Past Spirit Sightings (The Archives)
From Sandra Rooney
A nine-year-old girl in the United Kingdom is creating quite a stir, not just in her hometown, Lochgilphead, on the western coast of Scotland, but literally around the world. She is doing this with her blog Neverseconds, a critique of her school lunches.
Back in April, Martha Payne did an online review of her school lunch, along with a picture of a small pizza, a cupcake, a little corn and a potato croquette. “I’m a growing kid,” she wrote, “and I need to concentrate all afternoon and I can’t do it on 1 croquette.” Then she asked, “Do any of you think you could?” A month later four million people had viewed the blog and responses, including photos of school lunches around the world, flooded in.
According to an interview with her father Martha’s blog, called Neverseconds because there are no second helpings at her school, began as an independent writing project. She rates the lunches on five criteria — the number of mouthfuls, courses, healthiness, price, and the presence of unwanted hair. Her critiques and pictures soon led to the local Council to ban her use of further photos of the meals, in spite of the fact that her critiques were largely positive. The online outcry in response to the ban soon led the Council to reverse its decision.
In conjunction with her blog, Martha had set up a JustGiving site to raise money for an organization called “Mary’s Meals,” which runs school feeding projects around the world, focusing on communities where poverty and hunger prevent children from gaining an education. The Council’s photo ban led to thousands of donations flooding in to Martha’s JustGiving site, and her fundraising went from £3,000 to almost £85,000 in just four days. As a consequence, a kitchen will be built at Lirangwe primary school in Blantyre, Malawi, where all 1,963 of the pupils will be fed for a whole year as part of the charity’s “Sponsor a School” initiative.
Martha has chosen to name the kitchen “Friends of NeverSeconds” in recognition of the worldwide supportshe has received. She said: “It’s really good because it can feed lots of children for a long time.”
God of all times and places, we often feel powerless when faced by the magnitude of suffering and injustice in our world today. Help us to see the signs of your presence in the acts of others and to recognize the opportunities presented to us for being a force for justice and compassion. Amen
From Sandra Rooney
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported in 2008 that two-thirds of adults in the United States were either overweight or obese. It is estimated today that nearly a fifth of children are obese, leading to an alarming increase in diabetes among children. The consequences of the obesity epidemic include not only diabetes, but increased risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, liver disease, gout, hormonal disruptions, and a number of other otherwise preventable conditions. The annual health care cost of obesity in the U.S. may be as much as $190 billion.
New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, one public official responding this national health crisis, has proposed banning super-sized sodas and sugary drinks. Critics describe the proposed ban as interfering with personal choice and urge addressing the obesity problem through education and access to healthy foods. Such programs have been shown to have only limited success, thus the Mayor’s proposal.
From the entertainment world comes another approach to the same problem. The Walt Disney Company recently announced that all products advertised on its child-focused television channels, radio stations, and Web sites must comply with a strict new set of nutritional standards. Under the new rules a wide range of drinks, candy, sugared cereal, and fast food will no longer be acceptable advertising material. Disney’s ad restrictions, which will not take effect until 2015 because of current contracts with advertisers, will apply to all programming aimed at children under the age of 12.
Another suggested approach is a tax on the sources of most of the sugar we consume — soft drinks and candy. Moderating or changing unhealthy behaviours has been used successfully with taxes on liquor and cigarettes. A new University of California study offers this projection: “A 1-cent-per-ounce tax on sweetened beverages — adding 20 cents to the cost of a $1.25 bottle of soda — would prevent nearly 2.4 million cases of diabetes, 95,000 cases of heart disease, 8,000 strokes, and 26,000 premature deaths in the next decade.”
Interestingly, over 200 years ago, Adam Smith said, “Sugar, rum, and tobacco are commodities which are nowhere necessaries of life, [but] which are. . .objects of almost universal consumption and which are therefore extremely proper subjects of taxation.”
Creator God, Weaver of the Web of Life, we know that we have been wonderfully made and given the Gift of Life. We confess that we do not always honor that gift with care. May we find ways to live that promote the health of our bodies and encourage the communities within which we live to promote healthy life styles. Amen
Read more. . .
From Fraser McNaughton
The latest incident in Syria has only added to the woes of the UN peace plan brokered by Kofi Annan. As news of another massacre breaks, the repeated eye witness reports of Syrian forces using massive force against unarmed women and children in remote villages is countered by claims by the regime of President Bashar al-Assad that the massacres are the work of “armed terrorists” who also accuse the “media backing Syria’s bloodletting” of spreading lies.
