Paul Turley
Next month, a little over a year after declaring bankruptcy, the City of Detroit goes to court.
Detroit is the largest municipality in the United States to declare bankruptcy with debts estimated at $18 billion. In the last 12 months, leaders in Detroit have vowed to attract new residents, repair streetscapes and street lighting.
For many in the long-suffering Detroit community, what is being done is not about revitalizing community but simply about short-term cost cutting. Jobs that should be going to locals are being outsourced in the name of savings. “It’s a smoke screen,” says Ed McNeil, an official with the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees. “The only people who got better are the profiteers and the privateers.”
As the appointed administrators of Detroit and the population wrestle with decisions about their future, the question of “with whom” or “with what” they are wrestling is crucial.
If, as some political figures and pundits have tried to suggest, Detroit’s problems stem from over-generous pensions, too many public servants and mismanaged public services, then the wrestling partner is obvious and, given the relative powerlessness of those in receipt of pensions and public services, easier to fix.
And that is just what is happening. For example, to date, 17,000 residences in Detroit have had the water turned off for unpaid water bills.
But there is another opponent out there. Near the end of 2013, Demos, the public-policy think tank, released a report that states, “Detroit’s financial expenses have increased significantly, and that is a direct result of the complex financial deals Wall Street banks urged on the city over the last several years, even though its precarious cash flow position meant these deals posed a great threat to the city.”
The author of the report, Wallace Turbeville, a former Goldman Sachs investment banker, is clear who and what must be wrestled with if Detroit is to get itself out of its mess. “Misguided and irresponsible decisions by politicians over the years, often at the urging of Wall Street, have funnelled wealth out of Detroit’s neighborhoods, and enriched financial institutions and corporations in the process. If Detroit wants to come back from this and rebuild a strong economy, it needs to reverse that trend and start prioritizing the people who live here over the interests of Wall Street bankers.”
Explore... Genesis 32:22–31
God, our lives and communities
From Ray McGinnis
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a science fiction account of a futuristic world where human society has collapsed. A man-made virus has resulted in a plague killing over half the human population worldwide. An urgent interviewee tells a TV reporter “those not killed by the virus will be killed by the fighting.” Meanwhile, the ape species are clearly more intelligent than the humans. The apes exist in a forest near San Francisco. They are able to live together in a civilized manner. A set of rules have been established to ensure harmonious community. Chief among these is a rule that apes cannot kill other apes. The leader of the apes, Caesar, has developed the ability to speak to humans. He has also developed the capacity for empathy. With his empathy, Caesar hopes to avert a conflict that the leader of the humans seems determined to provoke.
There are lots of special effects for viewers who like these kinds of shows. The make-up and presentation of the actors playing the apes on screen is as real a depiction of apes on screen as you'll ever see.
Director: Matt Reeves
Release Date: July 10, 2014
Actors: Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Judy Greer, Keri Russell
Focus: As the story unfolds, the circumstances of the humans become more and more desperate. In the chaos of a collapsing human civilization, 28 countries declare martial law. The humans on the California coast in the United States decide to re-start a dam that can generate needed energy. The dam happens to be near the forest where the ape species dwells. Both the leaders of the apes and of the humans and their advisors are tested to discover if they can trust one another. Can they learn to live in peace? Or will old habits of fear and suspicion lead them down the path to war.
God of creation, you make us to dwell with one another. Help us understand our own context. Help us discern the signs of the times. Make us ready to learn and grow that we may be trustworthy and live by the promises we make. In Christ we pray. Amen
From Ray McGinnis
For decades since the state of Israel came into being after World War II, conflicts between Israel and Arab nations, and between Israeli and Palestinian people, have unfolded with many a grim news headline. While the prospects for peace seem ever elusive, the new Roman Catholic Pope, Francis, inserted himself directly into the collapsed Middle East peace process. He met in Israel with the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, and Israeli President Shimon Peres. He walked to a section of the barrier wall that separates the Palestinian Territories from Israel along the West Bank. Then he touched his head against the graffiti-covered wall.
Pope Francis is determined to restore the historic role of the Vatican as a broker to help resolve conflicts between nations and peoples. The Pope’s visit to Bethlehem and Tel Aviv also included a meeting with Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas.
On June 6, the Palestinian leader and Israeli leaders were in attendance at the Vatican to discuss a way toward peace. While the level of trust is wafer thin, the Pope believes that getting people into the same place to pray for peace is a step in the right direction. Pope Francis calls it unacceptable for people in conflict to not be in conversation with each other about how to proceed in order to create lasting conditions for peace. The Pope believes that religion has an important role to play, reminding dissenting parties that they are all children of God. In the Holy Land where leaders believe God dwells among the people, the Pope hopes to inspire political leaders to take advantage of the hope that “God is in this place.”
