Past Spirit Sightings (The Archives)
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.
From Sandra Rooney
These headlines begin to tell the story of desperate people enduring brutal journeys, often hostile reception, lengthy stays in detention facilities and more, for a chance at a better life.
Rome: Italians Rescue Thousands from Teeming Migrant Boats
For years, immigrants fleeing wars or seeking a better future have risked their lives to reach Europe, sometimes dying in tiny boats headed for the Canary Islands, or the Italian island of Lampedusa, or by charging the fences around Melilla. If they make it, most will spend a year or more in an immigration center hoping their asylum applications will be approved. Most will not be.
The European Union is now allowing free movement throughout Europe for Romanians and Bulgarians, but many arriving in England say they are made to feel like second-class citizens. Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party, known for an anti-immigration stance, has said, “We want an immigration policy that is…based on controlling not just quantity but quality.”
Central American migrants desperate to leave the poverty and violence in their home countries risk riding on top of train cars, which will take them, if they’re lucky, to the southern border of the U.S. There they must try to cross by river or through the desert. Three weeks ago, a dramatic increase in the number of unaccompanied children and partial families from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, caught trying to cross the border into Texas illegally, created what both the White House and the United Nations have declared a humanitarian crisis.
Texas, lacking adequate facilities to house and process them, began sending hundreds of women and children to Phoenix, Tucson, and Nogales, as well as to California, where authorities are scrambling to provide accommodations and care. U.S. law prohibits the Department of Homeland Security from immediately deporting the children if they are not from Canada or Mexico.
More than 60,000 unaccompanied juveniles, the majority Central American, are expected to cross into the U.S. in 2014. A United Nations report based on interviews with 400 young immigrants identified a complicated web of reasons, including gang and societal violence in their home countries, dire economic conditions, and the desire to be reunited with parents or other family members already in the U.S.
Loving God, we know that Jesus welcomed all into fellowship, he received them into community. We would do the same, but it often seems so difficult today. Open our hearts and minds to new possibilities for being welcoming communities. Amen.
From Ray McGinnis
Maya Angelou was an American author and poet born in 1928, in St. Louis, Missouri. She died at the age of 86 on May 28th. She wrote a series of seven autobiographies beginning with I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969).
It tells of her life between the ages of three and 17. Abandoned by her parents, she and her younger brother, Bailey, lived with her paternal grandmother, Momma, and crippled uncle, Uncle Willie, in Stamps, Arkansas. Although Momma was relatively wealthy because she owned the general store at the heart of Stamps’ Black community, the white children of their town hassled Maya’s family relentlessly. One of these white girls showed her pubic hair to Momma in a degrading encounter. Another story in the book tells how Momma had to hide Uncle Willie in a vegetable bin to keep him safe him from the Ku Klux Klan.
When she was seven, her father abruptly took her and her brother back to St. Louis, and left her with her mother. Shortly after that she was raped. When she identified the rapist as her mother’s boyfriend, he was charged and found guilty and sentenced to a day in jail. But once released from jail he was murdered. Young Maya went mute for five years, believing that by speaking out she was responsible for her rapist’s murder.
Maya Angelou’s candid stories of her childhood and youth won her recognition for her bravery and literary style. Prior to her book’s release, she had been a friend of Martin Luther King Jr. in the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s. She went on to teach as a professor at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. In 1993, she read her poem On the Pulse of Morning at the inauguration of President Bill Clinton. She was the first poet to read at an inauguration of a president since Robert Frost read at the inauguration of John F. Kennedy in 1961. A sought-after lecturer, she was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barak Obama in 2011.
God, who reaches out to us with the promise of new beginnings, be with us in the places we find ourselves. Be with us in the grace-filled places, the stuck places, the hostile places, the courageous places. Love us in all the places you find us. Help us build on the places where we have said yes to life, yes to love, and where we move toward you. In Christ we pray. Amen
From Sandra Rooney
The summer issue of YES! magazine looks at “The Power of Story.” Sarah van Gelder, founder and editor-in-chief of Yes!, shares this quote from the late media scholar George Gerbner: “We experience the world through stories. Whoever tells the stories of a culture defines the terms, the agenda, and the common issues we face.” The magazine takes a look at today’s new generation of storytellers and the variety of media available to them, not least of which is the vast array of social media. She sees a new society emerging from the bottom up, from those who have been excluded from the old society and who “yearn for a more just and life-affirming world.”
