Past Spirit Sightings (The Archives)
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.
From Ray McGinnis
The movie “The Way” takes place along a trail called El Camino de Santiago. It is a pilgrimage that begins in France and ends five hundred miles later in Spain, where the remains of the apostle St. James are said to be buried. Tom learns that his son Daniel began making the journey but died before he could reach the first check point. Faced with Daniel’s hiking gear and blank passport (there are many towns on the route and pilgrims receive colourful stamps on their passport at each one), Tom decides to honour his son’s memory by finishing the pilgrimage himself. Though he wants to have solitude at this time of sorrow, he soon meets up with fellow travellers from around the world, each with their own reasons for making the pilgrimage. Joost, from the Netherlands, is making the journey to lose weight. A Canadian, Sarah, wants to quit smoking. An American priest is hoping to beat cancer. Tom also meets a writer from Ireland whose novel is due soon, though he can’t come up with the first page. Each pilgrim is hoping to find an experience of transformation when the journey ends. As Tom makes his way, he scatters bits of Daniel’s ashes as he goes. On the road Tom begins to understand why Daniel was making the trip, and in so doing Tom finds parts of himself he had thought were lost.
Focus: Dr. Tom Avery is a small town optometrist who seems content with his life. He has his practice. He has his golf game. And, occasionally, he has contact with his son, Daniel (played by director Emilio Estevez, in flashbacks). It’s been some time since the two were in the same room. Daniel took off for France, over the objections of his father, who chided him about his life choices. “You don’t choose a life,” Daniel informs him. “You live one.” One day Tom receives the phone call and learns that Daniel has died. Tom makes the trip to France to retrieve his body. Little does he know that he is about to embark on the most important trip of his life.
“Thin places” have been described in Celtic spirituality as the place where the line between real and mystical becomes blurred, and earth and heaven seem to meet.
From Ray McGinnis
The film War Horse is an adaptation of a novel by Michael Morpurgo. Although about war the centerpiece of the book and the film is the relationship between an English teenager, Albert, and his horse Joey. Compared with his earlier war movie, Saving Private Ryan, Spielberg has created in War Horse a movie that children and youth can engage as well as adults.
The tender and passionate relationship between the boy and the horse demonstrates what happens when life-giving relationships are torn apart by war and what is possible through unconditional love and a devotion that will stop at nothing to reconnect with “the other.”
Focus: The story begins on a small English farm, where Ted Narracott ends up paying way too much for a horse at auction, much to the dismay of his wife Rose. Their son, Albert, strikes up a strong bond with the horse, whom he dubs Joey. Together, they attempt to harvest a bountiful crop so that the family will not lose their home. When that plan doesn’t quite work out, Ted sells Joey to the army after World War I begins. An officer, Major Jamie Stewart, promises to look after Joey and return him to Albert as soon as the war ends. Meanwhile, Albert waits until he’s old enough to enlist so that he can try to find his beloved horse, wherever in Europe the horse may be.
The man with leprosy is not the same after he meets Jesus, and Albert is not the same after he meets Joey.
From Ray McGinnis
Welshman Simon Dale was concerned about living in homes dependent on fossil fuels. Dale wanted to live more sustainably and in harmony with the planet, so he found a very inexpensive way to build his own home. And he did it for a cost of about $US 4,700, building the house in just four months. On Dale’s website there are photos of his “low-impact woodland home,” revealing a fairy tale ambience sure to enchant young and old alike.
Simon Dale gives two reasons for building the home. The first is that he believes it is good for the soul. “Living your own life, in your own way is rewarding. Following our dreams keeps our souls alive,” Simon says.
Simon’s second reason is a bold plea for a new model of sustainability and right relation with the earth. Simon believes that the way humans are living on the planet is causing the earth to get sick. “Our society is almost entirely dependent on the availability of increasing amounts of fossil fuel energy.” Dale recommends small-scale permaculture land management systems centered around individual or small groups of dwellings.
With no architectural, carpentry or engineering background, Dale had to learn how to build his home from scratch. He used a shovel, chisel, and hammer, tools that have been around for many centuries. The one exception was a chainsaw which he used to cut down about thirty small trees. Dale’s home is constructed from wood, stone, straw, and has a sod roof. It’s heated with a wood fireplace and has a solar panel for power.