On the face of it, the circumstances of the apparent massacre at al-Qubair, a tiny village near Hama, look grimly familiar: tank or shellfire followed by an assault by the feared shabiha, paramilitary thugs drawn from the minority Alawite community of al-Assad. Opposition activists have listed 56 named victims and claim 78 died. Online pictures showed charred corpses lying amid rubble and a dead child who had apparently been shot in the face.
Whatever the truth of this incident, no one doubts that Syria’s death toll is rising by the day. The total is 15,000 since the uprising began. Debates about whether the country is on the brink of, or already in, a state of sectarian civil war sound increasingly semantic.
This means that Annan, representing the UN and the Arab League, should find it easy to underline the urgency of his mission when he addresses the UN general assembly and Security Council. But the audience that matters most is still bitterly divided. Russia and China, both veto-wielding permanent members of the Council, have repeatedly made clear that they will not countenance any kind of outside intervention in Syria.
Intervention is already the reality however. Arab support for the fighters of the Free Syrian Army appears to be growing, and there are signs that it is acquiring anti-tank missiles, with the United States playing some kind of covert coordinating role. Jihadi-type groups are also in evidence, Syrian opposition sources report—though their role is deliberately exaggerated by the regime. Russia and Iran openly support Assad, providing not just loyal political cover but weapons, technology and advice.
Ian Black, Middle East editor for the Guardian, states: “Annan is said to be hoping to stop a total collapse of his six-point plan for a truce and negotiated political solution. Diplomats say he will be reluctant to admit it has failed in the absence of any viable alternative.”
Explore…1 Samuel 17:(1a, 4–11, 19–23), 32–49
From Fraser McNaughton
In what should have been one of the greatest soccer extravaganzas outside of the World Cup, the European Championship Finals to be held soon in Poland and the Ukraine, are attracting a wealth of criticism on many fronts. People are now questioning the choice of these countries as venues, as well as the process employed to make those choices. On the back of last year’s World Cup venue choices exercise for 2018 and 2022, now about to be investigated by FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association), questions are being posed as to the wisdom and propriety of these important choices.
As for this summer’s Euro Finals, former England soccer captain Sol Campbell is advising England fans “to stay at home.” In an interview with Panorama, a BBC documentary series, and after seeing footage of Ukraine matches, Mr Campbell said he believes Uefa (Union of European Football Associations) should not have chosen these countries as hosts of such an influential event in the first place.“I think that they were wrong, because what they should say is that ‘if you want this tournament, you sort your problems out. Until we see a massive improvement... you do not deserve these prestigious tournaments in your country.’”
In a statement Uefa said: “Uefa Euro 2012 brings the spotlight on the host countries and clearly creates an opportunity to address and confront such societal issues. Uefa’s ‘zero tolerance’ approach to racism is still valid both on and off the pitch and ultimately the referee has the power to stop or abandon a match should racist incidents occur.” Uefa said it was working with both Poland and Ukraine to ensure the safety of travelling teams and their fans. Meanwhile the British Foreign Office advises travelling fans of African-Caribbean or Asian descent to take “extra care.”
But it is not only the racism issue that is causing concern. Others are queuing up to boycott too. The German chancellor Angela Merkel and assorted EU chiefs are to shun Ukraine in protest at the treatment and imprisonment of the opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko, who was beaten up in April while being transferred from prison to hospital.
However Yuri Gromnytsky, from the Euro 2012 organising committee, said, “If some politicians are trying to put pressure on Ukraine it’s unfair.” Gromnytsky insisted England fans would get a warm welcome in Donetsk. “Security will be OK. Our people have made all the preparations. They will see great pubs and an excellent stadium, one of the best in the world.”
Explore…1 Samuel 15:34—16:13
From Fraser McNaughton
Her charm is legendary, but Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), is far from a pushover. Of herself she says, “I look under the skin of countries’ economies and I help them make better decisions and be stronger, to prosper and create employment.” Recently however, the IMF chief has been rounded upon by Greece’s political establishment after her description of the Greeks as rampant tax-dodgers.
At a time when strong leadership is needed in order to guide the European Union through the current financial recession, the managing director of the IMF is one of the world’s most powerful women, working in the eye of the world’s worst financial storm in living memory. One could think of the IMF as a global payday loan company for countries who have gotten into trouble and can’t meet their financial commitments – the difference being that instead of charging sky-high interest rates, it demands radical economic reforms.