The new media venues allow us to reach new audiences, to question the status quo and garner support for new ideas. Take AshEl Eldridge for example. He’s a hip hop artist and founder of the band Earth Amplified. With his music video “Food Fight,” he connects people to the issue of junk food. In the video, junk-food addicted neighbours awaken from sugar-induced comas to battle the agribusinesses that have taken over their local markets. Then there’s David Graeber, who helped plan the occupation of Zuccotti Park, where the Occupy movement began. As an anthropologist, author, and activist, he is now among the organizers of a debt-resistance movement. Eldridge and Graeber as just two of the new storytellers, who are challenging the dominant worldview that we have no alternatives to the status quo.
While large corporations may still control mass media, and prominent figures try to tell us what “is,” the new storytellers are using videos on YouTube, blogs and tweets, satellite radio and low-power FM and more to tell personal stories that touch people’s hearts and point the way to positive change. Kristin Moe in her YES! article “Change Starts with Your Own Story” shows how such personal stories can become the heart of powerful social movements.
In spite of all the bad news in the world, perhaps we can still take hope. One more example comes from Ukraine. It was a Facebook post by a young journalist, Mustafa Nayyem, that galvanized fellow citizens to demand change and that started a revolution last fall. The way forward for Ukraine is uncertain. What is certain is that people’s way of thinking has changed, according to Aleksandr Yaroshchuk, who closed his business and has been living in Kiev’s Independence Square since December 2, with no plans to return home anytime soon. “We are convinced that we have forces and possibilities to change the system,” he says.
This week’s scripture is one of the seminal stories for Christians.
Holy Spirit, you gathered Jesus’ early followers and inspired a new way of life. May we, too, be gathered as followers and inspired to live in new life-affirming ways. Amen.
From Paul Turley
After more than seven years of sometimes violent division, the two major parties in Palestine, Hamas and Fatah, have signed an accord that could see a unity government in Palestine within weeks.
As The Guardian reports, “The agreement, signed in Gaza City on Wednesday April 23 by Ismail Haniyeh, the prime minister of Hamas, and by a senior Palestinian Liberation Organization delegation dispatched by Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, marks the latest attempt in three years of efforts to end the discord between the two factions.”
Hamas’s prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, said, “We must conclude national reconciliation and end the division so we can have one government, one political national agenda and one system… There is no room for failure at this dialogue.”
At the same time, the Palestinians have made application to join the UN and other international treaties and institutions.
On the face of it, all of this should be good news for Palestinians and good news for the region.
However, this is not the way the U.S. or Israel see this move to unity. Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, responded with, “He (Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas) has to choose, does he want peace with Hamas or peace with Israel? You can have one but not the other. I hope he chooses peace, so far he hasn’t done so.”
This was followed by an official government statement. “The government of Israel will not hold negotiations with a Palestinian government that is backed by Hamas, a terror organization that calls for Israel’s destruction.”
The U.S. too has concerns about the unity government, with U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki describing the move as having “grave implications” for U.S. relations with the Palestinian Authority, including financial support.
As the search for peace in the region goes on, we recall the words of one man who was born and lived in this troubled region of the world 2,000 years ago: “Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”
Explore... John 17:1–11
God, we know that we are one human family
From Paul Turley
In what is being described as the world’s first climate-induced migration of modern times, the small Pacific nation of Kiribati is making some radical decisions about its island home.
Anote Tong, the Kiribati president, is in talks with Fiji’s military government to buy up to 5,000 acres of freeholdlandin Fiji. One of his possibleplansis to make it the new homeland of the Kiribati people, whose land is disappearing under the ocean.
Kiribati is a nation of 33 small islands with an average height of 6.5 feet, less than two meters above sea level. Scientists say that it might well be the first nation to be affected by the rising sea levels produced by climate change.
