Past Spirit Sightings (The Archives)
From Fraser Macnaughton
A plant nursery in the United Kingdom, which was forced to destroy 50,000 ash trees, is suing the government for failing to block the imports of the tree sooner. A fungal disease known as “ash dieback” causes leaf loss and crown dieback which can lead to ash tree death has wiped out up to 90% of ash trees in some areas of Denmark and has now been found in Britain. The government’s crisis committee, Cobra, has convened to discuss the disease threatening the UK’s native ash trees. The government has now banned the imports of ash trees but the discovery of infection in recently planted sites including a car park, a college campus, and in the wider countryside in East Anglia, has increased fears that ash trees face the same fate as the elm, which was devastated by Dutch elm disease in the 1970s. Fears remain that the spread of the disease could have a dramatic impact on wildlife and lead to the loss of rare species.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has confirmed that approximately 100,000 trees have already had to be destroyed in an effort to prevent the disease from spreading. Ash dieback was identified at Ashwellthorpe, an ancient woodland and a protected site of special scientific interest in the Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s Lower Wood reserve. The trust’s chairperson, Rene Olivieri, warned of the potential threat to wildlife. “Ash trees, as hedgerow and field trees, are an important feature in our landscape and also a key component of ecologically unique woodlands that support rare species.”
It has now emerged that the Horticultural Trades Association wrote to ministers in 2009 warning of a new virulent strain of the ash dieback disease and calling on it to close UK borders. A spokesman told the BBC, “They should have taken it seriously at the time. They chose not to and now we have this really dramatic situation and unfortunately, by the sound of it, the ash tree disease has spread throughout the UK.”
Surrounded by the presence of God, what do we really have to fear? God is love, love is all around, and so hope must prevail. May we be alert to those whose agendas digress from the way of God. Amen.
From Fraser Macnaughton
From the European side of the Atlantic Ocean, people look askance at the sums of money spent bankrolling the US presidential election process. While in Britain government ministers are lampooned for there being so many millionaires in key posts, it is chicken feed compared with the money one would need to have in order to run for President in the United States.
In many countries this is the time of remembrance, commemorating the ending of the First Word War on 11 November 1918, and remembering all those who have died as a result of war. In these conflicts the call to give resulted in a supreme sacrifice. It is perhaps an interesting juxtaposition to reflect upon political expenditure and Remembrance Day when discussing the nature of giving.
Meanwhile as the Presidential race reaches its denouement, the prospects of new tax cuts that would increase workers’ take-home salaries and replace the soon-to-be expiring payroll tax reduction are being contemplated. The Obama administration believes the economy could use further stimulus despite signs of improvement and is eyeing the new tax relief as a potential solution. Barack Obama has proposed letting Bush-era tax cuts expire for the wealthy, but his opponent Mitt Romney has said these tax increases would damage the economy.
Obama and Romney have faced criticism for the scant details of their financial plans to tackle America’s massive fiscal debt. According to the CEOs of leading companies, no solution can be found without tax hikes, which Romney opposes, and cuts to public spending. A letter has been signed by many of the biggest names in US business, including Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft, JP Morgan’s Jamie Dimon, and Lloyd Blankfein at Goldman Sachs. According to the signatories, any plan has to “include comprehensive and pro-growth tax reform, which broadens the base, lowers rates, raises revenues and reduces the deficit” as well as limiting the growth spending in areas including healthcare.
The payroll tax first implemented in 2011 at Obama’s request was designed to help provide people an economic cushion, but critics have questioned relying on a measure that cuts funds from the social security retirement system. Regardless of the election outcome, the United States faces a “fiscal cliff” of automatic across-the-board spending cuts and tax increases for the end of the year unless the White House and Congress can strike a deficit reduction deal.
The “giving story” in our society includes corporate giving to political campaigns, government giving (back) to taxpayers, and financial sweeteners.
God of the poor, friend of the weak, give us compassion we pray. Melt our cold hearts, let tears fall like rain. Come, change our love from a spark to a flame. Amen
From Paul Turley
On October 9, 2012, Malala Yousafzai, was pulled from her school bus and shot in the head at point-blank range by a Taliban gunman.
