Past Spirit Sightings (The Archives)
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.
From Ray McGinnis
Lee Daniels’ The Butler draws on the story of an actual White House butler named Eugene Allen. However, the movie is mostly fictional. It uses the story of Mr. Allen as a springboard to showcase the unfolding social history of the lives of black Americans from the late 1920s through the election of Barack Obama. A 2008 Washington Post article entitled “A Butler Well Served by This Election” was the inspiration for this 2013 film.
Forest Whitaker gives a standup performance as fictionalized butler, Cecil Gaines. We meet Gaines in his childhood, suffering the hardships of slave-like circumstances on a cotton farm in 1926. We get snapshots of his life as a youth dreaming of a new life. Whitaker arrives in the role a few years before his character’s move to the White House working at a Washington, D.C., hotel.
Cecil’s biggest lesson is silence. There is the physical silence of not saying anything or responding to anything said by the white people that he attends. Then there is the silence behind his eyes. In order to maintain his position and be successful as a butler in the White House, he cannot afford to allow his real emotions break through his calm appearance.
Director: Lee Daniels
Film company: Weinstein
Release date: August 16, 2013
Starring: Forest Whitaker, Jane Fonda, Oprah Winfrey, John Cusack, Cuba Gooding Jr.
Focus: Once Cecil makes it to D.C., we are introduced to his wife, Gloria (Oprah Winfrey), and their two sons. With Lewis, the oldest, Cecil finds himself in conflict over his style of being servant to others and Lewis’ own eagerness to advance Civil Rights as a Freedom Rider. Cecil is pulled between the evident injustices that are a catalyst for the Civil Rights movement Lewis is drawn into, and gratitude that his circumstances have improved, by degrees, since he was on the cotton farm in his childhood, where he learned to polish silver.
What motivated the Samaritan to express gratitude? Why would those who weren’t foreigners be less likely to be grateful? How do you think adversity impacts thankfulness? What reflections can you offer with regard to Jesus’ statement to the Samaritan, “your faith has made you well?” What do you think Cecil Gaines has to be thankful for? What circumstances in his life might cause him to not be thankful for what he’s got? What is the relationship between wisdom and gratitude; gratitude and being outside privileged society? What in your life has helped or hindered thankfulness in you?
God of all our circumstances, you seek our welfare and well-being, as your children. Healer of every soul, stir in us thankfulness that honors the small victories in our lives and in the lives of others, while we still wait for your reign of justice and peace to prevail. In Christ we pray. Amen.
From Ray McGinnis
On June 1, 2008, the Canadian Government established a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) to heal the broken relationships between aboriginal or First Nations and non-First Nations Canadians stemming from the residential school system. Part of the TRC’s mandate was to host seven national events in different regions of Canada, at which victims of the Residential Schools would be able, for the historical record, to give witness to their experiences so that everyone could grow and learn lessons from the injustices done to native peoples.
Five years later, the TRC met again, this time in Vancouver, from September 16 to September 22. Members of the general public were invited to attend and listen to stories of the aggressive assimilation practiced at these schools. Many children, some as young as four, were beaten, raped, and malnourished, and all were forbidden to speak their native languages. Meanwhile, back at in the First Nations communities, the sound of children in the villages faded away, as all the children, except for the infants, were taken away to these schools.
Daily forums took place at the Vancouver event, during which people in church communities could hear survivor stories from Anglican, United Church, and Roman Catholic residential schools. It was an important and difficult step for many to take: to leave their homes, to listen to First Nations people recall their painful experiences, and to witness fresh tears shed over the injustices suffered years earlier.
Dr. Bernice King, the daughter of Martin Luther King Jr., (the American civil rights leader who was murdered for the threat he posed to the status quo) spoke words of hope to those gathered for a Reconciliation Walk on September 22. She dreamed that one day all peoples in Canada would be able to say to one another, “free at last, thank God, we are free at last.
