Past Spirit Sightings (The Archives)
From Ray McGinnis
Nelson Mandela, Nobel laureate and former president of South Africa, remains hospitalized. But his health is reportedly improving after spending five weeks in a Pretoria hospital with a lung infection. Mandela has been in critical condition since June 8 when he was hospitalized with the recurring infection, which he first contracted during his 27 years as a political prisoner under the former Apartheid regime.
Mandela’s grandson, Zondwa Mandela, told Reuters he hoped his grandfather would be “seated with us” for the “small lunch” planned for Mandela’s 95th birthday on Thursday, July 18.
Mandela was South Africa’s first black president following Apartheid, a system of racial segregation enforced through legislation by the National Party governments, who were the ruling party of the country from 1948 to 1994. Under Apartheid the rights of the majority black inhabitants of South Africa were curtailed and white supremacy and Afrikaner minority rule was maintained. In 1948 new legislation classified inhabitants into four racial groups (“Native,” “White,” “Coloured,” and “Asian”). Residential areas were segregated, sometimes by means of forced removals. Non-white political representation was completely abolished in 1970, and beginning that year black people were deprived of their citizenship.
It was Apartheid that Mandela struggled against, a victim who eventually both governed and forgave his tormentors. His worldwide appeal includes honours from the USA (Presidential Medal of Freedom) and the USSR’s Order of Lenin.
During Mandela’s current illness there have been nationwide prayers and tokens of support left in makeshift shrines. Prayers have also been offered internationally including by the Archbishop of York in the UK.
Holy One, where there are examples of courage, like Nelson Mandela, may we be encouraged. In the face of life’s eventual decay and surrender to frailty and death, may we honour those who are passing away. Help us acknowledge the places of anticipation and waiting in the face of events that will unfold in their own time. Teach us to pray in ways that offer us a way where our spirit meets your sprit. Grant us wisdom. In your name we pray. Amen.
From Ray McGinnis
Chris Hadfield is a colonel in the Canadian military and aformer Royal Canadian Air Force pilot. He has flown two space shuttle missions and served as commander of the International Space Station. He returned in mid-May from his second space mission. He recalls that he spent as much time as he could up in space with his nose pressed up against his window, like a giddy little child. Hadfield made his first presentation since his return from space to a crowd at the University of Calgary. As this year’s Calgary Stampeded Parade marshal, Hadfield is helping to lift spirits of the city recently hit hard by flooding of the Bow River.
“It’s quite a ride, it’s a wonderful little spaceship – if you get a chance you really ought to ride one,” Hadfield said when describing his ascent on a Soyuz spacecraft. He showed images snapped from Earth’s orbit, including pictures of pre- and post-flood Alberta in June and the rich blue waters of the Bahamas, to him the most beautiful place in the world.
“The space station is a possibility, it’s a capability,” Hadfield said. “For me to be able to live on it and be the first Canadian to command it has been a huge honour.” Hadfield will publish a book this fall, The Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth, about his life and adventures as an astronaut.
God of the universe, you offer us many ways toengage in the world around us. Help us to find a pace that inspires. Be with us when we are frustrated with others or ourselves. Open us to a flexible wisdom as we follow your spirit’s lead. In Christ’s name we pray, Amen.
From Fraser Macnaughton
As concern for the declining health of Nelson Mandela grips South Africa, Mamphela Ramphele, a leading apartheid-era activist, has launched South Africa’s first new political party in five years. Ramphele states that the ruling ANC (African National Congress) is destroying the continent’s biggest economy.
Agang – Sesotho for “let us build” – was formally launched as a party on June 22 and will contest the 2014 elections. Party leader and academic, 65-year-old Mamphela Ramphele, was an anti-apartheid campaigner and former partner of Black Consciousness leader Steve Biko. She is backed by Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu. Ramphele says that millions are still living like forgotten citizens and that the country had not come far enough, fast enough. Agang has made tackling corruption and improving education two of its main goals. Retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu described Ramphele as a brave and principled leader and said the graciousness of South African politics in the 1990s had largely been surrendered at the altar of power and wealth. “Few thinking South Africans would not welcome the entry into South African politics of someone of the calibre, background, intellect and resourcefulness of Mamphela Ramphele,” Tutu said in a statement.
As the country looks towards a post-Mandela era, many who were involved in the anti-apartheid struggle across the world have been dismayed at the behaviour of many of the leading lights of the ANC. The ANC is regularly accused of poor governance and failing to deliver basic services such as housing, water and jobs.
Agang’s stated aim, according to Ramphele, is to galvanise South Africans to build on the democratic foundations left by former President Nelson Mandela and other anti-apartheid leaders, a legacy which some believe is being squandered by the ANC.