Malala was targeted by the Taliban because of her outspoken support for the education of girls in Pakistan. For the Taliban extremists, her actions were contrary to the will of God and for this she was condemned to death.
Malala did not die; instead, in critical condition, she was rushed to specialists in the United Kingdom who operated on her and, as of October 20, have cautiously announced that she will eventually make a full recovery.
Those who targeted Malala not only did violence to that school girl, they did violence to the command to love, found in our text for this week and in many other religious and spiritual traditions. When Jesus speaks of the two preeminent commandments, he makes it clear that they are forever wedded together. It is not conceivable to Jesus that love of God could ever lead to violence to a neighbour. To love the neighbour is to love God and to love God is to love the neighbour. When others are shut out of all that life can offer because of gender, age, economic status, sexual orientation or whatever, that shutting out is not the will of God no matter how often God’s name is invoked. And while a gun does immediate and catastrophic damage to an individual, a pen, a church service, and a legislative session can do damage to millions.
As the article from the New Yorker suggests, perhaps love of neighbour, which is the very heart of what it means to be human, might be, in the figure of one courageous young woman, a catalyst for a movement to peace in a troubled region and a hope for the world.
God, surely if all of us the whole world round embraced each other in love and respect then we would know you and your world as you have always intended. Give us courage to hope and work to see this world come to be. Amen.
From Paul Turley
Mount Fuji is possibly the most recognisable mountain in the world. It is certainly the most recognisable symbol of Japan. But Mount Fuji is not just a perfectly picturesque mountain; it is also an active volcano, one that normally erupts every 30 years, according to Professor Toshitsugu Fujii, the head of Japan’s volcanic eruption prediction panel.
However, Mount Fuji has not followed its normal pattern. It has not erupted in the last 30 years, or even in the last 300 years. The next eruption, when it eventually comes could, according to Professor Fujii, “be a big-scale explosive eruption.”
Given Mount Fuji’s closeness to Tokyo (about 100 kilometres/60 miles) the eruption will put millions of people at risk and cause billions of dollars in damages. For those who live in the shadow of this symbol of Japan, life is therefore precarious, whether they experience it that way or not. Does last year’s 9.0 magnitude earthquake off the country’s north-east coast mean that the eventual explosion of Fuji, which is classified as an active volcano, is closer? No one is sure, although Professor Fujii says, “It’s known that when a large earthquake happens, it can trigger a nearby volcano to erupt. That’s what happened 300 years ago when Fuji erupted just 40 days after a big quake.”
If you have lived with the iconic shape of Fuji towering above you for your whole life, it must be very hard to imagine that one day it will rain down destruction and chaos and change completely the world as you know it. And yet this is not a remote possibility but a guarantied certainty. It is only a question of when. Thirty years is a nanosecond in geological time. So is 300 years, even 3,000 or 3000,000.
How is it possible to imagine a world that is radically different from the world as you have always known it? If they are to survive the coming eruption of Mount Fuji, this is exactly what the residents of this part of Japan must do. They must imagine a different future, one that is so frightening that it spurs them to action to ensure their own or their descendants’ survival.
The very same challenge faced Bartimaeus in our text this week. His was a sightless world and he could have been forgiven for not being able to imagine that his world could ever change. But whereas those who live around Mount Fuji must imagine a world of destruction that will be the opposite of the world they currently experience, Bartimaeus had to imagine a world of light and clarity, a world in which he could see. This new imagining of restored sight was a true leap of faith.
Bartimaeus and the residents who live around Mount Fuji are not alone in needing to imagine a different future. Climate change is already flooding Pacific islands and the coast of South Asia; it is already releasing water and carbon dioxide from the frozen north. We know that time is not on our side and that if not us then certainly our children and grandchildren will have to manage in a world significantly damaged by climate change. We all need to imagine a different world.
God, give us the courage and strength to imagine a new and better world, a new and better life. Remind us that this world will surely come and this life is here for us now. Amen.
From Ray McGinnis
Nico Castro is six years old. He is looking forward to being able to go trick-or-treating on Halloween (October 31) this year. But unlike most other children, the opportunity to go out on Halloween was uncertain. For the past year Nico has faced a serious health challenge when it was discovered he had cancer of the brain.