What does Paul recall and remember? What does he long for? In view of this, what does Paul remind his readers? How are the testimonies of the residential school survivors, and the tears they shed, important in terms of our efforts to live in God’s way? Can the shedding of tears cleanse and heal? Can telling and listening to survivor stories help kindle the gift of the Creator in both the teller and the listener? What hope is there that the suffering might cease and give way to joy? What other situations can you think of where speaking one’s truth and shedding tears led to healing and opened a way to encounter life with God?
Creator, surround us with your love. May your peace be upon us. May your spirit sustain us. May your vision for human community empower us to live into your way and be channels of your peace. Amen.
From Ray McGinnis
Blue Jasmine is Woody Allen’s latest movie. It opens on Cate Blanchett in action, as Jeanette “Jasmine” Francis, talking incessantly to the woman beside her on a plane. Jasmine is travelling to San Francisco to see her sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins), but this is no casual social visit. Jasmine has fallen from grace. Once a woman of leisure, married to smooth-talking millionaire businessman Hal (Alec Baldwin), she is now destitute — which didn’t stop her from flying first class, her sister points out — and needs a place to crash while she regroups.
The two adopted siblings are not cut from the same cloth. Ginger is a divorced mother of two. She works as a cashier. Ginger’s ex, and the father of her bratty kids, is a contractor named Augie. Augie and Ginger have a history with Hal and Jasmine, by way of a bad business deal that cost the former couple their one shot at happiness.
A Wall Street con man of the highest order, Hal doesn’t care who loses as long as he wins. But as we learn through a series of flashbacks, even Hal’s luck has an expiry date. His story provides a backdrop evocative of both the financial crisis and all the investment crooks who have made off with the life savings of many an innocent victim in recent years.
Prayer links…God of our unfolding, be with us in times of change. Help us to notice the signs of the times. Keep us alert to what is in front of us. Prepare us as we take each next step that we may be open to the leading of your spirit as we tune ourselves to your voice. In Christ’s name we pray, Amen.
Who can tell where the wisdom of the idea of electric cars lies? If we were to go back 120 years, when automobiles were in their infancy, the merits of the internal combustion engine era were being lauded to the skies. That success is currently putting the planet under threat, with the seemingly little-controlled exhaust emissions damaging all of life.
Now one of the world’s biggest motor manufacturers has launched the first zero-emission all-electric family car at the Low Carbon Vehicle Event 2013 in Bedfordshire, United Kingdom on September 4–5. This is the UK’s premier low-carbon vehicle technology event for vehicle manufacturers, automotive suppliers, and research institutes.
The Ford Focus Electric runs entirely on battery power for up to 100 miles between charges and has a top speed of 85 mph. At a price of £28,500 even after a government grant, it will cost twice as much as the cheapest petrol-powered Focus. Senior Ford technical staff from the company’s Dunton Technical Centre state that the most significant overall reductions in carbon emissions will come from traditional power units such as Ford’s sophisticated turbo-powered, direct-injection EcoBoost engines. According to Ford product development chief, Graham Hoare, “The internal combustion engine has not reached the end of the road. EcoBoost represents the current ‘state of the art’ in petrol technology and future improvements will deliver further efficiencies and CO2 reductions.In the medium term the internal combustion engine will remain the high-volume propulsion solution, supplemented increasingly by electrification and mild hybridisation.”
The arrival of the Focus Electric comes a day after the UK government said that in order to cut carbon emissions every new car sold in 2040 should be an electric or hydrogen vehicle. Transport minister, Norman Baker, states that the move to low-emission vehicles provides both huge opportunities for the automotive sector as well as bringing life-changing benefits to towns and cities by improving air quality and reducing carbon emissions.
We are so often either bamboozled with technology or star-struck by glossy advertisements that our wisdom is clouded or diminished. May we redouble our efforts to see through the fog to glimpse the wisdom of God and affirm the value of our own experience as expressions of that wisdom. Amen.