Ms. Ramphele has spoken about the possibility of forging coalitions with other parties, and analysts say the most obvious candidate is the Democratic Alliance (DA), South Africa’s official opposition. However, loyalty to the ANC among South African voters runs deep. The ANC won the 2009 election with 65.9% of the vote.
Explore…2 Kings 5:1–14
Unexpected people, from outside the current leadership circle, become agents of compassion and healing for Naaman.
There are those in South Africa who feel that the compassion and healing which characterised the beginning of the post-apartheid era leadership has become lost in the current political structure.
We are called to be agents of change, agents of compassion. May we be prepared to take risks for the gospel, go out of our comfort zones, and be prepared to bring Christ’s compassion and justice to our community and world. Amen.
From Sandra Rooney
Fifty years ago the so-called Green Revolution promised to provide food enough for the world’s population. Modern high-yielding varieties could double or even triple a farmer’s harvest given the right conditions and chemical inputs. Climate change is now changing the equations and threatening the livelihoods of millions, among them those living in the densely populated river deltas of the world. Though these areas hold some of the most productive farmland on the planet, they have become among the most threatened areas.
In May 2009, Cyclone Aila roared into the Ganges River delta on the coast of India and Bangladesh. Hundreds of thousands were forced to flee as seawater flooded the rice fields and swept their homes away. It has been four years but salt still in the soil inhibits the growing of vegetables and rice. And this delta coastline is retreating more than 600 feet a year, the salt encroaching even farther inland. The seeds touted as the answer to global hunger fifty years ago were quick to fail after Cyclone Aila.
As farmers in that area adapt to rising sea levels and more powerful storms, they have discovered that one thing that will still grow there is a salt-tolerant rice variety developed more than a century ago by small-scale farmers. One farmer, who lost everything to Cyclone Aila, started over with a handful of the old salt-tolerant seeds. He and other farmers like him are now using those seeds to grow at least enough rice to feed their families.
Scientists have been traveling across India trying to find and save what remains of the traditional seeds. According to a US Public Television report, “Farmers in India once cultivated more than a hundred thousand distinct varieties of rice alone.” Most of those rice varieties have been lost forever, but those that still exist are being used to propagate more seeds. One small nonprofit seed farm is distributing those seeds free of charge to farmers in the Ganges River Delta.
While the goal of feeding the world’s growing population remains the same, our climate-changing planet is providing new challenges. Scientists are now working to discover the secret of these salt-tolerant seeds, working to breed climate-resilient traits from the traditional varieties into new high-yielding seeds. The new plants are designed to tolerate limited amounts of drought and flooding during the same growing season. While scientists are developing super-seeds that may transform agriculture in the future, many of the world’s poorest farmers are turning to seeds their ancestors used, as what might be called “a sort of genetic insurance policy against an unpredictable future.”
Explore...2 Kings 2:1–2, 6–14
Seeking leadership, accepting a leadership role, and taking up the mantle of leadership each has its own dynamics.
Prayer links ..
God of hope and promise, we remember what Gandhi said: “There are people in the world so hungry that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.” May those of us who do not face daily hunger accept the challenge of responding to the needs of those who do, making your presence a reality for those who are hungry. Amen
From Sandra Rooney
A California mental health initiative has created community gardens for those in need, in particular, for refugees. Four of the seven gardens in Fresno are dedicated to Southeast Asians, people like Lee Lee, a Hmong refugee, who tends her rows of purple lemon grass, bitter melon, and medicinal herbs along with other Hmong women. “It lightens the load,” said Mrs. Lee, whose depression has led her to think about suicide. “It brings peace, so I do not forget who I am.” Mee Yang, another Hmong woman working in the garden, said, “This is my happiness…You feel the world in this place, and it brings you back home.”
Daniel B. Wood, in the May 27 issue of The Christian Science Monitor, describes the myriad ways in which more and more Americans are planning to leave their electronic devices behind and seek out opportunities to get back in touch with nature, to do nothing, even as they use the language of “recharge” for their experience. Books are being written about “untethering” from media habits and addressing what author Richard Louv describes as “nature deficit disorder.” Barbara O’Connor, a retired communications/media professor, intentionally “disappears” several times a year. “Being quiet for an extended period helps me think more deeply,” she says.
Then there is the daunting pilgrimage, which hundreds of Sikhs undertake each summer to the isolated mountain village of Ghangaria, in the state of Uttarakhand, and to Hemkund, a sacred lake in the Garhwal Himalayas. To reach Ghangaria, they follow a route that is only thirteen kilometers/eight miles long, but climbing some 1219 metres/4000 feet in the first half of the route to just over 3050 metres/10,000 feet above sea level, then another 1219 metres/4000 feet in the second half of the journey to reach the hallowed lake.