Nico has been on a variety of treatments addressing his cancer which would normally have prevented him from being in any condition to go out on Halloween. However, there has been a break in his cancer treatment program and as a result Nico has big plans for what he’ll be doing this Halloween.
However, although Nico was glad he was able to go out on Halloween he also felt sad for the other children at the hospital who are on treatment plans that will prevent them from getting dressed up and going out on Halloween with him. Nico felt that it wouldn’t be fair if he could have fun on Halloween but the other children couldn’t.
So Nico decided to start a Halloween costume drive to help “the people in the hospital who can’t go trick-or-treating.” He thought the other children would enjoy wearing Halloween costumes as well, even though they were still in hospital.
On October 4 Nico was able to leave the hospital and, dressed as a Star Wars character, he went to the costume drive. It was held at the family-run automotive business in San Bruno, California. There were Halloween treats and the customers who dropped by were invited to consider donating costumes so that the children in hospital could have a happy Halloween.
Recognize greatness is not about hierarchy, but service to others.
Inspiring God, you place before us opportunities to be of service to one another. Help us meet you in our acts of service that we may discover the true greatness that is found in helping others. In Christ we pray. Amen.
From Ray McGinnis
The movie The Words stars Bradley Cooper who plays Rory, an aspiring novelist. Rory gets a break and has an interview with a publisher only to be told his writing is too nuanced for the contemporary readership. Struggling to pay the rent Rory seeks out his father for another loan. Then he discovers a manuscript in a used briefcase, a gift bought for him by his wife Dora (Zoe Soldana) from a second hand store. When Rory recognizes it’s superior to anything he has ever written, he copies the manuscript into his computer and represents the novel as his own. The book becomes a commercial success and Rory becomes a bestselling author. His fame grows and then the real author of the manuscript (Jeremy Irons) shows up. This movie from writer-directors Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal is one that stays with you, with stories-within-stories that provoke thoughtful questions and rumination.
God, who sees our actions and knows our hearts, forgive us when we are distracted or cut off from our essential selves. Open us to the paradox of the first being last and the last being first. May your spirit make all things possible in us and draw us into union with your intentions for living our lives. In Christ we pray. Amen.
From Sandra Rooney
A year ago the United States Congress voted to repeal the ban on gays in the military, a ban known as “don’t ask, don’t tell.” This September that ban was formally lifted, the U.S. catching up with Australia, which ended its ban in November 1992 and Britain in 2000, along with all the other NATO countries with the exception of Turkey. Reports indicate that in spite of reservations, which were voiced before the bans were lifted, there appear to have been no ill effects from the actions taken by U.S. allies. Pentagon officials say that recruitment, retention, and morale have not been affected, echoing the experience of Australia, Canada, and Great Britain. Officials do acknowledge that harassment and discrimination against gays in the military have not disappeared and there are still unresolved issues such as benefits for same-sex couples.
At the same time these news reports were appearing, a petition began circulating on the Internet calling for support of retired United Methodist Bishop Melvin Talbert, who is under attack for calling on Methodist pastors to join him in an “act of biblical obedience,” by putting Jesus’ commandment to love neighbors ahead of “immoral and unjust” church rules that prohibit same-sex marriage. The Bishop has said, “It’s time for us to act in defiance of unjust words of immoral and derogatory discrimination and laws that are doing harm to our GLBT [gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgendered] sisters and brothers.”
A group of conservative pastors are demanding that the Methodist Council of Bishops censure Bishop Talbert for encouraging clergy to go against the Book of Discipline by officiating at same-sex unions. The Book of Discipline forbids both the ordination of gays and officiating at same-sex unions.
Fifty-two years ago in September 1960, Talbert, then a young pastor, was arrested and jailed alongside Martin Luther King, Jr. for sitting in at a segregated lunch counter. Talbert went on to become not only a bishop in the United Methodist Church but also served as president of the National Council of Churches.
When the Pharisees tried to entrap Jesus, he gave them the then legal answer regarding divorce. Later, with the disciples, he began to reframe the issues.
Loving God, who we are told has made us in your own image, may we respect and honor the personhood of all your children. When teachings that have come down to us through the centuries now seem to contradict Jesus’ command that we love one another, help us to make thoughtful, compassionate decisions. Amen.