Dekka Aikenhead, in an article in the Guardian on May 25, stated: “Voters in Greece and France have decided they don’t like the sound of that at all and so, as the crisis accelerates, Lagarde’s job is looking increasingly indivisible from a mission to save the euro. Some critics have suggested that the appointment of a europhile former French finance minister was akin to putting a drunk behind the bar; a former IMF chief economist has warned she is essentially in denial about the fundamental flaws of the euro and likely to ‘throw loans’ at its problems…All leaders have to make difficult decisions so when Lagarde studies the Greek balance sheet and demands measures she knows may mean women won’t have access to a midwife when they give birth, and patients won’t get life-saving drugs, and the elderly will die alone for lack of care – does she block all of that out and just look at the sums?”
Lagarde indicated that she had more sympathy for victims of poverty in sub-Saharan Africa than Greeks hit by the economic crisis. She said, “As far as Athens is concerned, I also think about all those people who are trying to escape tax all the time. All these people in Greece who are trying to escape tax.” That uncompromising description of Greeks as rampant tax-dodgers has provoked a furious reaction in Athens less than a month before the crisis-hit country heads to the polls.
Explore: 1 Samuel 8:4–11, (12–15), 16–20, (11:14–15)
Faced with Samuel’s retirement as Israel’s judge, mediating God’s leadership over the people, the elders demand an earthly, human king.
In the current global financial crises there are also yearnings for different kinds of leaders.
From Paul Turley
The Group of Eight (G8) met in the last days of May this year, as they do every year. This year, apart from an obvious focus on Greece and the fate of the Euro, the discussion centred on global food security as it has done since 2009. In that year, the G8 nations pledged $20 billion US dollars to support food security. Even though since then only 22% of those promised funds have been delivered, the leaders of the G8 continue to push for a comprehensive, global approach to food security.
“Today we commit to launch a New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition to accelerate the flow of private capital to African agriculture, take to scale new technologies and other innovations that can increase sustainable agricultural productivity, and reduce the risk borne by vulnerable economies and communities,” stated the G8 leaders. “This New Alliance will lift 50 million people out of poverty over the next decade.”
Will this New Alliance achieve its goal? Or will it fall far short, like so many global initiatives from the G8, the G20, NATO, and the UN? We will have to wait and see, but without vision, without the possibility of a new and different world order, we are doomed to repeat the mistakes and follies of the past.
Currently, more than 6,500 US citizens, including economists, and 1,500 major religious leaders, rabbis and pastors have signed a Jubilee USA Network petition calling for a new framework and vision for debt relief and Jubilee Germany has gathered petitions from across Europe. “It is impossible to have any sustainable G8 development initiatives without addressing the international debt crisis,” said Eric LeCompte, Jubilee USA’s Executive Director.
The vision reported by the author of Isaiah 6 is a vision of holiness, set-apartness. This vision of the purity and power of God galvanizes the author and sets his life on a different path. It gives him the courage to say yes.
We do not know what is in the minds of those leaders of the G8 as they return to their respective countries where the pressure of domestic issues threatens to swamp the good work they have done together at Camp David. Some of them perhaps only said the right things with no true intent to follow through once they were home. But many of them must have been inspired by the vision of a better world and by the commitment of their colleagues to work toward making it a reality.
Explore Isaiah 6:1–8...
From Paul Turley
On Wednesday May 9, 2012, United States President Barak Obama made world headlines by announcing his support for same-sex marriage.
Joining political leaders in Canada and most of the nations of Western Europe, including the United Kingdom, the President’s position reflects that of the majority Americans, according to opinion polls.
The President said that his thinking had evolved. “Over the course of several years... at a certain point I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.”
Republicans have generally reacted moderately to the President’s statement with some strategists suggesting that the party should take a similar stance (see second link below).
The way the President spoke of the issues as something he has thought about, and talked with family and friends about, invites us to do the same. Whatever our views are or have been the President’s announcement invites us to take time to think about, and perhaps rethink, those views.
Presidents and other political and civic leaders have a tremendous responsibility to work toward unity and the inclusion of all in civic life and the life of the community. Unity is also the great calling of the Church. In the Acts text for this week we read of the first miracle in the life of the new Church: the unifying act that meant all heard the Good News in their own language. At the beginning, unity and inclusion trumped all.
As the President said, “It is important to treat others the way you would want to be treated.”