From Fraser Macnaughton
The Norwegians have a wonderful expression: “There is no such thing as bad weather…just inappropriate clothing!” Hopefully the fire-fighters dealing with one of the largest California wildfires on record are indeed appropriately clothed as the firestorm roared deeper into Yosemite National Park and the fire-fighters started winning the battle to contain it. The so-called “Rim Fire,” which was burning mainly in the Stanislaus National Forest west of Yosemite, nearly doubled its footprint in the park in a day, creeping closer to thousands of homes. Although the flames reached the shores of a reservoir, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission stated that there was “little risk for direct impacts” on the city’s water supply because of the rocky terrain. A fire-fighting force of some 4500 personnel, backed by bulldozers and water-dropping helicopters, worked to encircle and suppress the flames.
The Rim Fire has charred nearly 184,500 acres since it erupted on August 17. The blaze scorched more than 40,000 acres of Yosemite, forcing the closure of some campgrounds in the more remote northern part of the park and the main entrance road from the direction of the San Francisco Bay area.
Climate change, drought, and human settlement in previously uninhabited areas have all played important roles in the growing number and ferocity of US wildfires. However, forest ecologists say it is no coincidence the Rim firestorm exploded through areas which had seen few blazes, if any, for almost a century. During those hundred years, humans managed to tame the Sierra Nevada, investing immense effort and ingenuity to snuff out the wildfires that used to blaze through its forests. Loggers were able to go about their business without disruption, and settlers were emboldened to build homes in ever more remote areas. It was “man versus nature,” and it seemed as if humans had won. That conceit is currently going up in smoke so powerful that it is choking people hundreds of miles away. Nature had reasserted itself.
The Psalm speaks of the voice of God “flashing forth flames of fire,” “stripping forests bare,” and “shaking the wilderness.
In our arrogance that we can control everything, we only expose our shallowness and lack of wisdom. May we come to see how much wisdom we have lost by not listening to the ways of earlier peoples and to the forces of nature. Amen.
From Fraser Macnaughton
In the United Kingdom the argument over “fracking” (the extraction of shale gas from deep underground) is raging between scientists, local people, environmentalists and business developers. New opinion polls show strong public opposition to fracking. Asked if they would like to see various alternative types of energy projects in their area, 60% of people said they would be happy to have wind-farms or turbines but only 23% were supportive of fracking taking place in their area.
Sir Bernard Ingham, press secretary for former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, spoke out as police scaled down their operation at an anti-fracking protest site in West Sussex after four weeks of demonstrations. Ingham said: “It seems they want us all to live in their yurts, tepees and wigwams in a sort of glorious save-the-planet pre-industrial squalor, regardless of our manifest objections. If that is not totalitarianism, I don’t know what is.”
One half of the UK coalition government accuses the other. Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats have poured scorn on Chancellor George Osborne’s push for a shale gas revolution in the UK, pointing out that the process of fracking has caused extensive environmental damage and water pollution in the United States. One of the environmental concerns is the fear that fracking will take place in many areas of Britain that are on the doorstep of important bird migratory routes.
This stance angers the pro-fracking lobby, which contests the claims that serious environmental damage has been caused by pumping water underground at high pressure to release trapped gas. Osborne and other Conservatives believe that shale gas is the answer to the UK’s energy needs and will create thousands of jobs. They claim that local shale fuels, if they can be extracted safely, are better for the environment than imported ones.
Perhaps in order to meet the energy challenge of a secure, low carbon, and affordable power system, the protesters, politicians and the energy industry will have to find an awkward consensus.
It is so often so hard to know what to believe. May we be able to discern the way of God, based on God’s passion for creation, as we navigate the muddy waters of vested interest, politics, and self preservation. Amen.