Read more. . .
From Sandra Rooney
It has been almost three weeks since the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya, which resulted in the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. A wave of anti-American protests began across the Middle East, sparked by an amateur film made in the United States denigrating the Prophet Mohammad.
Hour by hour and day by day new information has become available, political and religious figures have spoken out, explanations and critiques have proliferated. Some say democracy and Islam are incompatible and call for the destruction of the West. Others have emphasized their conviction that Islam requires a democratic, constitutional government. State news media in Saudi Arabia reported that the grand mufti, the highest religious authority in Islam’s birthplace, denounced the attacks saying, “It is forbidden to punish the innocent for the wicked crimes of the guilty.”
Many suggest that the inflammatory American-made anti-Islam film, which has fueled so much anger, was just the provocation anti-American and anti-Western militia groups needed to fuel their larger violent objectives. Some suggest there may be ties to Al Qaeda or other international militants. And it is all happening in countries where major cities are still controlled by a patchwork of independent militias, in a region with no real history of popular rule and with deep economic troubles.
Regardless of what new information we receive, how the U.S. and other governments respond, and what the analysts say, we are left to ponder our role as citizens and as Christians.
Most merciful God, we come before you full of sorrow and anger, frustration and fear, as we look at the events of our world. We seek answers and direction for our lives as we would follow in the ways of Jesus. Amen
September 15-16, 2012 articles in the New York Times:
From Sandra Rooney
The recently completed Paralympics, like the Olympic Games before them, represent mountains to be climbed, and the Paralympics, especially, offer an empowering vision of new possibilities. News reports indicate the Paralympics have been very popular this year, with more tickets sold than for any of the previous Games. And they were broadcast to more people in more countries than ever before. Competition among the athletes was intense, with competitors all showing the world visions of new possibilities.
Alongside the Paralympics, performance artists were taking part in the cultural Olympiad celebrations, “Unlimited Festival.” One of the performers was Susan Austin, who does an underwater “ballet,” if you will, in her wheelchair. Using breathing gear and a power chair, stabilized with fins they call hydroplanes, she pushes the limits of what one expects of someone wheelchair-bound. Lisa Mullins of Public Radio International’s “The World” called Austin’s performance “breathtaking.”
Austin told Mullins that the inspiration for her performance came to her on her first scuba dive in Egypt several years ago. When she started diving, she said she became aware of the associations attached to scuba gear—excitement, adventure and freedom. She realized how scuba gear extended one’s range of activity, just like her power chair did. But when she asked people about their associations with her power chair, they talked of fear, limitation, pity, restriction. Austin realized she had internalized those same ideas and it had changed her identity. She began making artwork that was about using the wheelchair as an object to literally paint or play or have fun with, extending her range of activity just as scuba gear did.
Austin explained that her objective, beyond her own excitement and adventure and the amazing sense of freedom which her underwater ballet gives her, is to help redefine the popular notions of disability, to transform preconceptions. She said a friend’s comment, after watching a film of her performance, captures the essence of what she is seeking to accomplish. He said that now when he sees someone in wheelchair, he doesn’t wonder what they can’t do, he doesn’t even think about what they can do. Now, he says, he’ll be thinking about what they can do that he can’t do.
This year’s Season of Creation ends with a vision of God’s holy mountain, an image of God’s on-going work of transformation.
The prophet in Isaiah 65 sets forth a vision of the new society to be created as the people return to Jerusalem after the exile.
Prayer links. . .
God of new possibilities, open our eyes to see beyond the limits we have accepted for ourselves. Empower us to be the people who point the way to a future that is more just, more compassionate, and ever full of greater promise for all your children. Amen
Read more. . .
From Fraser Macnaughton
In 1971, David Bowie released the hit single “Life on Mars.” Now 41 years later the Mars rover, Curiosity, has taken first steps across the surface of the red planet after two weeks of checking instruments and testing software. The science experiments will start when the rover gets to its first place of interest, an area called Glenelg, about 400m away to the east of where it is now. That area gets its name from the picturesque village of Glenelg in Inverness-shire, Scotland, where residents are delighted with the landing.
