Past Spirit Sightings (The Archives)
From Sandra Rooney
For weeks now, we have watched the news from North Korea following the death, on December 17, of Kim Jong-il who ruled the country with an iron hand following his father’s death in 1994. Soon after the announcement of Kim’s death, the ruling Workers’ Party and other state institutions issued a joint statement naming Kim’s son, Kim Jong-un, “the great successor to the revolution” and “the eminent leader of the military and the people.” Speculation continues regarding the potential implications for South Korea and the rest of the world as the 28-year-old Kim Jong-un assumes leadership of the country and its expanding military and controversial nuclear and missile program.
On December 28 thousands of people lined the streets of Pyongyang, wailing and pounding their chests as Kim’s coffin passed by. “How can the sky not cry,” a weeping soldier standing in the falling snow said to the state TV. The dramatic scenes of grieving show the extent of the personality cult build around Kim Jong-il, in spite of severe economic hardship and a massive famine that killed hundreds of thousands.
At the same time as this event the global community shared the Czech people’s sense of loss at the death of Vaclav Havel on December18. Havel, a poet and playwright, was also a dissident who refused to keep quiet during the years of communist rule. During that time Havel was in and out of prison and lived for two decades under secret-service surveillance. Though Havel’s plays and essays were banned he refused to keep quiet and ultimately became the behind-the-scenes negotiator who brought an end to 40 years of communist rule. This was a peaceful transfer of power, known as the Velvet Revolution, and was accomplished in just two weeks without a single shot being fired. “It was extraordinary the degree to which everything ultimately revolved around this one man,” wrote the historian Timothy Garton Ash.
Havel, self-described as a reluctant politician, became the first post-communist president of Czechoslovakia. After the country split in 1993, he became president of the Czech Republic, forging links with the West and enabling the Republic to enter NATO and the European Union. In his native country, Havel was regarded with both deep affection and ambivalence, even scorn. Foes mocked his slogan during the revolution that truth and love must prevail over lies and hatred, accusing him of being naïve. But Havel never lost his idealism and would sign his name with a small heart.
Explore…1 Samuel 3:1-10, (11–20)
From Fraser Macnaughton
There can be few clearer senses of new beginnings than that of the Kalahari Bushmen of Botswana in southern Africa. In 2002 the Bushmen were evicted at gunpoint from their desert villages and re-located to camps outside of their ancestral lands. Soldiers prevented their return and vandalised wells, blocking their water supply. An intensive campaign by organisations such as Survival International led to legal challenges to the Bushmen’s eviction, and the eviction ruling was overturned in 2006.
The Botswanan high court ruled that the Bushmendid have the right to live on their ancestral lands; three judges stated that they had been deprived of possession of the land “forcibly, wrongly, and without their consent.”The court also found that the government’s refusal to issue the Bushmen with special permits allowing them to be in the reserve was unconstitutional, while its failure to give them special hunting licences was both unlawful and unconstitutional. Lawyers for the Bushmen called the decision a “resounding success.”
More than 1,000 Bushmen had been evicted from the giant Central Kalahari reserve, amid scenes some described as ethnic cleansing. The Bushmen claimed that they were thrown off the land because of diamonds.By an unfortunate geological chance, the central Kalahari game reserve lies right in the middle of the world’s richest diamond-producing area. The diamond deposit at Gope, in the centre of the reserve, was valued at $3.3billion. The Bushmen’s leader, Roy Sesana,said, “They were drilling in an area that people have as their ancestral land. Our ancestors are buried in that land. The Bushmen were chased off their ancestral land because of diamonds.”
In the ruling of 2006 the Bushmen appeared to have won a famous legal victory in their long-running battle to hang on to their ancestral lands. However the court’s ruling met with only partial success. In 2010, when a group of Bushmen brought another case before the courts because their well remained sealed in concrete, the high court ruled in favour of the government this time. Finally, in a decision in January 2011, the Botswanan appeals court found that the Bushmen did indeed have the right to use the well, and to sink new ones. The court said that the government’s conduct towards the Bushmen had been “degrading.”
Hundreds of Bushmen have now returned from the resettlement camps, and a South African organisation, Vox United, plans to drill more wells next year. Mining for diamonds will start in 2013, but Gem Diamonds, which bought the rights from De Beers, plans to work with the Bushmen. Even the Botswanan press, once fiercely against the Bushmen, has changed direction.