Even though a recent study has shown that some of the islands of Kiribati are actually growing rather than shrinking, thanks to the growth of coral, this is unlikely to help the Kiribati population. Another recent study found that the oceans are absorbing heat 15 times faster than they have at any point during the past 10,000 years, which is affecting fish stocks. But even before that becomes an issue, the danger is that the salt water of the Pacific will infiltrate, and irreversibly poison, their already inadequate supply of fresh water.
Theeyes of those in the world who care about the effects of climate change are on Kiribati. Theyknow the hard truth that Kiribati may well be the first nation to have its life and culture radically affected by climate change, but it is unlikely tobe the last.
While the Kiribati government seeks solutions to the disappearance of their home (they have even investigated the building of floating platforms), one of their number, Ioane Teitiota, a six-year resident of New Zealand, has applied for refugee status for he and his family on the basis that they face serious harm if they return to Kiribati. Teitiota told the New Zealand High Court that there was no land on Kiribati to which his family could safely return.
While Teitiota’s claim failed to convince the High Court, it is unlikely that his will be the only time in the coming years when people will seek asylum because of the effects of climate change.
When, in the Gospel of John, Jesus speaks of the “Spirit of truth,” he is speaking about something very powerful. A simple definition of truth is “things as they really are, as opposed to things as we think they shouldbe, or things as we wish they were, or things as they used to be.”
With this definition, the Spirit of truth is a spirit that gives us a clear-eyed, unvarnished understanding of how things are. Those who follow Jesus should be among those who are willingto help others hear and see the honest truth about climate change, and to be at the forefront of the work to be done.
Explore… John 14:15–21
God, we acknowledge that too often we prefer to live with comforting falsehood rather than face the stark truth of things. Help us to see and know your Spirit of truth and to have courage to live in the world as it really is. Amen.
From Ray McGinnis
The Grand Budapest Hotel is, on the surface, a zany comedy. Beneath the surface is a movie inspired by the writings of novelist Stephan Zweig, an Austrian Jew who fled continental Europe in 1934 in response to the rise of Adolph Hitler. After Zweig fled Austria, the Nazi’s publically burned Zweig’s library, including his published novels and plays. Director of The Grand Budapest Hotel credits Zweig’s novels, Beware of Pity and especially The Post-Office Girl, as inspiration for his movie.
The movie tells of the adventures of Gustave H, a legendary concierge at a famous alpine European hotel between the First and Second World Wars. His most trusted friend is Zero Moustafa, an orphan from the First World War, who becomes a lobby boy at the hotel. The story concerns the theft and recovery of a priceless painting, Boy with Apple, and intrigue over a family fortune.
There are humorous keystone cops adventures and narrow escapes from a hired assassin, as well as run-ins with local police and harassment from the army as military checkpoints spring up, reflecting the turmoil of the times. Gustave H and Zero form a bond of friendship and in the context of their unfolding story, show great courage and creativity in the face of obstacles, including death threats and a love interest in a girl in the village near the hotel. The movie is a fast-paced farce that deals with some serious topical themes without getting melancholy.
Type: ComedyDirector: Wes Anderson
Film company: Fox Searchlight
Release date: March 7, 2014
Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Tilda Swinton, Tony Revolori
During an escape from Madame D’s family, once Gustave H has been willed the priceless painting, Boy with Apple, we view him riding on a train with his sidekick, Zero, and Zero’s sweetheart, Agatha, the pastry shop girl. Suddenly the train stops by a snow-covered barley field. Soldiers board the train and begin interrogating its passengers. When they arrive at the coach with Gustave H, Zero, and Agatha, Gustave remarks to one of the soldiers, “You’re the first of the official death squads to which we’ve been formally introduced.”
God of darkest valleys, when we are faced with adversity, help us. Kindle in us the best of who we are so that we may be courageous and faithful in the presence of ignorance and violence. May we be capable of being light even in the of darkest places. In Christ we pray. Amen.