Now the 350-strong Highland community, which has a pub, a community centre, shop and school is hoping to cash in by attracting new visitors. It even boasts its own rover – the last working turntable ferry in the world which crosses over the sea to Skye. “The search for life on Mars has put our Glenelg on the map – at least on this planet,” said Christopher Main, director of the community interest company that runs the 43-year-old ferry. “There is plenty of life in Glenelg – they may not find it on Mars but they would here. Glenelg had a population of around 4000 before the Clearances. The Vikings were here for 500 years. Life has been found here for centuries.”
Mr Main added: “The population has fallen now to about 350 – but it is a very lively community. And we have our own rover – the ferry that roves across the narrows. She’s doing well – and if the Mars robot lasts as long, they will be delighted. But our Glenelg could not be more different to the one on Mars. We have a very wooded, lush and pretty area. We wouldn’t swap it for the world – or another world, come to that!”
Curiosityis a sophisticated mobile science laboratory. It has been built to drive at least 20km across the Martian landscape to investigate if the planet ever had conditions necessary for life. Scientists expect to find rocks at the base of the peak that were laid down billions of years ago. “When we finally get to Glenelg, we want to study the outcrop there… That’s going to take several months,” said Joy Crisp, a scientist on the mission.
Explore…Jeremiah 4:23–28 and Psalm 19:1–6
In Psalm 19 the skies declare God’s handiwork and speak to God’s presence and power.
In spite of our effort to “conquer” space humans have had much influence on more distant skies. But the sky we call atmosphere has been affected greatly by human acts of abuse. The prophecy of Jeremiah speaks of “the heavens growing black.”
Picture God not as someone up there in the heavens but as the universe itself…the God in whom we live and move and have our being as St. Paul reminds us. When we wonder at the beauty, the vastness and timelessness of space, we wonder at God. Amen.
From Fraser Macnaughton
Working in harmony with nature and reconciling seemingly conflicting interest in the environment is never easy but perhaps this example may prove a useful blueprint for an appropriate balance between protection and utilisation of the natural world. Scotland’s first marine energy park, which has the potential to create power for 20 million homes, is to be launched in the area surrounding Orkney due to its high tidal stream. Energy from waves will cut emissions, tackle climate change, and could generate 27GW of power for the UK by 2050 (enough to power around 20 million homes), according to the UK Government.
The Pentland Firth and Orkney Waters Marine Energy Park will include the already established European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) on Orkney, which tests wave and tidal energy devices with developers from across the world. The designated area of the park will be promoted globally by the UK and Scottish governments, as well as Highland Council, to attract both private companies to invest in the area and marine energy students from universities.
Earlier this year the UK Government announced details of the UK’s first marine energy park, located off the south-west of England. UK Energy Minister Greg Barker said: “This stretch of water is also home to the European Marine Energy Centre, currently unrivalled anywhere else in the world. This park will help bring together local knowledge and expertise to spur on further development in this exciting industry…Marine power is a growing, green, clean source of power which has the potential to sustain thousands of jobs in a sector worth a possible £15 billion to the economy by 2050.”
EMEC has 14 berths for testing tidal energy technology and the operators said it is now self-sufficient. Companies such as ScottishPower Renewables and E.On use EMEC to test wave power capture machines.
Scottish Energy Minister Fergus Ewing said the creation of the park “proves that Scotland continues to be the jewel in the crown of all wave and tidal activity…Progress in Scottish wave and tidal renewables has been staggering but the Scottish Government recognises that more financial support is needed to help the sector achieve its fullest potential.”
WWF [Scotland], one of the world’s biggest environmental protection campaign groups, welcomed the news that the area will host the UK’s second marine energy park. “Selecting the Pentland Firth as the site of UK’s second marine energy park is an exciting development and a further opportunity for Scotland's marine renewable sector to develop wave and tidal devices,” said Dr Sam Gardner, senior climate policy officer at the environmental charity.
This text speaks of humanity’s relationship with Earth, Earth’s creatures, and the Creator.
May the Spirit of God fuse through us and help our inter-connectedness with all of creation and instil in us a keener sense of our individual and corporate responsibility towards all of life. Amen.
From Fraser Macnaughton
It is sometimes hard to find good news stories from Planet Earth in the media. Day after day we are bombarded with tales of environmental destruction, failures to keep up with environmental improvement targets, and even the conflicts between competing environmental concerns.