From Paul Turley
On May 6, 2012, people all over the globe witnessed the same event and yet each of them saw something different and expressed it in a different way.
The night of Sunday, May 6, gave us a “supermoon,” or to use its proper astronomical name, the perigee-syzygy (perigee: closest point of an elliptical orbit; syzygy: straight line made of three bodies in a gravitational system) of the Earth-Moon-Sun system. About once a year the distance between the Earth and the moon is at its shortest at the time the moon is full, and on that night the moon looks bigger to us here on Earth.
The phenomena occurs across the globe, for those who are awake and waiting for it and for those who are asleep and unaware or uncaring about its occurrence, for those who have a clear sky and for those who sky is dense with cloud.
The supermoon is a wonderful metaphor for the Gospel. Christians believe that the action of God in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is a universal event that impacts all people everywhere. Some are aware and respond; some are unaware or don’t respond.
Those who do respond to God in Jesus the Christ, while they are all witnesses to the same good news, experience that good news in different ways and express that experience differently. If we decide that there is only one way or one set of words that must be used to describe the experience of being called and welcomed by God we diminish our experience of the experience and we do not gain from the experience of others. It would be as if we decided that only one picture of the supermoon was the real or authentic picture, that the rest had no or lesser meaning and value. What a sad state of affairs that would be!
Explore... Acts 1:15–17, 21–26
From Ray McGinnis
There is a children’s Dr. Seuss story called “Twenty-Three Daves,” about a woman who had twenty-three sons and how she named them all Dave. While Pushpa Basnet, who is 28 years old, doesn’t have any children named Dave, she shares a two-story home with forty children and none of them are her biological offspring. They are children of parents who are serving time in prison in Pushpa’s country of Nepal.
Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world. As a poor country it doesn’t have the social safety nets available in many Western nations. Consequently, when an adult who is a parent is charged with a crime and sent to jail, their children must go to jail with them if there are no other relatives to care for them. The children can’t be left alone and the Nepalese Government does not provide housing for parentless children.
This is where Pushpa Basnet fits in. At the age of twenty-one Pushpa was studying social work. During her studies she went to a number of local prisons and encountered children among the prison population. When she tried to tell others about what she had encountered, people just laughed and thought she was crazy. But Pushpa didn’t give up.
Pushpa decided to do something and started a non-governmental organization to care for children of prison inmates. Some of the first children to participate in the program had never been outside a prison. “I would’ve probably always had a sad life,” said Laxmi, 14 years old. “But now I won’t, because of Pushpa.”
Since 2005 Pushpa and “The Early Childhood Development Center” have made it possible for over one hundred children of incarcerated parents to live in residential homes where they get the benefits of schooling, meals, and health care.
From Ray McGinnis
Linda Thibodeaux and Jordan Merecka are two young people who met under unusual circumstances. When they were first introduced (by their physical therapists and nurses) Jordan was attached to a four hundred pound artificial heart (which he called “Big Blue”) and Linda was recovering from heart transplant surgery and needed to wear a face mask. But because they were both going through the same procedures they found it easy to break the ice and talk about their own journey of sickness and their hopes for recovery through the transplant operations.
Initially what brought them together were their medical conditions. But as they spent time together and got to know each other they discovered other things they had in common, such as a love of cooking and watching alligator shows. Their blossoming friendship helped Jordan and Linda support each other as Jordan waited for a new heart at the Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston. Jordan got quite sick in October 2011 before a heart donor was found. It was around that time the young couple recognized that what they shared was a friendship that had blossomed into a romance.
“I felt like [I was] getting a whole new heart again, but it was him and it was a beautiful moment,” Linda recalls. As they look forward to a new life together, they joke that they always remember to remind each other to “take their meds.” Together they are also committed to signing up organ donors. “I wouldn’t be here without someone donating their heart,” said Linda. “It’s such a selfless act.”
Explore… Acts 8:26–40
From Ray McGinnis
In the film Iron Lady Meryl Streep plays Margaret Thatcher, England’s Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990. The movie introduces the viewer to an aging former Prime Minister with dementia unrecognized when she shops for groceries at the age of 82 in 2008. The movie jumps back and forth between episodes of her biography, starting with her youth, working in the family grocery store in Grantham, and inspired by her dad’s political speeches. World War Two brings out in her a tenacity to survive and succeed. She gets admitted to Oxford and gets her degree. She remembers her struggle, as a young lower-middle class woman, to break into the clique of aristocratic upper-class male-dominated Tory party and win a seat in the British Parliament in 1958. In the midst of her ambitions for political office, she accepts a marriage proposal by businessman Denis Thatcher. And while she does give birth to a daughter and a son, her priority is to launch her career as a politician. She states: “One’s life must matter, beyond all the cooking and the cleaning and the children.”