The Bushmen of Botswana have been terribly damaged, but new beginnings now seem possible. Mr. Sesana said he was heading back to the Kalahari: “My ancestors need my presence in the reserve, they are waiting for me.”
John baptized people as a sign of their repentance, a choosing to go in a new direction. Mark presents Jesus’ baptism as a starting point in Jesus’ ministry.
From Fraser Macnaughton
What would the magi have made of the Hadron Collider and the Higgs boson? In the time of the Christian era science and exploration of the universe have developed at an amazing speed and now scientists are expected to announce they may have caught their first glimpse of the curious subatomic particle known as the Higgs boson, long thought to underpin the microscopic workings of nature. The so-called “God particle” has become the most coveted prize in particle physics since it was postulated in the mid-1960s. Its discovery would rank among the most important scientific advances of the past 100 years and confirm how elementary particles get mass.
Scientists have been hunting the Higgs for more than 30 years with machines so large they are miles across and consume the power of a reasonable-sized town. By way of brief explanation, the theory is that an invisible energy field fills the vacuum of space throughout the universe. When some particles move through the field they feel drag, and gain weight as a result. Others, like particles of light or photons, feel no drag at all and remain mass-less.
Without the field – or something to do its job – all fundamental particles would weigh nothing and hurtle around at the speed of light. That would spell disaster for the formation of familiar atoms in the early universe and rule out life as we know it.
This is all going inside the large Hadron Collider at Cern, the European particle physics laboratory near Geneva, recognised by lovers of Dan Brown’s books. “We need more data! I’m keeping my champagne on ice,” said Jeff Forshaw, a physicist at Manchester University. “It should be said this is a fantastic achievement by all concerned. The machine has been working wonderfully and it is great to be closing in on the Higgs so soon.”
The magi’s observation of a new star was an “epiphany,” an “out-of-the-ordinary” sign that compelled them to travel and pay homage.
From Sandra Rooney
It’s the only living thing on earth visible from space, the Great Barrier Reef off the northeastern coast of Australia. Made up of over 2900 individual reef systems, at over 2600 km. in length it is longer than the Great Wall of China. And it’sdecaying as a result of the rising temperatures in the Pacific.
We know the importance of coral reefs to ocean health and that healthy marine life is critical to human life. The Great Barrier Reef, like many others worldwide, is threatened over-fishing, pollution and costal development, and by climate change. The major threat from rising sea temperature is “coral bleaching,” which involves the loss of certain algae cells which renders the coral unable to photosynthesize. According to current climate projections, roughly half of the world’s reefs will experience coral bleaching by 2030 – and nearly 95% by 2050. Now a team of Australian scientists based in Sydney has succeeded, for the first time, in freezing billions of coral cells, with the aim of saving them for the future.
The project is being run at the Taronga Zoo in Sydney, where Duncan Kennedy, reporting for the BBC on Dec. 4, said that 7 billion sperm cells and 1.5 billion embryonic cells are currently being stored in liquid nitrogen, frozen for future use at –196o C. According to Dr. Mary Hagedorn, a scientist with the project, they will now have the capacity to thaw the sperm cells, reanimate them and fertilize egg cells, thereby sexually reproducing coral. Dr. Rebecca Spindler, who is also working on the project, said that it’s important to save these cells now because the Great Barrier Reef will never have the innate diversity that currently exists. They have the capacity now, she said, to reintroduce the cells in a few months time to see if damaged coral can successfully repair itself.
The project is just one aspect of a much larger effort being undertaken by the Australian government, which announced in late November its plans to establish the world’s largest marine reserve in the Coral Sea. Environment Minister Tony Burke said the protected zone would cover an area more than one-and-a-half times the size of France. The Coral Sea’s biodiversity is at the heart of the plan, which is now subject to a 90-day consultation process. Among the provisions being recommended are new fishing limits and the banning of exploration for oil and gas. The Coral Sea reserve, if approved, would be approximately 989,842 sq km.
From Sandra Rooney
On Saturday October 10, 2011 three African women were honored in Oslo as recipients of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize. One of them, Leymah Gbowee, emerged as an activist for peace out of the horrors of Liberia’s civil war.