From Ray McGinnis
Pharrell Williams, also known simply as Pharrell, is an American rapper, singer-songwriter, record producer, and musician. Since the winter of 2013–14, he has been enjoying phenomenal success with his hit record Happy.
While many recording artists top national charts, Happy has struck a chord with people in cities and towns around the globe. What’s more, people are uploading their own versions of the song to Youtube. You can view video versions of Happy made in Cape Town, Santiago, Gaza, Jerusalem, Vancouver, Melbourne, Glasgow, and Kiev. The lyrics invite listeners to “clap along with me if you feel like a room without a roof,” clap along if you think that “happiness is a truth.” And so on Youtube viewers can see images of happy citizens dancing, singing, playing with each other, expressing a sense of humor as they illustrate being happy.
Perhaps the song Happy has caught people’s attention in a world weary of too much news of violence, mean-spiritedness, stinginess, sadness, and heartache. When people view a video of Happy created by people living in Gaza or Jerusalem, it doesn’t mean they are not aware of ongoing political issues that are decades, even centuries old and seemingly unresolvable. But they do in these videos glimpse something else, something about the humanity of people around the globe, no matter where they are born.
Artists, whether they are making music, performing a dance, writing a play, creating a new recipe, designing clothes, or painting an image, they all hope that what they create inspires people and makes a difference. In 2014, Pharrell Williams’ song Happy seems to be rippling around the globe, reminding us of our longing to live in community by appealing to a generous spirit in all of us.
What are the followers of Jesus doing in this passage?
What is distinctive about their way of nurturing community?
How do you feel when you see people from different nationsand ethnic backgrounds in the Youtube videos for Happy ?
What other examples would you point to where a cultural event (involving art, food, sport or something else) has been a catalyst for goodwill among all of Gods people?
God of community, you create us not to be alone but to find ways to dwell together. Your scriptures show us images of the first disciples seeking to nurture one another with material and spiritual gifts. Help us in these times to grow generous and glad hearts as we seek goodwill in the face of each person we meet. In Christ we pray. Amen.
From Fraser Mcnaughton
The word “companions” comes from the Latin “bread together,” indicating the human importance of sharing food together. In the UK, the exponential growth of food banks due to the economic recession is something that horrifies many people. The government’s position on food banks was mired in confusion after it emerged that David Cameron had enthusiastically backed their work at a Christian faith group’s Easter reception, in contrast to biting criticism of the schemes made by Iain Duncan Smith’s work and pensions department.
A row erupted after figures from the Trussell Trust, Britain’s biggest food bank provider, revealed that almost one million people have sought three days’ emergency food supplies over the last year. The Christian charity also reported that government use of sanctions against benefit recipients was “increasingly harsh” and that half of those who had been referred to food banks in 2013–14 had suffered benefit delays or changes. One senior source in the Department for Work and Pensions accused the charity of being “misleading” and of “emotionally manipulative publicity-seeking.” Another official said the rise in food bank use was down to the Trussell Trust “aggressively marketing their services.”
But at a recent Downing Street event for Christian organizations, the prime minister praised the “provision of food banks.” He said, “Whether it’s providing services for children at risk of exclusion, whether it’s teaching prisoners to read, whether it’s dealing with breakdown, whether it’s provision of food banks, there are some extraordinary organisations run by faith groups and Christians in our country and I want to see the possibilities for that to expand. Cameron wrote in an article for the Church Times that Christianity “compels us to get out there and make a difference to people’s lives.”
Duncan Smith has refused to deal with the charity, accusing it of “scaremongering” and advancing a political agenda.
The contrasting responses reveal the government’s struggle to react to growing food poverty even as economic recovery gathers pace. While the Department for Work and Pensions chose to attack the trust as “publicity-seeking,” Cameron emphasized the importance of charity and community engagement as part of his faith. Meanwhile, Christian leaders have increasingly put pressure on the government to tackle food poverty. During Holy Week, 36 Anglican bishops and more than 600 church leaders from all major denominations signed a letter demanding action from ministers.
May we open our hearts to the plight of the poor but also open our minds to be informed as the systems and cultures that cause unnecessary poverty, as well as seeking new ways to live more simply that others may simply live. Amen.