Focus: Thatcher struggles to find a place within the Tory party as the only female elected as a “Lady Member” of the House. Other members of the British Parliament laugh at her high voice. She doesn’t flinch and over time becomes Education Secretary in Prime Minister Health’s cabinet when the Conservatives defeat the Labour party in 1970. Dismayed by the leadership in her party, her choice to run for Leader of the Conservative Party involves taking voice coaching and careful attention to how she should dress in order to change her image and attain the mantle of Prime Minister. For the next eleven years she steers her nation in a direction that she believes is best for her people.
From Paul Turley
Life in Syria at this present moment is at best uncertain, and at worst, a brutal bloodbath. In this environment, with so much at stake, making good choices must be the hardest thing.
Der Spiegel, the German news magazine, gives us an insight into the pain and confusion inside Syria with their interview of Hussein. Hussein is a young Syrian rebel fighter recovering in Lebanon from a shrapnel wound he received in early March 2012 in the battle in Homs for Baba Amr.
Originally a salesman, Hussein at age 24, is now a member of the ‘burial brigade’ whose task is to execute captured government soldiers, with a knife to the throat.
From salesman to executioner in less than twelve months.
Hussein, who has been arrested twice and tortured, has also lost uncles and cousins at the hands of government forces and wants revenge.
Hussein not only considers his choice to act as executioner of government soldiers to be the right one, he considers it somehow inevitable. “Children in France,” he says, “grow up with French, and learn to speak it perfectly. We Syrians were brought up with the language of violence. We don’t speak anything else.”
While most of us cannot imagine what it must be like to make the choices that Hussein has to make, we too have to make choices between many conflicting truths.
Following the resurrection appearance of Jesus to his disciples, those men and women had a choice to make. Was the truth that Jesus was dead going to be the truth that defined their lives from now on? Or was the truth that they had experienced the presence of the risen Christ in a real and tangible way going to be the truth by which they lived?
For them and for us, this is a life and death choice. If the truth that everything ended at the cross prevails then there is no hope and the kinds of choices that Hussein and so many others make really do seem to be the only truth.
If, however, in mysterious and powerful ways, life goes on and death is not the final word, then this truth offers us all new and life-giving, life-affirming choices.
Explore... Luke 24: 36b–48
From Paul Turley
The long retreat from Afghanistan by the forces of the USA, Australia and the other members of the coalition is beginning. But what happens to the country now?
In an opinion piece in the Melbourne Age, columnist Hugh White tells us that one of the objectives of the coalition was to train Afghans to build and sustain a credible army and police force in order that they might maintain law and order and defend democracy once the coalition was gone.
White asks, “Does this sound credible?” Among other facts White presents is the following: “Last year, the former US ambassador in Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry, put the problem starkly. The Afghan army and police will cost about $4.5 billion in 2014, and the Kabul government’s total revenue will be $1.6 billion. Clearly the army will only survive if outsiders are willing to fund it indefinitely.”
White makes the obvious point that with the economies of the USA and Europe in a fragile state and the outlook unclear, funding for such a venture is uncertain at best.
Does this sound credible? It is a question we must ask of White’s work, of Eilenberry’s statements, of all of the information we receive about Afghanistan. It is a question we must ask ourselves regularly as we try to make sense of all of the information we are presented with throughout our lives. It is the question that Thomas and the other disciples had to answer for themselves in the days following Jesus’ death. It is a question we must ask ourselves this Easter and every Easter.
From Sandra Rooney
It’s been a year since the earthquake and tsunami that devastated whole communities and claimed so many lives on northeastern coast of Japan. Among the stories that tell of the slow pace of recovery efforts and continued concern about the nuclear facility, there are other stories being told, stories of hope and life. One such story is about Atsushi Chiba, a retired undertaker in the small town of Kamaishi.
When rescuers were finally able to enter the devastated city and started pulling the dead from the rubble, they took them to a school, where the gymnasium quickly became a large morgue. Mr. Chiba recognized the trauma people would experience finding the bodies of loved ones, covered in mud, limbs rigid, their faces contorted in agony. In an interview, he said, “I thought that if the bodies were left this way, the families who came to claim them wouldn’t be able to bear it.” Understanding that respect for the dead is a way of comforting the living, he began going regularly to the morgue to prepare the bodies for viewing, soothing limbs tense with rigor mortis and applying a little makeup to make them appear less gaunt.