Gbowee says she had a dream in 2003 in which someone urged her to organize the women of her church to pray for peace. “It was a crazy dream,” she said, but she heeded the message. She first rallied the women to pray at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Monrovia, the capital of Liberia. This was the church that both nurtured her faith and was the site of a massacre in 1990. Soon the women decided to reach out to Muslim women too. The women not only prayed, they moved outside the churches and mosques to demonstrate, to protest, and to enlist all who would listen in the cause of peace. An open-air fish market in the capital became their headquarters. Thousands of women responded to the call to demonstrate at the market for peace. The women showed up day after day, despite the blazing sun and drenching rain, praying, waving signs, singing, dancing, chanting, and agitating for peace. The “Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace” was born. The women also vowed to stop having sex with their husbands until the violence ceased.
Bob Herbert, an Op-Ed columnist for The New York Times, writing in 2009 about a film based on Gbowee’s work, Pray the Devil Back to Hell (2008), said, “Prayer seemed like a flimsy counterweight to the forces of Charles Taylor, the tyrannical president at the time, and the brutally predatory rebels who were trying to oust him from power. The violence was excruciating. People were dying by the tens of thousands. Rape had become commonplace. Children were starving.”
It started with prayer, but didn’t stop there, and the women’s efforts eventually led to a meeting with Liberia’s then-president and warlord, Charles Taylor. At that meeting Taylor committed to opening peace talks with the rebel group. When it looked like the talks might break down, Gbowee and nearly 200 of her followers staged a sit-in, demanding that the two sides stay put until they reached an agreement. A tentative peace was established, bringing to an end 14 years of violence and war. Three years later, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, also honored with the Nobel Peace Prize, was sworn in as the president of Liberia, a triumph for the women who had worked so courageously for peace.
Today Gbowee continues her social justice work in Accra, Ghana, working with the “Women Peace and Security Network-Africa” which she founded in 2007.
From Fraser Macnaughton
To change attitudes is something that can take generations…and is something that needs much determination in order to maintain hoped-for change. One story, that may be a much needed shot in the arm for the planet and its biodiversity, concerns developments surrounding the delicacy of shark fin soup. Seventy-three million sharks are killed yearly for shark fin soup. Environmental groups are claiming a significant victory in the campaign to save the global shark population, after the Peninsula hotel group said it would stop serving shark fin dishes from January.
Peninsula, one of Asia’s most prestigious hotel chains, has declared that it would no longer sell the dishes, considered a delicacy in Hong Kong and other parts of the region, “in recognition of the threat facing the global shark population and in line with the company's sustainability vision.” The move will affect the group’s nine hotels, including those in China and Hong Kong, the centre of the global shark fin market. Hong Kong handles as much as 80% of the global trade in shark fins, bringing in catches from more than 100 countries, with Spain by far its biggest supplier.
Many shark populations have plummeted by 90% in recent decades, according to campaigners, who warn that if over-fishing continues at the current rate the most commonly targeted species will be extinct in a few years. After years of fierce opposition from traders and retailers, campaigners in Hong Kong say the local population is finally waking up to the ecological catastrophe. Charlie Lim, a shark fin trader, is receptive to the message on sustainable fishing but accuses some campaigners of hypocrisy. “The Chinese tradition of eating shark fin will be maintained, but will increasingly come from sustainable fisheries,” says Lim, a prominent member of Hong Kong’s marine products association.
Campaigners believe Hong Kong will be viewed as a pariah as long as it fails to introduce measures to protect shark populations similar to those introduced elsewhere. Hong Kong has always been seen as a role model for the rest of China, and it would appear that the message that eating shark fins is unsustainable may restore hope that at least this market may work in a sustainable way.
From Fraser Macnaughton
Something different is happening and we need to be able to discern God’s presence and how God’s way can be seen as the Occupy protests grow everywhere: symbolic for now, but changing debate. It is perhaps ironic, given the nature of the bailouts and hundreds of thousands of repossessions triggered by the economic crisis, that resistance to it would at some stage become a battle over public space with the risk of mass evictions. In the last few weeks, as popular support for these mostly peaceful protests has grown, the struggle for the right to stage them at all has intensified. All across the world encampments have been raided or banned. But no sooner does the state tear one down than people set another one up, sometimes in unlikely places.
The breadth of appeal for this action against the political and financial elites, and the converging crises in our economies and democracies for which they are responsible, is unprecedented. The Occupy model can be replicated because in one sense Wall Street is everywhere. It has insinuated itself into the lives of every pensioner, student, parent, library user, bus passenger, public employee, and homeowner. It has become a global movement and needs no translation. The aim of occupations seems to be not to challenge the existing order directly but to highlight its inequalities and inequities in the hope that the public will be galvanised to transform it.