Germany’s plan to wean itself off nuclear power by investing in wind energy is facing a challenge. Utility companies have had to delay construction of a 25,000 megawatt wind-farm off the coast because of fears that the noise may kill thousands of porpoises. There are about 230,000 porpoises in the North and Baltic seas. Noise is a particular threat to porpoises and dolphins because they use sound to navigate, locate prey, and find partners.
But one good news story comes from an uninhabited Pacific island named Jarvis. This tiny island (4.5 sq km/1.75 sq miles), halfway between Hawaii and the Cook Islands, has come out on top of the first comprehensive ocean health index. The index compares all the world’s coastal countries and scores them for how well the seas around them benefit both humankind and nature. Jarvis Island was mined for seabird fertiliser for a brief period in the 19th century. But since then both the island itself and its surrounding waters have been left more or less untouched, which accounts for its top score of 86 out of 100, compared with a global average of 60.
The ocean health index study found that about half of the ten goals set by the scientists were getting worse, but there was some good news too. “Quite a few countries have done a lot to protect species. We are seeing restoration of habitats and a lot of countries are starting to implement more effective fishing management. Some things are definitely going right,” said Benjamin Halpern of the US-based National Centre for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis.
Criteria for the study included the amount of food provided from the ocean, jobs created, ecological protection, and contribution to climate change. The authors of the report stated: “It shows there is great room for improvement. Despite the successes of several developed countries in managing their fisheries, sustainable global food provision is far below what could be delivered if wild stocks were more sustainably harvested and sustainable mariculture production was increased.”
May we take time to enjoy the wonder of creation in all its glory and listen to the voice of Planet Earth as we engage with the world. May we discern with wisdom our human responsibilities with regards to the interconnectedness of all of life. Amen
From Paul Turley
Last week in Iraq, gunmen, possibly from Al Qaeda, rounded up 25 young men. Somehow they determined who were Sunni and who were Shiite. They allowed the Sunnis to leave and then executed the eight who remained. When investigating the scene of the killing, four policemen were injured by a bomb that had been hidden under the bodies of the dead.
Fifty-one years ago last week, East German authorities sealed the border between East and West Berlin, halting the flight of refugees and splitting families, friends, a city, and a nation for thirty years.
Our willingness to violently divide human beings based on criteria of our own invention seems limitless. Rather than embracing the insights of science that tell us we all descended from the same few families in the Rift Valley in Africa and that we and everything that exists are made from the same stuff – the detritus of ancient stars – we so quickly divide and categorize by age and gender and skin colour and education and sexuality and nationality and almost any other way we can think of.
So how ought we to read our focus scripture text for this week? In a world and a time weary of war, we are offered a very militaristic metaphor. Roman armour and weaponry (to which, we presume, the author is referring) was state of the art, the best in the world. Are we to use the AK 47s, the missile defence shields, the cluster bombs, and the Kevlar vests that the best military minds have developed?
Perhaps we are. At least perhaps we must clothe ourselves in the best that our best minds can come up with. What if we embraced the best thinking on conflict resolution? The most forward thinking of international laws and courts of justice? The most technically sophisticated responses to the alleviation of poverty and hunger? The cleverest weapons to fight climate change? The most comprehensive and international resistance to evil regimes?
God, we ask for your protection in a hostile and violent time. Give us the strength and the abilities to do good in the face of evil, to be human in the face of division and mistrust, and to stand firm. Amen
From Paul Turley
Sixty-seven years ago last week, the first atomic bomb in history was dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima killing as many as 140,000 people.
This year, in marking that anniversary, Clifton Truman Daniel was present in Hiroshima. He is the grandson of the Harry Truman, the American President who ordered the dropping of the bomb. At a press conference following the memorial Daniel was asked whether he believed that his grandfather had made the right decision in bombing both Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Daniel declined to respond to the question but said, “I’m two generations down the line. It’s now my responsibility to do all I can to make sure we never use nuclear weapons again.”
After all these years – two generations later, as Daniel said – is it still necessary or worthwhile to commemorate these events?