The significance of what Mr. Chiba did is conveyed in the experience of Fumie Arai when she went in search of her mother. “I dreaded finding my mother’s body, lying alone on the cold ground among strangers,” she said. “When I saw her peaceful, clean face, I knew someone had taken care of her until I arrived. That saved me.”
And, at Mr. Chiba’s urging, Kamaishi became one of the only hard-hit communities to cremate all of its dead, in accordance with Japanese custom, even though it required using the services of crematoriums as much as 100 miles away.
Kota Ishii, who spent three months in Kamaishi chronicling Mr. Chiba’s work, said the story shows how “small acts of kindness can bring a little humanity, even in a tragedy that defies all imagination.”
As the community was preparing to mark the first anniversary of the disaster, a Buddhist priest paid tribute to Mr. Chiba for the part he played in the city’s emotional recovery. “Whether you are religious or not, mourning for the dead is a fundamental need,” he said. “Mourning starts by taking care of the body. It’s the last you see of your loved one, and you want to remember them as beautiful as they were in life.”
Explore…John 20:1-18 and Mark 16:1-8
From Fraser Macnaughton
The drama of Holy Week surely has its contemporary counterpart in recent stories emanating from China where young Tibetans take drastic steps to publicise and protest on the 53rd anniversary of the failed Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule. The latest protest according to the London-based Free Tibet group was 18-year-old Gepey, who self-immolated in Aba, a town that is under heavy security lockdown in the western Sichuan province. The group says Gepey was a monk from the town’s Kirti Monastery, the scene of numerous protests against the Chinese government over the past several years.More than two dozen Tibetans, including several teenagers, have set themselves on fire in China over the last year, protesting against China’s suppression of their religion and culture, and calling for the return of the Dalai Lama.
Chinese officials have sought to discredit Tibetans who set themselves on fire in protest at China’s rule over their region, calling them outcasts, criminals, and mentally ill people being manipulated by the exiled Dalai Lama. China blames supporters of the Dalai Lama for encouraging the self-immolations and anti-government protests that have led to the deaths of an unknown number of Tibetans at the hands of police. The Dalai Lama has praised the courage of those who engage in self-immolation and has attributed the protests to what he calls China’s “cultural genocide” in Tibet. But the Dalai Lama also says he does not encourage the protests, noting that they could invite an even harsher crackdown.
According to Wu Zegang, an ethnic Tibetan who is Beijing’s top administrator in Aba, “Some of the suicides are committed by clerics returning to lay life, and they all have criminal records or suspicious activities. They have a very bad reputation in society.” Wu Zegang said the self-immolations were “orchestrated and supported” by the Dalai Lama and Tibetan independence forces. He said that before setting themselves on fire, the immolators shouted, “Independence for Tibet” and “other slogans that aim to divide the nation.”
This is a sensitive time for Tibet, and for all of China. China’s annual legislative session has convened and it is a time when security is tightened across the country. March is also when Tibetans mark significant anniversaries, including that of the unsuccessful 1959 revolt that caused the Dalai Lama to flee, and the deadly anti-government riots that rocked the Tibetan capital of Lhasa in 2008.
From Fraser Macnaughton
When we think of broken relationships we tend to think of those familial inter-personal ones. But there are also those structural relationships based on trust between governments or institutions or between industries and the public. The story of Allen Stanford illustrates how hard it will be to reconcile broken relationships between banks or financial institutions and the general public, as well as with current and future potential customers.
Allen Stanford, a Texan financier, knight of Antigua, Washington power player, and the billionaire benefactor of English cricket, has been found guilty of orchestrating a $7 billion Ponzi scheme. After a six-week trial in Houston, Texas, a jury found him guilty of conspiracy and 12 other criminal charges, including obstruction. During the trial prosecutors argued that Stanford used his clients’ money to fuel his “lavish lifestyle and his loser companies” in a massive Ponzi scheme that spanned two decades. Stanford, they argued, conned investors into buying certificates of deposit (CDs) from his bank on the Caribbean island nation of Antigua, telling them they were a safe investment. By 2008 Stanford’s bank owed depositors more than $7 billion, money that it did not have, and Stanford had blown huge chunks of that cash on luxury yachts, private jets, and cricket sponsorship. The bank was “his own personal ATM,” said the prosecutor, William Stellmach.