The Occupy movement is a place where those working against war and those working to protect environment, library services, legal aid, public healthcare, and public sector jobs (to mention just a few) have been able to find one another. Hope where there was cynicism; solidarity where there had been suspicion. The occupations are more effective as a launch pad than a destination. Nobody knows where this is going. But it is on the move.
From Ray McGinnis
The movie Margin Call is based on the news stories of the economic crisis of 2008. A financial investment firm, referred to in the movie as “The Firm,” resembles the early collapse of the Wall Street firm, Lehman Brothers. The film begins with layoffs and Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci) is taken to an office and advised he is one of the many on his floor who will be fired. Eric has twenty minutes to pack his personal things and leave. He has been working on some crucial data and on his way out Eric tosses a computer thumb drive to an entry level analyst named Peter, cautioning, “Be careful.” Peter, curious to learn what he’s been handed, discovers that the historic volatility index for the firm has been breached and that the firm is overleveraged in mortgage-backed securities.
Enter one of the bosses, sales head Sam Rogers (Kevin Spacey), summoned at 11 p.m. to assess the writing on the wall. This leads to a round of meetings that last through the night. Before dawn, the helicopter of CEO John Tuld (Jeremy Irons) arrives on the roof of the skyscraper. Tuld wants to know about the historical volatility index. But he isn’t good with numbers. “Speak to me as you would a small child, or a golden retriever,” he urges the young risk assessment analyst.
This reading from Isaiah is part of a much longer poem (63:7—64:12) which describes how a chasm has developed between the disillusioned people of Judah and the One who is their source.
From Ray McGinnis
The movie Puss in Boots bears no resemblance to the fairy tale from the late 17th century. Other characters in this movie, Jack and Jill, are no longer the fabled sister and brother; instead they are a married couple. While borrowing names from children’s literature, this animated movie has a plot all its own. It is the story of Puss in Boots, an orphan who becomes an outlaw and his friend and partner in crime, Humpty Dumpty, who is preoccupied with finding some magic beans. Jack and Jill have already stolen the magic beans. And so ensues one of the first obstacles in the pursuit of Humpty Dumpty’s object of desire: the golden goose and eggs at the end of the magic bean stalk.
Humpty Dumpty, recently escaped from jail, tries to recruit Puss to help rob Jack and Jill of the stolen magic beans. Puss is at first a little leery of his estranged childhood friend so Humpty recruits Kitty Softpaws, a feline with flirtatious powers to help purr-suade Puss that the adventure has a lot of upside. (Oh and there are a lot of puns in this very punny movie.) As Puss is trying to clear his name and robbing Jack and Jill of the magic beans becomes part of Puss’ strategy to seek redemption.
From Bruce Grindlay
Young people in a congregation in Adelaide, South Australia recently participated in a creative fundraising project which encouraged them to see ways they could take part in faithful service. While the Children’s/Junior Youth Ministry group received funds from the church budget for Sunday morning programs, the funding of a weekday children’s program was more challenging. Most of the participants in the Sunday morning program are children, grand-children, and great grand-children of church members. On the other hand most of the children who attend the weekday program are from families who are on the margins of the life of the church.
After some discussion, those attending the weekday outreach program were invited to participate in a creative way to raise money for resources, as a way of affirming the congregation’s support for the project. Each child as given $5 and invited to “go and grow” this sum. This project caused some consternation, but the Children’s Worker stated, “Such is the practice and trust of faith.”
Several of the children/families did nothing but return the money at the end of the time period. But the rest made many times over the money they had received. Some had obtained permission from the Church Council to set up a Saturday morning market stall in front of the church building, which is situated on a busy main street. Here they sold handmade crafts and food they had prepared with the assistance of a parent or elder sibling. Others sold these items at school or to family members. Two children, from whom perhaps least was expected, raised $100 and nearly $130 each. It was a wonderful experience for the whole congregation. As the children reflected on the experience they told of the joy of having such trust placed in them.
In other countries children and young people participate in raising funds and acts of service by investing themselves in ministries of outreach. In the United States many take part in a “day of service” in January each year to commemorate the life and work of Martin Luther King, Jr. In Canada, some young people in the Anglican Church and other denominations participate in work projects in Central America during their school holidays. One particular project was funded entirely by the teenage participants, who spent several years building up their travel fund with proceeds from sales, drives, and special collections. The mother of one of the teenagers, who had joined the group for project in Nicaragua, reflected in a blog: “We have done good work here and there was a lot of progress made on the school. But we have made friendships with the children and the parents and the teachers and it is hard to say goodbye. It is likely that we will never see them again and we can only hope that we have planted some seeds of hope for them.”