From Sandra Rooney
Once we put a note in a bottle and tossed it into the ocean, hoping to get a response from some faraway place. Today we face much more dramatic evidence of what is going into the ocean miles away. Two years after the earthquake and subsequent tsunami that swept ashore in Japan, killing more than 15,000 people, solemn reminders of the disaster continue. As much as 300 tons of radioactive water may be pouring into the Pacific every day, while the managers of the Fukushima nuclear plant and the Japanese government continue to look for ways to contain the contaminated water. Tsunami debrisis washing ashore in Hawaii and along the Pacific coast of the United States and Canada.
Earlier this year a 35-foot steel tank and numerous small boats came ashore in British Columbia. Two floating docks beached themselves in Washington and Oregon. They harbored large amounts of marine life that required decontamination to prevent invasive species from establishing themselves on the U.S. coastline. The debris slowly making its way across the Pacific to North America is only a fraction of the estimated 5 million tons of rubble and other materials swept into the sea by the tsunami. According to Japanese government estimates, approximately 70 percent of the debris sank off of Japan's coast, leaving 1.5 million tons to float across the ocean. It is unknown how much of that is still floating.
“Very little research has been done at mid-water depths, and particularly on the seafloor, as to what extent of debris abundance is there and what particular ecological impacts debris has on those marine environments,” according to Nicholas Mallos, ocean debris specialist with the non-profit Ocean Conservancy. And there are no good numbers about how much of the debris currently in the sea comes from the tsunami versus from everyday garbage and abandoned fishing gear. A tsunami’s worth of ocean trash is created each year by the things we buy, use, and throw away.Mallos emphasized that working to reduce everyday consumer waste will make the oceans more resilient in the face of unavoidable debris disasters like tsunamis.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has been tracking the debris, which can pose a navigation hazard to boats and an entanglement or choking hazard to wildlife. Debris washing ashore around the Hawaiian Islands could damage reefs, introduce invasive species, and threaten endangered species. Derelict fishing gear is always a threat to seabirds and migratory species.
While we don’t know the extent of the danger that ocean debris poses, we do know something of the importance of healthy oceans to life on earth. Oceans provide the primary source of protein for more than 1 billion of the world’s people. They absorb nearly one-third of human caused carbon dioxide emission and ocean plants produce half of the world’s oxygen.
We see the ocean waves pounding against a rocky coast and know your awesome power, O God.
From Sandra Rooney
There is so much pain in the world, not just personal pain, but also collective trauma, which can leave wounds that linger for generations. Think of the treatment of native peoples, slavery, and the Holocaust, or even the trauma of Hurricane Katrina. In the summer 2013 issue of YES! Magazine, Lisa Gate Garrigues writes about how some communities are finding ways to respond to collective trauma, which may be “historical, trans-generational, cultural or ancestral, each with its own nuances,” according to Sousan Abadian, a former fellow at the MIT Dalai Lama Center for Ethics and Transformational Studies.
“Coming to the Table” is a non-profit organization founded by descendants of both slaves and slaveholders in partnership with the Center for Justice and Peace-building at Eastern Mennonite University. Racial reconciliation requires that both groups meet face to face so that they can build authentic relationships, strong enough to withstand the challenges of honestly facing their past, present and future together.Their approach includes the mutual sharing of stories, the arts, and apology.
“Kindred Southern Justice Healing Collective,” a network of more than 100 healers and activists of color and their allies, is rooted in a Southern understanding of how trans-generational trauma is connected to a history of slavery, unethical medical testing, and economic displacement. Kindred’s participants celebrate the healing traditions that kept their ancestors going: song, art, prayer, touch, and community. They believe not only in collective grief, but also in collective resiliency and resistance.
Dr. Maria Yellow Horse Brave Heart, applying the concept of historical trauma to native people in the Americas, writes, “Genocide, imprisonment, forced assimilation, and misguided governance have resulted in the loss of culture and identity, alcoholism, poverty and despair.” She identifies four steps necessary for healing: confronting the trauma, understanding it, releasing the pain, and transcendence. These steps require education to create awareness; sharing the effects of trauma, which provides relief; and collective mourning/healing, which can provide grief resolution. Ray Daw, a Navajo health administrator in Alaska, is using this approach in work with Native communities, utilizing indigenous models of healing to promote healing from the wounds of history.