The story behind this sacred lake relates to Gobind Singh, who lived from 1666 to 1708. Singh is considered their most influential founding father and introduced many of the practices which define the Sikh faith today. Singh wrote that in a previous life he had meditated at a mountain lake ringed by seven peaks, where he had become one with God, both physically and spiritually, before being reborn as the great Sikh guru.
New York Times writer Michael Benanav says this about pilgrimage: “Pilgrimages, religious or otherwise, are inspired by stories – some true, some fictional and some in which fact and legend are seamlessly stitched together. Regardless of their veracity, these stories resonate. The places where the stories are set become salient landmarks in the geographies of our imaginations. They seem to call to us from within, urging us to go to them and promising to complete us in some way if we do…it’s as though our inner world unites with the outer. At least for a little while.”
Explore...1 Kings 19:1–15a
Whispering God, the world is often too much with us. We are bombarded with news and images of hurricanes and tornadoes, death and destruction and loss. May we be still and hear the word you have for each of us that can bring peace and purpose for our lives. Amen
From Paul Turley
Following the death of Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan dictator, in October 2011, millions of dollars of Libyan money has remained unaccounted for. Now the Libyan government believes that more than one billion US dollars are in South Africa and it is asking the South African government for help in finding and returning the money to the Libyan people.
Of course, Gaddafi is not the first dictator to impoverish his country, whilst enriching himself and his family and the South African banks that allegedly hold that money are not the first banks to take deposits without asking too closely about their legitimacy.
Switzerland is reportedly holding one billion Swiss francs ($1.07 billion US) deposited by, among others, former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and ousted Tunisian president Ben Ali.
But this same sad story goes back into history. Only now are Swiss banks paying back money to Holocaust victims, money stolen from them by the Nazis and deposited in Switzerland during the Second World War.
And these are only the latest instances of the same sad story of abuse of authority and power that goes back thousands of years even to the story of Ahab and Naboth that we have in our text this week.
Explore...1 Kings 21:1–10, (11–14), 15–21a
God, as we read this litany of crimes that get repeated again and again in the human story, it would be easy for us to become despairing and cynical. Help us to remember the renewing and restoring experience of knowing you and to hope and work for community where no one lives in fear and no one is dispossessed. Amen.
From Paul Turley
Being an asylum seeker is hard.
Not only do you have to leave your home in fear of your life, you must usually do so with very few of your possessions. Seeking asylum may require all of your savings and the proceeds of anything you can sell to pay someone who promises, often without any basis for you to trust them other than desperation, that they will get you to safety. If and when you arrive in a hopefully safe country you find yourself having to prove to the authorities in the country in which you are seeking asylum that you are genuine in your reasons for leaving your country of origin.
That is never easy. In fact, 73 percent of all asylum claims in the United Kingdom, for example, are rejected in the initial stage of assessment. However, if you are a lesbian or a gay man, things are even harder, and 98-99 percent of gay and lesbian claims are rejected in the initial stage. The story of Glory, an asylum seeker from Nigeria, illustrates this harsh reality. In order to escape the torture she was experiencing in her homeland, where homosexuality is illegal and punishable by up to 14 years in prison, Glory initially claimed asylum in the United Kingdom on the ground that members of her family had been killed and persecuted. When she later gained enough confidence to reveal she was a lesbian, and claimed asylum on that basis, Home Office officials said her case lacked credibility, and a judicial review of her case is now pending.
The United Nations Refugee Convention does not have a category for people seeking asylum based on their sexual orientation. In addition, those who come from countries where being gay or lesbian is a crime and a social shame, are reluctant to even tell refugee authorities their true reason for seeking asylum for fear that they will receive the same treatment again. Think about it for a moment: how do you actually prove to someone in a uniform who has the power to allow you to enter a country of refuge or to deny you, that you are gay or lesbian or straight?
All countries who accept refugees quite rightly have screening processes to ensure that their country is kept safe. But what happens if the emphasis shifts from welcoming all who have legitimate need, to policies that ensure that all who can possibly be rejected are rejected, for whatever reason?
For countries that are signatories to the Refugee Convention, and that pride themselves on a culture of fairness and justice for all, there are serious questions that must be asked about the treatment of some of the most vulnerable citizens of the earth.
For those of us who follow Jesus, who saw everyone as his brothers and sisters, and who himself followed a God of the widows and orphans, our responsibilities are crystal clear.
Explore...1 Kings 17:8–16, (17–24)
There are no characters in biblical stories more vulnerable than widows, women whose personhood was denied because they no longer “belonged” to a man. In the world of asylum seekers there are also those made vulnerable because their personhood has been denied. Glory had to deny who she is – in her own country and in order to receive refugee status.
The widow, whose energies have all been spent to ensure her survival and that of her son, is called to immense sacrifice in order to minister to Elijah.