In Australia The Uniting Church is choosing a path of active waiting – of being agents of compassion – while waiting for the country to make a decision regarding the asylum seekers held in the Christmas Island Detention Centre. As the solution regarding where and how to process asylum seekers is delayed, the Uniting churches are being called to participate in a “ministry of pastoral care and spiritual support” for the detainees and staff at the Centre.
An appeal for this support was issued in a recent report posted on The Transit Lounge, an online publication sponsored by the Uniting Church for young people who care about faith. In this appeal Rev. Alistair Macrae, the President of the Uniting Church in Australia, said, “The Uniting Church has been consistent in its advocacy for a more humane approach to asylum seekers. While we both oppose offshore detention, and recognising continued excision of Christmas Island from our migration zone, we need to match our advocacy with a demonstration of pastoral care and spiritual support of those detained or working in these dreadful places.”
While the debate over asylum seekers continues to polarise Australian politics and society, sometimes up to a thousand people wait in limbo in detention on Christmas Island, in facilities which were built to accommodate 400. This prolonged waiting time takes its toll on the mental and physical health of those waiting to hear if they can pursue a new life in Australia or if they must go back to “where they came from.”
The Uniting Church and the Anglican Diocese of Perth are planning to send a Chaplain to Christmas Island to provide pastoral support for detainees. Through this spiritual support will shine the light of Christ’s compassionate love.
In another story from a congregation in South Australia, which echoes the theme of “shining the light,” an elderly woman requested that the song “Shine, Jesus, Shine” be sung at her funeral, quoting the first two lines of the first verses: “Lord, the light of your love is shining, in the midst of the darkness, shining…”
At the end of our lives, in what ways might people sing about the light of Christ’s compassionate love shining in and through our lives?
From Sandra Rooney
Over the last several weeks, U.S. media have been giving increased attention to demonstrations called “Occupy Wall Street.” It all began September 17 when several hundred protestors began camping out in Zuccoti Park in Lower Manhattan. Their concerns focus on what they see as intolerable financial institution and corporate power and corruption and growing income inequality – the rich getting richer and corporations making profits and their executives being richly rewarded. At the same time, they see the rest of the people increasingly worse off. Thomas Friedman, columnist for the New York Times, described Occupy Wall Street as, “like the kid in the fairy story saying what everyone knows but is afraid to say: the emperor has no clothes.”
Four weeks after the initial actions of Occupy Wall Street, the number of communities where people were joining in solidarity was some 1500 and expected to grow.
The global struggle for positive change is being defined by groups as diverse as the revolutionaries in Tunisia, Egypt and across the Arab world; the strikers in Greece (“Erase the debt and let the rich pay”); the indignados in Spain, a movement born May 15 in Madrid to peacefully protest against the tough austerity measurers enacted in an effort to save the country’s ailing economy; and those occupying Wall Street in the United States and the “occupy” movements in hundreds of other communities in North America and around the world. Where these movements are headed is still an open question, but the hopes and dreams as well as the anger and frustration are real.
Ever present God, enable us to feel your presence in our trials, frustrations, and even anger with the way things are. Help us to see the way forward to the fulfillment of our hopes and dreams of a better life for all. Amen
From Sandra Rooney
Two weeks ago, as the world celebrated the announcement of three African women named to share the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, Wangari Maathai, the first African woman to receive the prize in 2004, was honoured with a state funeral. Professor Maathai died on September 25 after a long battle with ovarian cancer. A bamboo-framed casket made out of water hyacinth and papyrus reeds and draped in the Kenyan flag carried Maathai on her final journey through the streets of Nairobi, in fulfillment of her final wish not to be buried in a wooden coffin. At one time, Maathai had even proposed a ban on wooden coffins arguing that their continued use was a danger to the already endangered forests.
As part of the October 8 service honouring and remembering Wangari Maathai, family members planted an Olea Africana, an African Olive tree, a highly valued indigenous tree which thrives in different climatic conditions. Some 5,000 trees are expected to be planted across the nation in Maathai’s honor.