In damning testimony James Davis, Stanford Financial Group’s former chief financial officer, told jurors that his boss was “the chief faker” – a man who threatened to fire anyone who questioned the $2 billion that prosecutors say Stanford pocketed from his Antiguan bank. As worried investors pulled out their cash, Davis told the court that Stanford had tried to use his beloved Antigua to bail him out. He cooked the books and the 1,500 undeveloped acres Stanford had bought on the island for $64 million were set to be valued at $3.2 billion.
Stanford was once considered to be one of the wealthiest people in the United States, with an estimated net worth of more than $2 billion. He’s been jailed without bond since being indicted in 2009.
From Fraser Macnaughton
The long running Occupy London camp outside St Paul’s Cathedral has finally been ended by police and bailiffs. However there is continuing disquiet as to the extent of collusion between authorities and the Cathedral clergy. Indeed St Paul’s Cathedral has been accused of “betraying” the Occupy London activists after giving the City of London police permission to remove protesters from its steps and end the four-and-a-half month camp.
The cathedral’s decision, coupled with a previous high court decision obtained by the City of London, meant police successfully removed the entire Occupy London Stock Exchange camp from the square outside St Paul’s. Activists protesting against the financial and banking elite were told by bailiffs that they had five minutes to pack their tents and leave or they would be obstructing a court order. Hundreds of police officers with riot helmets stood ready beside dozens of bailiffs. Four people, believed by protesters to be police officers, were standing on the balcony of the cathedral. Soon after, police revealed to press that they had the cathedral’s permission to remove protesters from its steps.
“I was shocked to see policemen on the balcony,” said Naomi Colvin, a spokeswoman for Occupy. “It seemed to be collusion. Tammy [another activist] just gave an interview saying how betrayed she felt when she learned the cathedral gave permission for us to be removed from its steps…That wasn’t covered in the high court orders – it’s like St Paul’s has learned nothing from the last four months.”
Among those protesters was Jonathan Bartley, director of the Christian think-tank Ekklesia, who claimed he was kicked repeatedly by police and dragged away from the cathedral. “The tragedy is that while Christians were praying on the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral, the cathedral gave permission for them to be forcibly and violently removed. The cathedral has backed and colluded in this eviction.”
Kai Wargalla, a 27-year-old student from Germany who has been camping at St Paul’s since the occupation began on October 15, 2011, said: “We hadn’t expected to be evicted from the cathedral steps because previously the church has said it would give us sanctuary when there’s a violent eviction.”
Explore…Psalm 107:1–3, 17–22
From Sandra Rooney
It is getting closer to spring in the northern hemisphere and in spring we often find ourselves more focused on God’s creation. The earth seems to be reborn, hibernating animals awaken, and those whom winter has held captive are liberated. The activities of Earth Day, to be celebrated April 22, challenge us to acknowledge and accept our role in the continued blessings of creation. If only briefly, we recognize the wisdom of the Native Americans, and think of the implications of our decisions for seven generations and we see, if only dimly, the truth of Chief Seattle’s words, “Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons and daughters of the earth.”
Sparked by a twelve-year-old boy, wise beyond his years, a movement now called the iMatter Movement is mobilizing young people to take action on behalf of this and future generations. They are also working on training programs for young people and future events include a global day of marches and a large Earth Day event in Washington, D.C.
In 2006, when Alec Loorz was twelve years old, he saw the film An Inconvenient Truth by Al Gore and says that he has been a climate change advocate ever since. Because of his age Loorz was rejected for Al Gore’s training program, so he says he basically trained himself. He started an organization (then called Kids vs Global Warming) and created a website, developed a presentation, and “somehow,” he says, “started getting invited to events all over the country.” Now 17, Alec has spoken to some 300,000 people from all over the United States and the world.
Last year seven teenagers, led by Loorz, took a bold step. They filed ten suits against the U.S. federal government and individual states under a legal principle which holds that the government is responsible for protecting natural resources in trust for the public and future generations. The idea came from a group of attorneys whom Loorz got to know. They are developing a legal theory called Atmospheric Trust Litigation. Simply put, it says that the government has a legal responsibility to protect the planet and atmosphere for future generations. This responsibility is part of public trust doctrine and common law which have been around for many years. The preliminary hearing was to have been held in December, but at the request of the federal government it was moved from San Francisco to Washington, D.C. and a new date has not yet been announced.