Yes, for at least two reasons beyond remembering the suffering and death of so many. The question that was asked of Daniel this year is still a difficult question to answer. Did Truman make the right choice? Even now, based on the evidence available, there are people who are sure that the answer is “Yes” and others equally sure that the answer is “No.” For this reason alone we must remember and commemorate this event.
But there is another reason and it is linked to our scripture reading for this week. Ephesians 5:15–20 exhorts us, among other things, not to get drunk. What we know now and what the ancients perhaps suspected is that alcohol kills brain cells and if we are going to become the wise people that this reading calls us to be, we are going to need all the brain cells we can muster!
To become wise we are also going to need to remember and learn from our past. Part of “making the most of the time,” as the reading calls us to do, is surely to reflect on where we have been and how we have arrived at where we now are. Commemorating the 67th and the 167th anniversary is a part of that.
God of peace and God of wisdom, grant your earth peace and its people wisdom, that we will never forget the pain and destruction we cause and never forget the hope of renewal that comes from you. Amen
From Paul Turley
Pretty much everyone loves a party right? A chance to celebrate and have fun. And that is just what many of us around the world have watched on our televisions in the last week; a huge party called the opening ceremony of the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, in London.
Like many parties, there was a guest list. In this case, apart from the usual gaggle of celebrities, members of the British royal family and a clutch of politicians, the list included 62,000 paying guests and an estimated 1 billion television viewers from around the world.
And it was quite a show. It lasted for three and a half hours, involved more than 10,000 mostly volunteer performers, and cost twenty seven million pounds (forty two million US$).
That is a lot of money. It is particularly a lot in a country hard hit by the “Global Financial Crisis” and teetering on the edge of a double-dip recession. So there is a question we must ask and it is the same question we need to ask of so many of our priorities. Put simply but profoundly the question is: what would Jesus do?
Well, as it turns out, we have a bit of an idea of what Jesus would do. He attended so many parties in his time that he was accused of being a “glutton and a drunkard” (Matthew 11:19). It is pretty clear that Jesus was not against celebration. In fact, he often used the party as a picture of what the world that God intended would be like when it finally came fully into being.
But, Jesus also called the wealthy to account for their willingness to live in luxury while not only ignoring the plight of the poor but also patting themselves on the back for their civic-mindedness –Something that promoters of the modern Olympics do every four years.
In a country that is, according to the Trussell Trust, opening two new food banks every week and still not keeping up with the needs, where funds are being slashed to programs that help the most vulnerable, and where unemployment for young black men is more than 50%, is it just to spend 27 million pounds in three and a half hours?
The writer of the letter to the Ephesians speaks of all being members of one community and exhorts readers to speak the truth to neighbours.
O God, we live in a complex world and in complex times. We know that there are few simple answers when it comes to what we should do to be imitators of you. Give us wisdom, remind us to listen to each other, help us to understand that each of us travels the same journey in different ways, and give us courage to act as we trust you are calling us. Amen
August 5, 2012: Unity in Community
In the movie The Intouchables, Omar Sy plays Driss, who’s not certain how to move on with his life after serving his prison sentence. Ultra-wealthy quadriplegic Philippe (François Cluzet) is looking for a new assistant. Driss is hired and moves into Philippe’s opulent Parisian estate. From there the plot of the movie unfolds through familiar coming-of-age and mutual healing, personal growth terrain. But across the journey, the movie never loses touch with its basic grounding in dramatic genuineness. The filmmakers effectively move the plot forward to show the many ways each man helps fix the other. Small, tender scenes detailing the complex processes that Driss must follow while caring for Philippe are given the same weight as the characters’ funny conversations about women, music, or the methods with which the patient empowers his caretaker to turn his life around. Philippe’s opulent, antiques-filled home is a profound contrast with the drab, overflowing apartment occupied by Driss’ family. The classical music which Philippe enjoys clashes with Driss’ passion for rhythm and blues.
Prayer links…God of disparate creation, in our uniqueness we sometimes imagine we are alone. Yet you place us in society and bid us to encounter one another. Help us to be attentive to the doors that open, the people in front of us and the opportunities to bear one another in love. In Christ we pray. Amen.