In her 2004 Novel Prize acceptance speech, Wangari Maathai said she was inspired by her childhood experiences in rural Kenya, where she witnessed forests being cleared and replaced by commercial plantations, which destroyed biodiversity and the capacity of forests to conserve water. She had a vision of trees being planted where the earth was barren. To carry out that vision she found the Green Belt Movement, and for 30 years she mobilized poor women to plant some 30 million trees.
For Maathai the tree also became a symbol of the democratic struggle in Kenya. Although the Green Belt Movement’s tree planting campaign did not initially address the issues of peace and democracy, Maathai said it became clear over time that the success of environmental efforts was not possible without democracy. She helped mobilize citizens, men and women, to challenge widespread abuses of power, corruption and environmental mismanagement. She will be remembered for her courage and tenacity in seeking social justice, conservation and democracy, and for fighting corruption in government.
Professor Maathai had also prepared for a smooth transition at her beloved Green Belt Movement, leading the organization in approving a new constitution, which would expand the membership of the board and set in motion the process of bringing in a new chairperson.
From Fraser Macnaughton
Relationships between groups of people in many of the Middle Eastern countries experiencing elements of the “Arab Spring” are always very fluid. In these extraordinary times all sorts of alliances and deals are set up and some mysterious bedfellows emerge, none more so perhaps in Egypt, which was the catalyst for political change in the region.
“The people and the army are one hand,” had been the chant which resounded around Egypt’s squares as euphoric Egyptians embraced soldiers in the early post-Mubarak days. At that time it was not only the people’s revolution, but the army’s too. Had the army not sided with the protesters in Tahrir Square, the story of Egypt’s revolution might have resembled the stories coming out of Syria, Yemen, and Libya.
However, since that time, relationships have changed. In an article in The Guardian on September 26, 2011, Soumayer Ghannoushi reflects on recent events in Egypt. No longer does the army perceive itself as a partner and ally in the revolution. During the seven months that followed that initial experience, almost 12,000 civilians were tried in military tribunals, a number far greater than Mubarak managed in his 30 years of dictatorship. Torture by police and military personnel remains widespread, with hundreds of reports of beatings, electrocution, and even sexual assault.
Within days of assuming power, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces took a tough stand, outlawing strikes and picketing, and imposing prison sentences on those who defied this ban and took “action that disrupts the country’s security.” The army has since gone even further, introducing curfews and a ban on public protest. However, the continuing demonstrations in Tahrir Square bear witness to the determination of the activists.
Rather than the day-to-day running of the country, the army is more interested in controlling some key issues: strategic national decisions, budgetary allocations, and, especially, making sure that the military itself is free from public scrutiny. In a telling statement, Major General Mamdouh Shaheen, a council member, declared: “We want a model similar to that found in Turkey…Egypt, as a country, needs to protect democracy from the Islamists, because we know that these people do not think democratically.” This is the same justification used for decades by Arab dictators, as they try to legitimise despotism and cripple any attempts at creating a democratic political life.
Moses’ tenacity as he intercedes on behalf of the people is grounded in a profound relationship with God, which is both certain and mysterious.
Relationships between army and protestors in the early days of the Egyptian protest movement appeared to be willing and mutually supportive.
From Fraser Macnaughton
The focus passage for this week examines the people of Israel in the wilderness as they search for their homeland. Centuries on, in this same part of the world, a different (but in many ways similar) people seek the same. In the Middle East land matters. That theme runs through the Bible too. Almost two-thirds of the member states of the United Nations – representing more than 75% of the world’s population – already formally recognise the Palestinian state in some form. The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, is in the process of formally requesting UN membership, despite attempts at a diplomatic compromise by many western states and a pledge from the United States to veto the membership bid. Raising Palestine to full statehood would need to pass the UN Security Council – where it is subject to veto – and then a vote at the General Assembly, comprising all 193 UN member states. This request for membership is in the face of President Obama angering the Palestinian leadership by defending the US threat to veto the bid for statehood while praising revolutions in other parts of the Arab world.
Now the Palestinian leadership is prepared to put statehood on the backburner at the UN Security Council in order to leave room for the revival of peace talks. Obama told the opening of the UN general assembly in New York that negotiation between Israel and the Palestinians, not a Security Council resolution, was the way to ensure a lasting peace. But Obama was challenged by the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, who said US leadership on the issue had failed and called for a new initiative involving Europe and Arab states to create a Palestinian state within a year. Obama said that “the Palestinian people deserve a state of their own” and that vision had been delayed for too long. But he offered no new initiatives and, tellingly, did not repeat earlier calls – for which he has come under fire – for negotiations to be based on the borders at the time of the 1967 war, with agreed land swaps.