From Fraser Macnaughton
Where politicians have singularly failed, runners of the world have triumphed. For the first time ever, North Korea opened up the streets of its capital to runner-tourists for the annual Pyongyang marathon, undoubtedly one of the most exotic feathers in any runner’s cap.
No one is under any illusions that the opening of the race to recreational runners is in keeping with the North’s ongoing, but sometimes sporadic, effort to earn cash revenue by boosting tourism, usually with well-orchestrated group tours to major arts performances or attractions the North wants to show off.
“I think a lot of the attraction is the ‘Pyongyang’ part rather than the ‘marathon’ part,” said Simon Cockerell, a Beijing-based agent for the Koryo Tours travel agency. “A lot of the people went along to take part were interested in simply doing something a bit unusual, something that would cause a bit of cognitive dissonance in friends of theirs when they tell them they ran a marathon in North Korea.”
Cockerell said nearly 200 foreigners signed up for the event, with most having joined packaged group tours to see the sights while they are in Pyongyang.
In the past, the main race has been restricted to a select group of elite runners. Recreational jogging isn’t a part of ordinary North Korean life, but past events have included races for local students and junior runners.
Officials said runners from 27 countries took part this year, including 225 amateurs. Though the race has long featured elite athletes from around the world, the organizers decided to make it easier for fun-runners to join in by requiring only that the course be completed in four hours – so the roads could be reopened – and by also holding a half marathon and a 10 km run. “The marathon has traditionally been open only to professional runners with 2:27 male and 2:38 female cut-off times, making it impossible for even the best recreational runner to participate,” said Andrea Lee, head of Uri Tours, an American company offering tours to North Korea. It brought 20 runners, most of them American. “Generally, the country has become more friendly for tourism,” she said. “This change in policy is in line with what we’ve seen to be the tourism administration’s willingness to explore different tour programs and other avenues to attract tourism.”
Explore… John 20:19–31
The peace of Christ, like the love of God, moves in mysterious ways. Often not our ways. May we be open to the realm of possibilities that Christ’s peace may infuse into our community and our world. Amen
From Fraser Macnaughton
A same-sex couple have married in what is believed to be the UK’s first gay wedding held in a church.
Jan Tipper and Barb Burden tied the knot recently at the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) in Bournemouth, Dorset, England. The law allowed same-sex couples to marry since March 29, but this was the first ceremony to be conducted in a religious building, the MCC says.
Reverend Dwayne Morgan, who officiated at the ceremony, said the church had taken pride in “celebrating diversity” on the “historic day,” Ms Burden and Ms Tipper, who have attended MCC for 15 years, said they were surprised to discover their wedding was a first.
“To get married in our church was very significant to us,” Ms Tipper said. “Even though we’ve been together for almost 19 years, it didn’t feel right for us to have just a blessing or even a civil partnership. We’ve hoped for years for the opportunity to legally marry and once it became possible we knew it was time for us to tie the knot and to do it before God in our church with our friends and family.”
MCC was established in Bournemouth in 1979 and is associated with the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches, which has churches in more than 40 countries. Rev Morgan said, “We have been offering wedding services for same-sex couples for many years in our church because we believe that God blesses the love of two people no matter what their gender. But to finally have the Government fully recognise their love by giving them complete legal status as a married couple is a blessing for everyone.
We are extremely pleased that the Government didn’t just listen to those churches that wanted to completely block same-sex couples from the right to have their marriage consecrated in their place of worship, but heard the voices of the minority of people of faith who believe that God doesn’t discriminate. We are grateful to all those who have struggled for the rights of gay people for so many years that has led us to this historic day.”
Rev Morgan added that the change in the law to allow gay marriage meant the Government had “finally caught up with us.”
The good news of the Risen Christ is about love, about inclusion, about being open hearted and wide armed. That must include those with whom we do not agree. May reconciliation also be at the heart of our faith Amen.