For psychotherapist Armand Volkas, a child of Holocaust survivors, recognizing the potential perpetrator in all of us is important in the reframing process. He uses drama therapy, ritual, and storytelling to facilitate workshops between groups with a history of collective trauma between them: Jews and Germans, Israelis and Palestinians, Turks and Armenians, Japanese and Chinese, African Americans and European Americans. “Humanizing the enemy is one of the first steps,” he says. It starts with just bringing people together.
The groups described above make use of a variety of approaches: face-to-face meetings for racial reconciliation, traditional healing practices, providing opportunities for collective mourning/healing, and drama and storytelling, among others.
We pray for all who use their gifts and skills to heal those who are in physical pain and set free those in bondage to the hurt of historical trauma. May we as individuals and communities be willing to face our traumas, large or small, ancient or fresh, that we too might be healed. Amen.
From Sandra Rooney
On August 28 Americans will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the “March on Washington,” which set the stage for passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965. There have been many marches since then, in Washington and around the world, but for Americans, perhaps none more significant than the one on August 28, 1963, 150 years after the Emancipation Proclamation. Film clips show thousands of people, peacefully gathered for perhaps the country’s most important purpose, equality for all citizens.
The Public Broadcasting Society (PBS) recently broadcast Bill Moyers’ interview with Rep. John Lewis, the last of the ten speakers at the 1963 March who is still living. In 1963, Moyers was the 29 year-old deputy director of the Peace Corps, and Lewis, a 23-year-old, had just been named the head of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.
Moyers and Lewis, now a fourteen-term Congressman from Georgia, recalled that extraordinary event – 250,000 people of every age and color together on the National Mall in Washington, DC. While the event is most famous for Martin Luther King Junior’s “I have a dream” speech, the list of notable speakers included Floyd McKissick, chair of the board of the Congress of Racial Equality (standing in for James Farmer, executive director of CORE, who was in jail in Louisiana); Eugene Carson Blake, head of the National Council of Churches; Rabbi Joachim Prince, of the American Jewish Congress; Roy Wilkins, head of the National Association of Advancement of Colored People (NAACP); Walter Reuther, head of the United Automobile Workers Union; and A. Philip Randolph, who organized the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and was considered the dean of black leadership.
In the years leading up to this day, African Americans had been arrested and jailed by the hundreds and thousands, some for sitting at “whites only” lunch counters. They had been beaten. They couldn’t register to vote because of the color of their skin and they lost their jobs if they dared to register. Now they had come together in nonviolent protest, marching for jobs and freedom, for the fulfillment of the American dream, the American promise.
In the PBS interview, Lewis says that he had no concerns about whether it was going to be a peaceful march. He believed that “the people, especially out of the South, had been touched by the spirit of the movement. They were committed to the philosophy and the discipline of nonviolence.” And so many, he said, “were from the religious community. I knew it was going to be all right.” Moyers, however, remembered that the city was tense. “Many of the people working in the District stayed home out of fear of the violence that had been talked about. . .15,000 paratroopers were called up on the ready.” Police leaves were canceled, liquor sales were banned in the city, and they even canceled the National League baseball game scheduled for that afternoon.
The march stayed peaceful, even when young John Lewis put the challenge very directly: “You tell us to wait, to be patient. We cannot wait. We cannot be patient. We want our freedom and we want it now.” What was needed Lewis said, was, “to complete the revolution…all of the black masses are on a march for jobs and freedom.”
We are easily discouraged by the challenges that surround us. Help us, O God, to remember that we are not alone in the struggle, that as we join our hearts and minds with others, we may find the strength “to move mountains.” Amen
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