God of the orphan and widow and of all who suffer because of who they are and where they live, we pray in hope to you. We know that your hope and desire for the world is that all people everywhere will be received in love, with respect and in peace. Give us the courage to stand for this world, and to tell those who would demean, reject and abandon others because of their skin color, their country of origin or their sexual orientation, that for this we will not stand. Amen.
From Paul Turley
Thomas Frey, from the Da Vinci Institute, a non-profit futurist think tank, sees three new technologies that he believes will change the way we live in the next little while: driverless cars, teacher-less schools, and 3D printing. Sometimes we think that life just goes on with only the smallest of changes and then sometimes change changes everything. For example, television, which at first seemed a poor substitute for radio, reached more than 70% of homes in less than a decade after it was introduced.
The motorcar, a frivolous toy for the rich to begin with, went from nothing to one million cars sold in the United States in the first decade of the Twentieth century. Both of these new things have changed our society almost beyond recognition. Today, all the major car manufacturers have research units dedicated to the driverless cars and Google CEO Sergey Brin believes they could be mainstream within five years. And he should know. Google has been testing a fleet of driverless cars for the last couple of years and it was the Google headquarters that was chosen as the site for the signing of the bill to allow driverless cars onto Californian roads.
Here’s how Mark Frohnmayer, CEO of Oregon electric car company Arcimoto, describes the future: “Ultimately, you’re just going to hit a button on your smart phone, a vehicle will pull up, you’ll get in. And once you start to get a lot of [autonomous electric vehicles] on the road, they can do things that no cars can do. They can flock together, they can be more efficient in terms of how they use energy; so what we’ll see is a dramatic reduction in congestion, smaller lanes, a dramatically reduced need for parking lots, and better utilization of our urban cores. Within the next 20 years the potential for just a fundamental reboot of the topology of our cities.”
No one could have anticipated how much the motorcar was going to change the way we lived and thought about our lives. It was the introduction of a totally new way of being in the world. Perhaps too no one can yet truly imagine how much the new technology of the driverless car will change the way we live our lives. We could choose to imagine that it will never happen and that even if it does nothing will change. Or, we could choose to embrace the new thing that looks like it is coming and explore all of what it might mean, both good and bad.
Pray... God, help us to sing a new song. Not one for the sake of novelty but a song of righteousness and truth that seeks to reveal your presence in human life and the life of the world. Help us to receive the changes that seem to arrive so rapidly not with cynicism or weary disinterest, but in the hope that all things can work together for good. Amen.
From Ray McGinnis
When Metro Meteor retired from horseracing due to bad knees, Ron and Wendy Krajewski wondered what was next for their beloved horse. At first Metro Meteor was able to go on short trail rides. Eventually, however, the condition of his weak knees deteriorated so much that Metro wasn’t able to take anyone for a ride. The Krajewskis were paying high medical bills to address their horse’s deteriorating condition.
While caring for their horse the Krajewskis noticed that Metro Meteor liked to move his head a lot. Ron, an artist, got the idea of trying to see if the horse could hold a paintbrush. Ron knew that elephants were able to paint with their trunks, so he imagined his horse holding a paintbrush and bobbing his head in front of a canvas. Ron reasoned that if Metro stayed still long enough in front of the canvas it would be a way for the horse to paint alongside Ron, who would paint for hours at a time. It would be a way for the two of them to spend more time together.
Since Christmas 2012, Metro Meteor has become a painting sensation. The horse is the best-selling artist at Gallery 30, which displays local paintings in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, across the border from Metro’s home in Rocky Ridge, Maryland. The signature style of Metro’s paintings features colourful, sweeping brushstrokes. There are also specks of sawdust in the paintings. This is because as Metro paints, the sawdust from his movements gets thrown up onto the brush gripped in his teeth and onto the canvas.
“For his large paintings, there is a waiting list of 120,” said Ron Krajewski in an interview at the beginning of May. In total, about 40 large and 150 small works have been sold, adding up to more than $20,000. The Krajewskis donate half of Metro’s sales to the New Vocations Racehorse Adoption Program, which finds homes and rehabilitation for retired racehorses.
“Art scholars are not going to have long lengthy discussions trying to decipher the hidden meaning to Metro’s paintings. He is a horse,” state the Krajewskis on Metro’s website. Typically, horse and owner paint for an hour or two maybe four times a week, Ron said, adding that Metro never seems to get bored with the task.
Explore…Proverbs 8:1–4, 22–31
Prayer links…God our Creator, you offer new possibilities in surprising circumstances. May we accompany you in the call to rejoice in your creation and to participate in its unfolding splendour. In Christ we pray. Amen.
From Ray McGinnis
Oz the Great and Powerfulis a movie based on the Frank Baum books about the Land of Oz. Different from the classic 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz with Judy Garland, this one is set about thirty years prior to the original with the visual cue at the opening: Kansas 1905.