Sarkozy called for a fresh set of negotiations, with wider involvement of European and Arab nations, based on a timetable that would see the borders of a Palestinian state agreed within six months and a final deal within a year. “We should not look for the perfect solution. Choose the path of compromise,” said Sarkozy.
Justice and equality matter to God.
From Bruce Grindlay
I was working with some young children in church school. It happened to be that the activity for the day was centred on the Ten Commandments. I could, I’m sure, do the necessary work to prepare a sermon for the day, but preparing an appropriate session for 3–6 year olds was quite another task. So I chose to focus on just one of the commandments, the one about honouring your father and mother.
I invited the children to talk about some of good things about mothers and fathers, about homes. We then spoke about God being like both a mother and father to all of us. We drew images about “honouring” parents and a “creative” drawing about “honouring” God, and our being loved by God. I then moved this honouring of God into a reflection on honouring each other.
The commandments offer a vision of the world that God promises to bring to fulfillment. In a recent posting at dailyheadspa.com, Paul Turley posed this question: What if the ten commandments are actually ten statements of hope? What if, “thou shalt” does not mean, “you must” but “one day, you will; it’s a promise.”One day you will not steal... To that we might add: one day all people will honor each other.
What might the world be like if we imagined the world of God’s promise? In 2004, John Lennon’s song Imagine was voted by Rolling Stone as the third greatest song of all time. For generations the song has inspired people to imagine, to hope, to have a vision of a world living in peace and harmony.
On August 29, 2011, the Herald Sun told of a young singer from Melbourne, Emmanuel Kelly, whose rendition of Imagine earned him a standing ovation from the judges and the audience on the auditioned television show, “The X Factor.”
Emmanuel and his brother Ahmed had been abandoned at an orphanage in Iraq, both suffering limb deficiencies as a result of chemical warfare. They were adopted and brought to Australia by the head of Children First Foundation, Moira Kelly.
Ronan Keating, one of the judges, was full of praise for Emmanuel. “I don't think I’ve ever been moved as I was by that performance,” he said.
Explore…Exodus 20:1–4, 7–9, 12–20
From Bruce Grindlay
Although there are many who think otherwise, especially with the severe drought currently in East Africa, Australia is the driest inhabited continent in the world. Adelaide, the city in which I live, is said to be the driest capital city of the driest state of the driest continent on Earth.
The interior of the “great southland” has one of the lowest rainfalls in the world. About three quarters of the land mass of Australia is arid, causing most of its population to live along the eastern coastline. Australia regularly suffers the consequences of drought and the droughts not only affect inland Australia. All Australians are affected from having restricted household water use to significant increases in food prices due to the effects of drought in food growing areas.
In this unique setting, Australia’s rivers are crucial to the life of the continent and its peoples. Two rivers which are vital to the life of Australia are the Murray and the Darling Rivers. Together they form what is known as the “Murray Darling Basin,” Australia’s most important agriculture region.
Rivers in Australia are regularly under threat. Sometimes with the blessing of rain they become a veritable wonderland full of God’s creation in flora and fauna. When a drought breaks the whole nation rejoices! Whilst Australia is currently in a “pause” with respect to drought, national authorities are working feverishly to develop plans to deal with Australia’s water and drought situations for the future.
Meanwhile, across the globe, parts of Africa are suffering under a severe drought with tens of thousands of people affected and many deaths of the elderly and the young. The pictures of suffering and dying children break our hearts. The rains haven’t fallen for years and the rivers and creeks are dry. People are fighting each other over a small jug of the precious liquid.
Biblical imagery often uses water and rivers as symbols of God’s blessing and refreshment.
From Ray McGinnis
In the early 1960’s, in Jackson, Mississippi, Skeeter Phelan (Emma Stone) is an ordinary white female in her twenties. Yet, the winds of change are blowing through her as she decides to challenge the status quo. She finds common cause with “the help,” the black African-American maids who serve their white employers, some of which are among the most racist households in Jackson. “The help” look after the children, cook, clean, and take care of the maintenance of their employers’ homes. The movie The Help is based on a best-selling novel of the same title, written by Kathryn Stockett, who based the character of Minny on a friend and her stories about being “the help.” The book and the movie tell a story of individuals who make a difference for positive social change. In addition, The Help is a story that illustrates the power of the pen being mightier than the sword (or fists or guns).