The main thing that the teenagers are demanding is that the government develops a comprehensive plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and recognize the atmosphere as a public trust that must be protected for their generation and future generations. “Above all,” Alec says, “we are demanding that the people in charge of our future begin to govern as if our future matters.”
From Sandra Rooney
Tensions between peoples, tribes, and clans are as old as recorded history. In today’s world, religious conflicts and hostility appear to be on the increase. People talk about the need for interfaith dialogue, but what does that mean? Folks in the state of Utah in the United States are finding out.
Utah might seem a most unlikely place for serious interfaith dialogue to happen. Isn’t the population just Mormons? The answer is no, it isn’t just Mormons. March 8 marked the end of Interfaith Month in Utah, with dozens of religious groups participating in everything from tours of various religious facilities, to seminars, meditation gatherings, and service projects for adults and youth.
This remarkable month of interfaith activities got its start with the 2002 Winter Olympics. The Olympic charter requires host cities to provide religious services and counseling for all of the visiting athletes. It turned out that that not just the Olympic athletes benefited from having 45 faith leaders, representing more than 25 different religious groups, in the same place at the same time. According to Colleen Scott, publicist for the Salt Lake Interfaith Roundtable (SLIR), “There was so much fellowship that was created there that we said, ‘Let’s continue this.’” And continue it they have.
SLIR members meet monthly for a special luncheon and there are a variety of opportunities for members of difference religious groups to interact and work together, and come to appreciate each other. Robert Millet, a prominent Latter Day Saints (LDS) scholar, speaking about the importance of interfaith dialogue, said, “I am immeasurably grateful for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but at the same time, I have found myself, more and more often, looking into the eyes of those of other faiths, sensing their goodness, perceiving their commitment, and realizing more surely that God knows them, loves them and desires for me to love, respect and better understand them.”
This is the kind of attitude that is behind the events of Interfaith Month. One of the kickoff events was a service project at an interfaith homeless shelter in Salt Lake City. Tony Milner, the shelter’s executive director and a member of the United Church of Christ in Holladay, said, “I’m a big proponent of different groups interacting through service. Not discussing their differences at a forum, but just working together. Putting it into practice.” One of the highlight events is always the Interfaith Music Tribute, which was held Feb. 26. According to Alan Bachman, chairman of SLIR, “People are really missing out if they don’t come to the tribute. They will not walk out the same person.”
Explore…Genesis 17:1–7, 15–20
From Sandra Rooney
It was just a year ago that the world was stunned by the devastating power of the earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan. Recovery efforts continue, but more than recovery, the earthquake and tsunami have spurred innovations to help deal with future disasters.
Shoji Tanaka, who was one of the many volunteers who went to the disaster zone to help with the clean-up, said he was “appalled by the horrifying damage.” However, the experience provided a creative incentive for Mr. Tanaka, who is both an inventor and the president of a Japanese engineering company.
A picture in the New York Times last month shows Mr. Tanaka standing amid several large yellow spheres. He calls his creation “Noah.” It’s his version of a modern ark and his answer to the possibility of another deadly tsunami. Made of fiber-reinforced plastic, the bright yellow globe, four feet in diameter, can withstand blows from a sledgehammer. Designed to hold up to four people, the pod automatically rights itself in water and can survive a 33 ft. drop.
The Noah, which has small air vents and a small window, is intended to be a temporary refuge in the event of a tsunami. People can get inside and be carried along by the water for one or two hours, until help arrives.
The Noah is already on the market, selling for $3,800. Mr. Tanaka has more than 1000 orders for the pods in Japan. He hopes the Noah will become a standard safety item in Japanese households.
Other innovations have resulted from Japan’s twin disasters. Yoshiyuki Sankai, an engineering professor, has been inspired to transform a device called a Hybrid Assistive Limb (HAL) which was initially designed to help patients who can’t walk by monitoring signals sent from their brains to their muscles. Sensors in HAL respond to the signals and then, basically, walk for the person. The robot suit is being used in hospitals in Japan.
Mr. Sankai was approached by a company involved with the cleanup of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. They needed a way to help workers who had to wear extremely heavy, anti-radiation tungsten vests at the site. The weight inhibited their ability to move about. Mr. Sankai is currently working on the prototype of a modified HAL. It is an upper-body frame, which supports the tungsten plates, which can weigh up to 132 pounds, shifting the way the weight is carried so the workers don’t feel it.
The Season of Lent can prompt sober reflection on the brokenness around us.
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