Oscar Diggs, Oz, is a fibber, a con man and a ladies’ man. He’s employed as a travelling carnival magician at the beginning of the 20th century, working in Kansas. Flirting with the girlfriend of the carnival strong man gets him into trouble. Oz escapes from the strong man by climbing into a hot-air balloon and is taken, via tornado, to a strange, new place. As in the 1939 movie, the Kansas scenes are in black-and-white on a narrow screen, but in 3-D. The movie springs into colour and widescreen during the Oz sequences.
In the new land, Oz meets a friendly flying monkey (Zach Braff) and a brave china doll (Joey King). Oz also works his charms on the lovely Theodora (Mila Kunis), not realizing the possible repercussions of his actions. Oz learns that he may be part of a prophecy, one that involves a saviour wizard who will lead the magic kingdom to safety and prosperity. This prophecy also involves killing a wicked witch, yet it is not clear which witch is which: Theodora (Mila Kunis), Glinda (Michelle Williams), or Evanora (Rachel Weisz). Oz learns that the Tinkers, Munchkins, and Quadlings are kind-hearted, simple country folk who are mostly farmers with no experience in fighting. Furthermore, they are forbidden to kill anyone. Going reluctantly into battle, Oz uses what skills are available to him, employing magician tricks, such as fireworks and photography to combat magical forces.
O God, who makes all things new, pour your spirit upon us. Where there is fear, bring us hope; where there is despair give us a vision to broaden our horizons. Where our ability to communicate is frustrated, open us to new ways of speech, tear down the walls that divide us from each other and from you. In Christ we pray. Amen.
From Ray McGinnis
In the fall of 2012, poet Susan McCaslin and her husband Mark discovered McLellan Forest, a beautiful mature rainforest in their town of Langley, British Columbia, in the Fraser Valley, an hour drive east of the city of Vancouver. When people think of Langley they usually don’t think of forests at all. They think of rolling farms, suburbs where there once were farms, and very few trees. Susan and Mark enjoyed walking the trails in this forest, some of which led to an old growth black cottonwood tree with a hollow at the base of the trunk big enough for numbers of children to hide in.
Then they learned that the Langley Town Council had decided to sell the forest in order to raise money to build a recreation centre. Since the forest was publically owned, people raised questions about the desired use for the land as there were other options for locating and building a recreation centre. The Council responded by giving an environmental group called WOLF fifty days to raise $3 million to buy the forest. Those in favor of preserving the rainforest objected that it was unjust to make taxpayers purchase land that already belonged to them. And they questioned why two beneficial projects, preserving a rainforest and building a recreation facility, should be pitted against each other.
If the McLellan Forest were sold, the land would not be accessible to the public and a vital ecosystem would be lost. Susan McClasin remembered an old hermit monk from ancient China named Han Shan who scribbled poems on rocks and suspended them from trees. Susan asked some poets to send poems about trees and tied these with string around the tree trunks. Word spread to blogs and websites and soon there were over 200 poems from poets around the world. One hundred and sixty students from the Langley Fine Arts School poured out of two yellow school buses to sketch and photograph the forest.
In 2013 the Council voted to save at least 60% of the park. The local Fort Gallery is now featuring a series of paintings of the forest by local visual artist, Susan Falk, donated toward raising funds to establish trails in the forest. The exhibition will also feature readings of poems about trees by local poets.
Prayer links…God of the unexpected, when circumstances seem impossible, when there is no sign of liberation, you reach out in love and show us again that you are our God. You, Creator, show us through signs of nature itself, shaking us up with the power of an earthquake or the beauty of a tree, beckon us to be believers. In Christ we pray. Amen.
From Fraser Macnaughton
The recent London marathon highlighted the camaraderie of long-distance runners and the indomitable human spirit. As runners lined up at the start of the London marathon, they were asked to set aside their preparation as the race was preceded by 30-second silence for US bomb victims of the Boston Marathon. Defiant runners and supporters claimed back much of the marathon spirit as around 36,000 people wound around the streets of London cheered on by an estimated crowd of half a million.
For every finisher from the 35,079 who registered, £2 (an estimated $100,000 total) will be sent by the organisers to help Boston victims. This race is routinely a triumph of the human spirit. Every athlete on the mass start, including the pantomime horses, scarf-knitters, rhinos and beer bottles wore a black ribbon. On a gloriously sunny Sunday competitors and spectators refused to allow the atrocity to redefine a sporting event which so embodies indomitable human spirit, benevolence, and endeavour.