Focus: Skeeter moves back to Jackson after graduating from college and glimpses life through fresh eyes. She gets a position at the Jackson newspaper, writing a column giving cleaning tips for housewives. Needing input for the column, Skeeter seeks out Aibileen, the maid employed by one of her friends. In getting to know Aibileen, Skeeter is inspired to write a story that has gone unreported – the point of view of Aibileen and other “help” like her. Abileen is cautious about the project. “What if you don’t like what I say about white people?” she asks Skeeter. After several attempts Skeeter finally convinces Abileen and others who are “the help” to share their stories. The indignity of having to use separate washrooms due to a fear of disease among “the help” and other prejudices are addressed with courage and ensuing controversy.
From Ray McGinnis
Since ancient times humans have felt the lure and healing power of the four elements of water, fire, earth and air, which make up our planet. Without these elements life would cease to exist. It is possible to take for granted breathing, drinking water, walking on the earth, or the warmth of the sun. However, a conscious encounter with any of these four elements can offer a healing and transformative experience of being in creation.
In August, over one hundred children, who had been diagnosed with autism, arrived on the scenic shores of Ocean City, Maryland, USA. There the children were given a chance to have a deep encounter with the power and beauty of the ocean. Professional surfers, who are members of an organization called Surfers Healing, accompany each autistic child on a surf board out into the waves.
Jacob Parker came all the way from Pennsylvania, with two of his siblings who are also autistic. It was their first experience of being in the ocean. Jacob’s mother said that her son got hooked after catching just one wave as he surfed to shore. “Even though he came in screaming, he loved it, and he wants to go back out,” she enthused.
Jacobs’ experience is replicated across the shoreline as other autistic children learn how to get on a surf board and ride a wave into shore. For the professional surfers the occasion is an opportunity for people to gain appreciation of autism. But aside from the media coverage and the ripples of awareness that the general public get from a news article or TV special feature, for Steve Tomari, a pro surfer from the Big Island of Hawaii, the purpose of the day is quite straightforward. “It put a smile on their faces, and that’s all that matters right now,” he said.
Paul speaks of God as the one who gives life and breath to mortals, the one in whom we live and move and have our being.
From Sandra Rooney
During these days when most of the news seems bad, we must seek out and share stories of hope to inspire and encourage others. At the General Synod of the United Church of Christ in the United States last month, delegates and visitors heard such a story, the story of a young boy who escaped the Killing Fields of Cambodia.
Arn Chorn-Pond was only 9 years old in 1975 when the Khmer Rouge took over his country. He and hundreds of other children were sent to a Buddhist temple converted into a prison camp, where he survived by playing the flute to entertain the soldiers, and where, he says, he was “forced to do many terrible things.” His very survival depended on repressing his emotions and distancing himself from the horrors he was forced to witness. In 1978 when the Vietnamese invaded Cambodia, Chorn-Pond, who was then 12 years old, was handed a gun and forced to fight. Children who refused were shot in the head.
Eventually, Arn Chorn-Pond escaped into the jungle and survived by following the monkeys and eating what they ate. In 1980 he crossed the border into Thailand where he was found and taken to a refugee camp. There he met the Rev. Peter L. Pond, who would take him to New Hampshire and, in 1984, formally adopt him.
Though Arn Chorn-Pond initially encountered difficulties with the language and culture in the US, and memories continued to haunt him, he graduated from high school and went on to attend college. After two years he withdrew from college to co-found “Children of War,” an organization dedicated to helping young people overcome the suffering of war. Chorn-Pond eventually returned to college and devoted his summers to teaching and assisting those still displaced by war. In 1992 he received a bachelor’s degree from Providence College, and in 2007 the school awarded him an honorary Doctorate of Humanitarian Service, just one of many awards Chorn-Pond has received from humanitarian and human rights groups.
In addition to his various efforts to help children who have been traumatized by war and at-risk youth in Lowell, Massachusetts, Chorn-Pond founded the Cambodian Living Arts in 1996. This is a non-profit organization that works to revive the traditional performance arts in Cambodia by locating and supporting those few former masters or trained professional musicians who survived the Khmer Rouge and the years of famine that followed their reign of terror.
Chorn-Pond’s story is told in a moving documentary, “The Flute Player,” which aired on PBS in December 2010.
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