We too are invited to become healers in our time and circumstances.
From Sandra Rooney
Media sources of many kinds inundate us with information. Politicians and pundits, as well as many religious folks, claim authority. Budgets for education are being cut across the United States and Canada. In this environment, how do teachers approach young people with the authority that makes their learning engaging and relevant? An innovative program called impossible2Possible (i2P), which offers learning tools free to any school that signs up, is seeking to do just that.
This program literally brings the world to the classroom. Rebecca Byerly, a contributor to The Christian Science Monitor, describes joining four young people from India and the United States, who ran more than 100 miles through the Thar Desert in northwest India. Canadian Emma Cook-Clarke, a recent high school graduate, was one of four youth ambassadors selected for the i2P expedition. It has turned out to be much more than just a run in the desert. The program intends to push young adults to reach beyond their perceived limits and use adventure as a medium to educate, inspire, and empower.
As they struggle with the physical difficulties of the run and the other challenges they encounter, they are interviewed by one another. Within hours the video is broadcast to hundreds of schools across the United States and Canada and several in India and Europe. Students in the schools are able to communicate directly with the runners through live streaming video. The world becomes their classroom as the students follow visually the youth ambassadors as they visit local hospitals in India and interact with children in the villages they run through.
Ray Zahab, himself a world-renowned adventurer, founded i2P in 2008. Zahab says the vision of the organization is to “use adventure to encourage a generation of leaders whose direct experiences and education will prepare them to lead social and environmental action all across the world.” Impossible2Possible is still in a development phase. The intent is to create a sustainable model with a curriculum that will engage teachers and students. The hope is also that young people who watch the struggles of the youth ambassadors will be inspired to push their own limits to achieve more than they might expect.
In the gospel story we hear that people were amazed at the “new kind of teaching” they witnessed in Jesus.
The innovative Impossible2Possible program is also about a new kind of teaching – one with a different kind of authority that is egalitarian and collaborative.
From Sandra Rooney
Ordinary people, doing what they can where they are, become extraordinary people. Frances Moore Lappé has written about such a person, Lucas Benitez, for the Winter 2012 issue of YES! Magazine.
Benitez came to the US at age 16 from Guerrero, Mexico, to work in the Florida tomato fields. He joined a small group meeting to talk about how conditions for workers could be improved. Benitez went on to play a leading role in the growth and successes of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) from its beginning. Lappé describes a 1996 incident when Benitez found himself compelled to act. Another teenage field worker had asked his foreman for a water break. The foreman denied the request, but the worker stopped for a drink anyway. When the foreman beat the worker brutally, Benitez helped spread the word about the attack and more than 500 workers gathered in protest. Over the intervening years, CIW has made slow progress and won some significant victories.
In 2001, Benitez was a driving force for a daring rescue of four Florida farm workers who were being brutalized by the growers. At great personal risk, he played an important part in the conviction of the two brothers who were responsible for the brutality and who had made millions holding workers against their will. According to the FBI, the brothers threatened the workers at gunpoint, promising torture and death if they tried to escape.
Benitez, now 35, doesn’t call himself an organizer but an “animator.” Lappé writes, “This distinction says it all to me: My greatest heroes aren’t those who perform acts of bravery that most of us would run from. They’re those whose genius is enabling others to find courage within themselves — to act, not as lone heroes, but in common cause with others.” As Benitez puts it, animators are “people who animate the community to join and struggle together.” His goal is to make “the Florida tomato industry a model of social accountability,” and today they are focusing on the supermarket industry in the United States. Whole Foods Market has signed the Fair Food agreement and CIW is putting pressure on Trader Joe’s and Publix. Benitez says creating alliances with church and student organizations has been one of the keys to CIW’s victories over the last two decades. These alliances, along with the efforts of people like Benitez, enable farm workers to experience dignity and a clear sense of purpose.
Benitez speaks of himself as an animator, one who enables and encourages people to join together and work in a common cause with others.
Read more. . .
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.
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