Many thoughts were for those for whom the event was “a day of joy turned into a day of sadness,” as commentator Geoff Wightman described when announcing the half-minute silence over the loudspeakers. Among the tributes Sean Boyle, 37, from Blackburn, stood out, with a dyed blue and yellow mohawk hair cut and the word “Boston” written in black ink over his red face paint. Martin Connell, 42, an IT worker from Merseyside, wore a picture on his vest of eight-year-old Boston victim Martin Richard.
Surgeon Bill Speake, 42, from Derby, said as he crossed the finish in two hours 45 minutes: “It was particularly poignant at the start, standing there at Blackheath in complete silence. It was the right thing to do. It should have been done, and it was done. When it [the bombing] happened, you had a little shock to begin with. But there was no question of not running. I think it spurred people on even more.” Marathons were always a potential target, he added: “But you didn’t ever think it would happen.”
Prince Harry, who was making the presentation for the event, said that cancelling his appearance “was never an option.” Paying tribute to the “remarkable way Boston’s people had dealt with the atrocity,” he described London’s response and the huge crowds as fantastic.
“The great thing about the marathon is no matter what colour you are, or religion, no matter what nationality you are, everyone comes together to run a certain distance to raise money for amazing causes. I think that you can never take that away from people.”
The runners in the Boston and London marathons would not allow fear or risk to change their commitment to run. In the reading from Acts, Paul would not be discouraged from the call to go to Macedonia and Lydia would not be dissuaded from extending the offer of hospitality.
Pray…That we may have the humility to see the God presence in others as they encourage us to “keep running” and move beyond our boundaries, or get us to see ourselves and or gifts and talents in a different light. Amen.
From Fraser Macnaughton
There is perhaps no more cogent example in churches and communities across the world with regard to being “beyond boundaries” than that of same-sexmarriage. Recent reports highlight the different sides of a boundary as far as churches and communities are concerned.
On the one hand countries like Ireland and Uruguay, both perhaps considered Catholic and conservative, are moving beyond traditional boundaries. Ireland is to hold a referendum on legalising gay marriage after a special convention set up to reform the Irish constitution recommended that same-sex couples in the republic be recognised in law. On Sunday, the convention voted 79% in favour of full equality for same-sex marriage in Dublin. Marriage Equality director Moninne Griffith said the vote proved that “Ireland is ready for equality for same-sex couples and wants equal access to civil marriage for loving committed gay and lesbian couples.”
Meanwhile, Uruguay’s Congress has voted to legalise same-sex marriage, making it the second country in Latin America and the third in all the Americas to do so. One week after the senate passed it by a wide majority 71 of 92 lawmakers in the lower house voted in favour of the proposal. President Jose Mujica is expected to sign the bill into law. “I agree that family is the basis of society but I also believe that love is the basis of family. And love is neither homosexual nor heterosexual,” said opposition lawmaker Fernando Amado of the centre-right Colorado party. Uruguay is the 12th country to pass a law of this kind, according to the organization Human Rights Watch. In the Americas, Argentina and Canada have approved gay marriage, and it is allowed in Mexico City and some parts of Brazil, as well as nine states of the United States.
By contrast the Church of England has ruled out offering blessings to same-sex couples, insisting that such public gestures belong only to heterosexual marriage. The bishop of Coventry, Dr Christopher Cocksworth, warned that the government’s plans to introduce same-sex marriages – a move opposed by the Church of England, which will in any case be legally barred from marrying same-sex couples – risked jeopardising the institution of marriage.
However, despite the church’s traditional and unchanging view of marriage as the union of one man and one woman, the new archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has expressed his admiration from some same-sex relationships. “You see gay relationships that are just stunning in the quality of the relationship,” he told the BBC on the morning of his enthronement last month, adding that he had “particular friends where I recognise that and am deeply challenged by it.”
We pray for Christian communities across the world living in tension as they try to preach the good news of God’s love. We pray that love and compassion not power and authority are the driving forces of communities that seek to serve others. Amen.
From Fraser Macnaughton
South Africa is, once again, on tenterhooks. Nelson Mandela, the father of the nation, 94, was in hospital again and is now receiving home-based care. Mandela transcends party politics but many fear that without him the country faces instability as memories of the apartheid struggle fade. South Africa’s first black president, who is the closest thing the republic has to a king, tested the nation’s nerves again. The president’s spokesman was bombarded with calls; TV crews gathered outside a hospital on a best guess of where Mandela was being treated; editors polished obituaries and supplements; Twitter filled with prayers and unfounded rumours; and millions of South Africans were on edge, pondering: what happens after Mandela?
Mandela is of course a role model par excellence for far more than South Africans. Millions of people all over the world joined in wishing “Madiba” (Mandela’s clan name) a speedy recovery and discharge from the hospital. Many offered their prayers for the old statesman to get better. But there are also many prayers that Mandela will not have a long, drawn-out death, that he will be peaceful, surrounded by loved ones, and be able to look back with satisfaction on the life he lived.