From Sandra Rooney
Just weeks ago, an Egyptian judge condemned 529 people to execution. Accused of being members of the Muslim Brotherhood, the now-banned Islamist group that ruled Egypt until nine months ago, the condemned are charged with attacking a police station and killing an officer. The attack occurred in the wake of the military coup that forced former president Mohamed Morsi from power. At the same time, riot police violently dispersed a large group of Morsi supporters, killing an estimated 900 people and sparking further violence across the nation.
Only three months ago, on the third anniversary of the January 25, 2011, revolution that led to the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak, millions of Egyptians were in the streets carrying Egyptian flags and pictures of Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, now considered by many to be their hero for siding with those who sought to overthrow the Muslim government last June. So it is that, now, many who chanted “down to the military” and who risked their lives three years ago to bring about Mubarak’s removal from power, are supporting that same military, to the extent that Gen. el-Sisi is expected to win the upcoming presidential election by an overwhelming majority.
While the verdict against the 529 is not expected to hold, it nevertheless demonstrates how far things have come since the high hopes that followed the 2011 revolution, termed the Arab Spring, and the election of Mohamed Morsi in 2012. In the name of security, not only are members of the Brotherhood targeted, but non-Islamist youth activists and journalists as well. Special courts accelerate trials for “suspected terrorists” and peaceful demonstrators, and there seems no end to the violent suppression of dissent from any quarter.
Explore Matthew 21:1–11 and Matthew 26:14 — 27:66…
Put yourself in the midst of the events of these passages, without reference to Easter.
God of love and mercy, we pray for steadfastness in the face of challenging times and circumstances. May we have the courage to speak truth to power that seeks personal gain or the welfare of the few over the many. May the witness of your son encourage and sustain us. Amen.
From Paul Turley
People around the world have this week marked Newroz, the traditional celebration of Iranian/Kurdish New Year. But for many in the Kurdish population the celebration is bittersweet.
“In some ways, we are happy and in some we are not,” this from a young Kurdish man, a refugee from Syria, in Lebanon because of the fighting in Syria. “You don’t understand how the other Syrians treat us.”
Many Syrian Kurds who have fled Syria have gone to the autonomous Kurdistan Region in northern Iraq, established, initially in 1970 but only truly implemented in 2005, following the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
However, even in this region, the dream of resurrection of true Kurdish autonomy and, for many, the dream of a truly independent Kurdish nation is still a long way from reality. In 2007, in what is the second deadliest act of terrorism in history, following only behind the September 11 attacks in the United States, four coordinated suicide car bombs killed 796 and wounded 1,562 people, mostly Yazidi people living near Mosul. According to Al Jazeera, tens of thousands of Syrian Kurds currently seeking refuge in Iraqi Kurdistan are subjected to racism and exploitation at every turn from other Kurds who make their home in the autonomous Kurdistan Region.
As Kurds look to a new year following Newroz, during which many jumped over fires thereby symbolically leaving in the yellow of the fire the pain and suffering of the previous year and taking on the red strength of the fire for the new year to come, they and we can hope for peace, security, and a welcome for all.
Explore... John 11:1–45
God, the wait for history to turn, for freedom and resurrection to come, is sometimes a very long, long one. Often we don’t understand why, and we easily loose hope. We pray for ourselves and for all those around the world who long for freedom and peace, that our hope in you will remain strong. Amen.
From Paul Turley
There are none so blind as those who will not see.
This old proverb that, according to dictionaries, goes back to at least the 16th century, and that seems to echo the ancient text of Jeremiah in the Jewish scriptures (Jeremiah 5:21), is, sadly, always relevant and pertinent. And never more so than in the escalating crisis in the Ukraine.
As of this writing, in a referendum in the Crimea peninsula, which reported an 80% turn out of citizens, 93% backed the Russian annexation of Crimea.
Is this a free and fair indication of the desires of the people of the peninsula? Can any poll be said to be free and fair when the invading forces of a foreign nation surround a nation’s military bases, as is the case here when Russian troops have barricaded Ukrainian army units and have restricted the movements of the Ukrainian navy?