From Ray McGinnis
In June 2012 Karen Klein, a 68 year old grandmother, was riding a school bus as a bus monitor. The bus was full of Middle School students from Greece, a suburb of Rochester in New York state. Suddenly she was bullied by a group of 13 year old boys who began taunting her. Some of the taunting involved cruel comments about Klein’s children, which was particularly painful as one of her adult children had died of suicide ten years previously. In the midst of the taunting, including threats of violence, she broke down in tears. The incident was caught on video and uploaded to YouTube. In a matter of days the video had been viewed by nearly two million people.
Max Sidorov, from Toronto, Canada, responded to the video by starting an online campaign to raise money to give Klein a paid vacation. His goal was to raise $5,000. However, the story continued to go viral and the response was huge. Donations kept pouring in. By July 17, three days before the close of donations to the fund for Karen Klein, over $682,000 had been raised, far surpassing the original goal.
When Klein first learned that a video had been taken of the incident she was shocked. She was even more astonished that a fund had been created in response to her experience of torment. Karen’s son, Brian, said the support the family has received has been overwhelming and that the family was grateful for it.
As a young immigrant to Canada from the Ukraine, Sidorov was a victim of bullying himself. When asked about his response Sidorov said that he wanted to “give her something she will never forget: a vacation of a lifetime!”
Sidorov’s compassionate action multiplied more than he could imagine
Reflect on situations in the world today where there is a choice to respond
Surprising God, you manifest more than we can possibly ask for or imagine. Because you are present among us, we are fed, we are nourished, we are comforted. Help us be open and in tune with your Spirit. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.
From Ray McGinnis
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a movie based on the novel, These Foolish Things by Deborah Moggach. Set in the city of Jaipur, the movie is about a group of British retirees, all strangers to one another, who for various reasons choose to “outsource” their golden years to the more affordable and exotic India. Each is drawn in by promotions promising a retired life for the “Elderly and Beautiful” at the newly restored Marigold Hotel. However, their visions of a comfortable retirement crumble as they discover a neglected palace being run on a shoestring, with restoration incomplete. In the midst of disappointments and changed expectations new friendships are formed. Grace, beauty, and truth are some of the gifts the members of this group receive through their shared experiences. New ways to imagine life and love are explored in this tender exploration of aging and wisdom.
Focus: Dev Patel (who also starred in Slumdog Millionaire) is Sonny Kapoor, an ambitious and somewhat flighty young man with a dream of making an old palace as exotic as its online depiction. He has the passion but lacks the managerial abilities and the funds. All seven of his guests are financially insecure. One is a recent widow whose husband had run up huge debts. Some of the retirees adjust to the hotel’s condition. Others want their money back. One couple, who are in their 40th year of marriage, are at odds with each other over a decision to stay in India or return to England. They came to the hotel after their entire retirement nest egg evaporated due to their investment in their entrepreneurial daughter’s failed start-up Internet company.
God of unfolding creation, we recognize that our story continues to unfold as you offer new structures in which to find oneness in you and peace with our neighbors. Open us to your leading that we may risk the healing vision you desire for us. In Christ’s name we pray, Amen.
From Sandra Rooney
We see the plaza in front of a bank, Banco Sabadell. A tall man in a tuxedo appears with his bass and begins to play. He is joined by a woman with her cello. We quickly recognize their music as Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” from his 9th Symphony. Other musicians, dressed in street clothes, file out of the bank and join the playing. Children watch in rapt attention. Adults begin capturing the moment on their phones. A small child climbs a nearby lamppost to see over the growing crowd. A young man in a striped polo shirt conducts. Singers gather behind the instrumentalists and begin to sing, joined by the onlookers. People smile at one another.
The date was May 19, 2012. To celebrate the 130th anniversary of its founding, Banco Sabadell (a city near Barcelona), brought together members of a local symphony orchestra and three choral groups for this Flash Mob experience.
As world attention is focused on financial crises, especially in the Eurozone, and countries like Greece and Spain look to Germany for help, the work of another German provides a moment of relief. Online comments came in from around the world and in many languages. A doctor wrote, “Especially in hard times, it is beauty, culture, compassion and community, not wealth and power, which will see us all through.” Someone else wrote, “A relative in Israel sent me this. So emotional—I cried straight through it and forwarded it to my list.”
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
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