Madiba is an old, old man – one who crammed more into his active years outside of jail than most people would do in two lifetimes. Mandela also used his jail time to good effect, educating himself and others, and spreading messages of peace. Most importantly he also used the time to work on his inner world – coming to terms with the abuse he had suffered, so that when he came out of jail he was able to lead his people to genuine reconciliation.
During his lifetime Nelson Mandela has had a profound influence on so many lives. Part of what makes him such a remarkable human being is that we would be hard-pressed to find a person who had not been influenced by him in some way. If there is anything Mandela taught us, it is gentleness and humanity, not to mention the stupendous power of forgiveness. For many, every time the anger comes, they look towards Madiba and remember what the human soul can overcome.
Let us pray that we can learn to forgive like Mandela.
Let us pray that we learn tosacrifice, without complaint, for the common good.
Let us pray that we learn his great gift of introspection, so that we never let the bitterness grow inside us, even when it seems nothing is changing.
Let us pray that we have the courage to speak up and be honest, even if there are grim punishments in store for us when we do.
Let us pray that even when we are good, good people, we remember that nobody likes a goody-goody; that it’s still nice to dance, crack jokes and wear a loud shirt. And most of all, let us remember that all great changes begin with the person in the mirror; our own transformation leads it all.
From Sandra Rooney
History is replete with atrocities perpetrated around the world on innocent civilians and foreign enemies alike. Charges are brought against military leaders, dictators, and many others caught in the web of such violence. For example, take the New York Times story from Santiago, Chile: “Focus on Healing Arts After Kidnapping Conviction.”
First there is Tomás Cassella gently gliding his hands over his patient, a 63-year-old engineer undergoing chemotherapy for lung cancer, with New Age music playing softly in the background. Then the story moves on to recall criminal investigations that followed the end of the Augusto Pinochet government and we read how army intelligence began what it called “casualty control,” clandestinely taking former agents out of the country to avoid their being charged with humans rights crimes.
A complicated story reveals that Cassella, a former Uruguayan Army colonel, was extradited to Chile in 2006 and prosecuted for the abduction of Eugenio Berríos, a former chemist for Chile’s secret intelligence agency during Pinochet’s dictatorship. In 2010, Cassella was sentenced to eight years for kidnapping and illegal association. His case is now in the appeal process.
Cassella’s military history includes training at the Chilean Army’s Parachute and Special Forces School in Peldehue, the site of political executions and anti-subversive commando training after the 1973 coup. He founded Uruguay’s first parachute instruction center in 1976, under Infantry Battalion 14. Recently criminal inquiries into human rights violations have found the remains of two “disappeared” victims buried in a field next to Battalion 14.
In early 1993, with his military and counterintelligence life behind him, circumstances led Cassella to a healing congress in Argentina, where he learned about reiki, working with energy, stones, aromatherapy, and magnets. “I was skeptical but open to the experience,” he said. “A woman with severe multiple sclerosis offered a heartbreaking testimony. And there I was, a tough parachuter and commando, with tears streaming down my face.”
Cassella began training and for six years now he has been “devoted in body and soul” to reiki and Syntergetics (described as a synthesis of conventional, homeopathic, Chinese and Hindu medicine, reiki, magnet therapy), and other healing techniques. Cassella is in charge of all syntergetic volunteer groups at a children’s hospital in Santiago and provides free reiki services for cancer and bone-marrow transplant patients.
Intertwined with this has been his court case. Cassella states: “The Berríos case was a breaking point in my military career and in my life, but for the better.”And his patient, Gabriel, praises Cassella for what he has done for him. “So when I learned about his past, I chose not to think about it. It doesn’t make sense.”
Explore…Acts 9:1–6, 7–20
Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus is the quintessential story of conversion and redemption, hard to believe, yet we can hardly imagine the Christian story without it.
Loving God, God of second chances, may we have the grace to reach out to those who have been the cause of hurt and brokenness. In true community may we all find hope and healing, transformation and the courage to live as Jesus has shown us. Amen
From Sandra Rooney
Jorge Mario Bergoglio, formerly the archbishop of Buenos Aires, is the new leader of the Roman Catholic world. What we have learned about the new pope is that he is humble and devoted to serving the poor. He said he had chosen his name in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, who worked for the poor and for peace. We know that as a Jesuit he comes from a tradition of rigorous study and life among the people whom he is dedicated to serve.
On the Saturday following his election, Francis offered a blessing to an audience of journalists and other news media workers, a silent blessing, acknowledging that not all of them were Catholic or even believers, saying, “I give this blessing from my heart in silence, to each one of you, respecting the conscience of each one of you, but knowing that each one of you is a child of God.” In keeping with the Jesuit ideal to live simply, Francis in his first days as pope dressed in a plain white cassock. He chose to ride in a minibus with his fellow cardinals rather than a private Vatican car. He has suggested a humble course for the church as a whole, saying, “How I would like a poor church, one that was ‘for the poor.’”