Explore… Genesis 20:10–19a
God who searches for us, who wants to know and be known to us, help us to discern your presence in our time. In the midst of the ordinary, in the midst of the burdens we carry, in the midst of the burdens the world carries, bless us with vision, and heal our divisions. Place before us promises that can transform our world and move us from fear to love. In Christ we pray. Amen.
From Fraser Macnaughton
The case of Sudanese woman Meriam Ibrahim has attracted worldwide attention principally for the death sentence imposed on her for changing her religion. The tensions within her mixed faith family will have been very stressful as each seeks to work out their faith in the family context.
Ibrahim was convicted of apostasy after the court insisted she was a Muslim because her father was a Muslim, even though Ibrahim said she had been brought up as a Christian after her father abandoned the family when she was six. Under the Sudanese penal code, Muslims are forbidden from changing faith, and Muslim women are not permitted to marry Christian men. As a result of the second prohibition, Ibrahim was also sentenced to be publicly flogged for adultery following a court’s ruling that her marriage to a Christian man was invalid.
Following her conviction last month, she was given three days to renounce her faith or face a death sentence. She refused to recant, telling the court: “I am a Christian and I am not an apostate.” Then eight months’ pregnant, Ibrahim was told her death sentence would be deferred for two years, to allow her to nurse her as yet unborn baby.
Ibrahim was subsequently freed after an appeals court cancelled the death sentence, after the government came under what it called unprecedented international pressure. The latest twist came when Ibrahim was detained with her husband and two children at Khartoum airport, the day after her release as the family attempted to leave the country. Agents from the National Intelligence and Security Services apprehended the family on the orders of the appeal court.
Her lawyer, Eman Abdul-Rahim, who was with Ibrahim at Khartoum airport at the time, said more than 40 security officers prevented the family from boarding a plane to the U.S. Ibrahim’s husband, Daniel Wani, is a U.S. citizen. Elshareef said the appeal court had quashed Ibrahim’s convictions and there were no restrictions on her travelling. He added that political differences within the government over the case may have played a part in the decision to prevent her leaving. “I’m very concerned. When people do not respect the court, they might do anything.”
Explore… Genesis 19:25–34
How heart breaking it is when faith and a perceived monopoly on truth stands in the way of, or can break up, loving families and peoples, especially when all faiths teach us to love each other. May we continue to pray and work to be open-hearted and opened-armed, to welcome the stranger and to seek to learn more about the “other.” Amen.
From Fraser Macnaughton
This week’s biblical story concerns cultural differences with which we may not be familiar. While an ancient tale, such tensions still exist today around customs and norms of behaviour. In Hong Kong, the British consul-general is asking the Hong Kong authorities to clarify whether same-sex marriages can take place at the consulate after Hong Kong appeared to amend its position regarding same-sex marriages at consulates. The British consulate claims that the city government had “raised an objection” to its practice of solemnizing same-sex marriages.
But the Hong Kong government’s protocol department retorted by saying that it was up to consulates to decide what services they wished to provide their nationals in line with the Vienna Convention and Hong Kong’s Consular Relations Ordinance.
A spokesman for the British consulate said, “We will be making further inquiries with the HKSAR government regarding the potential for the consulate-general to solemnize same-sex marriages for British nationals in Hong Kong as a matter of priority.”
British diplomatic missions are not subject to local law, but British law prohibits them from issuing marriage licences if the host country objects. Mainland China, Azerbaijan, notoriously anti-gay Russia, and 20 other countries have allowed same-sex unions at British consulates.
Consul-general Caroline Wilson took to Twitter to repeat the language of her office’s spokesman. She also “favourite” a tweet that called for “common sense to prevail” on the issue and for the Hong Kong consulate to avoid having a “worse record than Moscow/Beijing.”
In its statement, the Hong Kong government also reaffirmed its commitment to promoting equal opportunities on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity “with a view to eliminating discrimination and nurturing a culture of diversity, tolerance and mutual respect.”
The Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, ratified in 1963 and signed by 177 parties, defines consular relations between participating states. It allows the consulate of a foreign nation to act as a “notary and civil registrar and in capacities of a similar kind” in the country where it is operating.
The initial news of the Hong Kong ban by the British consulate had drawn ire from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community and their allies. They asked why British missions in supposedly less tolerant places were able to provide the service.
May our understanding of the ways and customs of others be well-informed as we seek a way through the maze of choices our faith demands, as we seek to walk in the way of Jesus together. Amen.
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