Even if we can assume that something less than 80% of the Crimean population want to break with the Ukraine and join with Russia, what of the other more than 20%? Out of a population of around two million people, we are talking about the fate of perhaps half a million people.
Many news outlets report that large numbers of the Tarter population of the Crimea boycotted the referendum and have no desire at all to re-engage with Russia. Local Crimean Tatar leader Ilmi Umerov illustrates their position with a grim joke about a hungry dog crossing Ukraine-Russia border: “There’s no food in Ukraine,” the dog tells the border guards, who wonder why it is fleeing Ukraine. A few days later, the dog makes a hasty return. “There’s no food in Russia either,” it tells the border guards. “And on top of that, barking is forbidden.”
In a world littered with ethnic and religious groups who have been frozen out of true participation and whose rights and wishes have been ignored, adding another abused group to that long and sad list not only indicates that decision-makers are blind to the suffering of individuals, but blind to history. Willful blindness means suffering now and painful struggle long into the future.
Explore... John 9:1–41
God, we know a lot about hindsight and we know a lot about blindness, what we need most of all is knowledge and wisdom about how to see, how to see clearly, how to see far and how not to blink. Help us we pray. Amen.
From Sandra Rooney
All of us long to be known for who we really are, by someone who does not judge us but who draws from us our best selves. For many of the world’s refugees, being “known” may be a matter of life and death, as the work of Barbara Harrell-Bond dramatically illustrates. A native of South Dakota, Harrell-Bond’s life journey has taken her to college in Kentucky; to Los Angeles with her clergy husband; to Hungarian refugee work through the National Council of Churches; and to England, where she enrolled in the social anthropology program at the University of Oxford and went on to earn a PhD. She did research in Sierra Leone and throughout West Africa, specializing in family and administrative law. She established a Refugee Law Project in Uganda and a legal assistance program in Cairo. In 2009, she founded the Fahamu Refugee Programme, with the ambitious goal of serving as a global clearinghouse of information for lawyers and advocates working across borders and cultures. It is a place where they can find the kind of information to support what refugees tell her they most need – legal aid.
Refugees fleeing war and persecution, and seeking asylum, often arrive without papers or the documentation needed to support their claims. Refugees fearing imprisonment or even death in their home countries may have had their passports revoked. Others may face special issues, with which their lawyers, who work across different languages, legal systems, and experience, may have little or no experience: issues ranging from “apostasy” to “witchcraft.”
For those seeking asylum, the stakes are very high and without legal assistance they find the deck stacked again them. In 2012, only 36% of the 70,400 people who came to the US and applied for asylum were successful, according to figures from the United National High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Those with lawyers had a much higher success rate.
Harrell-Bond, now long past typical retirement age, works from her apartment in Oxford, England, assisted by law school interns, to help refugees and those representing them to locate and access the information they need to make their cases. Themba Lewis, co-director of the Fahamu Refugee Programme with Harrell-Bond, says of her that she “is fundamentally, unyieldingly dedicated to the concept of refugee protection and respect for refugees.”
God, you offer us the water of life in many ways. May we be prepared to do the same for those whom we encounter, wherever they may be. Amen.
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From Sandra Rooney
To be born again is to see the world from a different perspective, to live in a new way. But is that possible in a world where religion is often twisted to justify hatred and persecution, and where conflicts are fueled along religious lines? We remember the words of the musical South Pacific: “You have to be taught to hate and fear…you have to be carefully taught.” What about love?
Two months ago, we read about two religious leaders in Nigeria – one Muslim, the other Christian – working to bring different religious communities together to learn tolerance and respect. Today we learn of a group of Muslim, Roman Catholic, and Protestant leaders in the Central African Republic, where brutal ethnic cleansing has pitted Christians against Muslims. These religious leaders have banded together to remind people that they share a common faith, based on Abrahamic teachings, and that principal among those teaching is peace.
One extraordinary example of faith at work in the midst of horrific brutality is found in the town of Boali. There the local priest, Xavier Fagba, has been protecting hundreds of Muslims inside the parish church since mid-January. The situation in Boali was desperate. Outside the church a young man, part of a Christian militia, who said his name was Mad Dog, was heard to say, “There should be no more Muslims in our country. They must all leave, and if they don’t, we must kill them all.” Knowing that many of those being sheltered have probably committed atrocities themselves, Father Fagba nevertheless believes that the time has come to live in a new way. In a recent sermon, he said, “We cannot be silent and cower in the face of injustice, but must have courage. True Christians live a life of love and reconciliation, not bloodshed.”
Father Fagba reports that the Muslims had discovered that, “in this church the God we worship is the same as their God.” He said that’s the vision the whole country needs to have. “We should consider them as our brothers.”
In the words of a James Manley hymn, “Spirit, spirit of gentleness, blow through the wilderness, calling and free, Spirit, spirit of restlessness, stir me from placidness, wind, wind on the sea.” Amen.
From Paul Turley
Imagine, for the moment, that you are somehow in charge in Independence Square in Kiev, in the Ukraine. What would you do to end the fighting and bring about reconciliation in a divided nation?
There are no simple solutions to the situation in the Ukraine.
Ukraine is a deeply divided nation. It is tempting to represent that division as one between the west and east. But the issues are more complex than that and there are real differences between the two halves of the country. In the western provinces of the new nation, there is a move to look west to liberal market economies and to align with and gain membership in the European Union. In the eastern provinces, where the population is predominately Russian-speaking and membership in the Russian Orthodox Church is high, there are strong links with the ousted president Victor Yanukovich and with Russia.
The very existence of Ukraine as a country has been contested all through the modern history of Europe. As, Remi Piet, points out, writing for Al Jazeera, “the emergence of a common Ukrainian identity only gained momentum in the 19th century.” In 1921, the treaty of Riga dismantled the country and it became a part of the USSR, where it remained until independence in 1990.
In the current uprising, according to Piet,“None of the opposition parties can claim to legitimately represent the popular uprising by itself.”
What solutions are needed? How can all the concerns of all the people be heard and addressed? How can power be legitimate and how should it be legitimately used?
What would you do, if you had the power and the responsibility?
Explore… Matthew 4:1–11
God, today we pray for our sisters and our brothers in the Ukraine. Like us, they seek a good, just, and peaceful society in which to live and flourish. Give them courage and wisdom. Give them compassion for each other and patience to hear each other’s fears, hopes, and desires. We especially pray for the citizens of Kiev who, as we pray, are in Independence Square trying to find a way. Amen.
From Ray McGinnis
For over 100 years, scientists have believed the reason why it took such a lengthy time for animals to evolve was due to a lack of oxygen. Once animals had the capacity to breathe in more oxygen, as the structure of their bodies changed, and as their access to oxygen in their habitat changed, the process of evolution quickened.
According to the scientific consensus, about three billion years ago the levels of oxygen in the earth’s atmosphere increased, from about 20% of what they are today, to the present-day levels, which have remained constant for the past three billion years. A dramatic increase! Scientists have assumed that animals needed these higher levels of oxygen to survive and evolve.
Yet a new study out of the Nordic Centre for Earth Evolution at the University of Southern Denmark is confounding the prevailing consensus. The study, with an international team of scientists, examined sea sponges. Sea sponges are technically considered among the earliest forms of animal life. This is because they are always multi-cellular, and they grow from an embryo, just like humans. Sea sponges raised in a lab were able to survive on 0.5% of the oxygen now available in the earth’s atmosphere. This is a mystery to the scientists. Why are sea sponges able to exist on such little oxygen? And why did sea sponges take over 800 million years to start evolving if low levels of oxygen were not an inhibiting factor in their growth? These are questions scientists will be debating for years to come.
Explore… Matthew 17:1-9
God who moves in mysterious ways, you take us to mountaintops. You astonish us. You surprise us. In your presence, the world we knew shifts. Sometimes we tremble. Sometimes we are at peace. Meet us in the places of life where the answers come slowly. Meet us in the spaces between what we know and what we do not know. Hold us in the secret places, too, where we contain ourselves as we lean not on our understanding, but grow toward your radiance. In Christ we pray. Amen.
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