At the same time that headlines called him self-effacing, humble, and dedicated to serving the poor, others said that he was starting his papacy “Amid Echoes of a ‘Dirty War.’” The charges focus on his role as the most prominent leader of the Roman Catholic Church in Argentina, and the criticism for its role in failing to publicly resist, and in some instances actively supporting, the military dictatorship of the late 70’s and early 80’s, when as many as 30,000 people are thought to have been killed or disappeared.
All of the gospel writers report Peter’s denials during the hours leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion. And after Jesus’ crucifixion the disciples hid in fear.
In this week’s reading from Acts we encounter these same disciples, courageously refusing to obey the authorities’ orders not to tell others what they have experienced.
Forgive us loving God when we fail to have the courage of our convictions, when fear silences our voices and our actions fail to point others to you, when we shrink from proclaiming your kingdom. Help us to be bold in the face of injustice and fill our hearts with compassion and love. Amen
From Sandra Rooney
There they were, women and men, dressed in their jail orange clothes, dancing! The Youtube video was titled “Inmates Rising.” What was going on? They were dancing to demonstrate their support of a global movement to stop abuse and sexual violence against women.
That was February 14, Valentine’s Day, and Inmates Rising was one response to One Million Women Rising, a protest/rally that had women, sometimes joined by men, dancing in the streets of major cities around the world, responding to the call to “walk out, dance, rise up and demand an end to violence against women.”
The San Francisco jail participants described the event as “empowering.” One woman said that although locked up physically, she felt mentally free, at least for a little while. Another woman said she was feeling a lot of unity, compassion, and love. A man promised to stand up for women and be a role model when he was back in his community. Another said he had lost two sisters to violence and it meant a lot to him to be involved in this public action.
International response to One Billion Rising, spearheaded by Eve Enster, the author of “The Vagina Monologues,” was strong, with participation in cities in nearly 200 countries. The campaign wasmeant to highlight a sobering United Nations assessment: that one in three women in the world – roughly one billion – suffers some sort of violence at the hands of men in the course of her lifetime.
“Dance allows you to express emotions—outrage, anger, hope—that sometimes words don’t allow you to,” explained Sakshi Bhalla, an Indian classical dancer, who “put everything on hold,” including her job hunt, to work on the campaign.
Jesus had died and his disciples were afraid. The women went to the tomb and found the stone rolled away. What happened next surprised them all.
Amazing God, may we know you in new and surprising ways as we celebrate the stone rolled away. May the hopeless experience hope and all of us sense the possibilities of new life that love offers. Amen
From Paul Turley
Bradley Manning is guilty.
He pled so last week at a pre-trial hearing before a military judge. However, he only pled guilty to 10 lesser charges against him, leaving the ex-intelligence analyst to face 12 other counts for allegedly leaking hundreds of thousands of government documents to the WikiLeaks website.To these other 12 charges, he has pled not guilty.
Manning now faces a possible 20-year sentence, even if he were to be acquitted on all other charges.
Of course, for many of us Manning’s guilt is old news. Before he was arrested, many world leaders, including the Australian Prime Minister, made public statements about the guilt of Julian Assange, founder of the WikiLeaks website, before they were in possession of all the facts and before any charges had been laid. Assange was labeled a “terrorist” and, by implication, Manning was also guilty in the minds of many.
Then of course there is the bigger, more complex question. Manning is guilty of releasing classified government documents, he has admitted as much. But is he a criminal or a whistleblower? If a criminal, then criminal law must come into play; if he is a whistleblower, then a new set of complex laws, provisions, and understandings come into play. The American President, when still a Senator and campaigning for office, committed himself to the appointment of a special counsel committed to whistleblower rights. While President Obama’s support for whistleblower legislation is less than many would like, he frequently states publically that he is committed to transparency.
And then there is the role of public opinion. If we discover through opinion polling that the majority of the American public want Manning to be convicted (or, conversely, to be thanked) how does this influence those who must decide how this case proceeds?
For many, Bradley Manning’s trial is a trial of the US government, Western diplomacy, the activities of nations in foreign wars, the role of the World Wide Web in our culture, the issue of whistle-blowing, the US administration’s involvement in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and possibly many other issues.
God, forgive us when we gloss over the events at the end of Jesus’ life because of too much familiarity. Help us remember that, just as today, there were many people with many different motives, hope and fears. Like us they had only partial understanding of what was happening and they too had to sift through rumors and half-truths as they made their way forward. Remind us that the issues of truth and justice that were vital in Jesus’ time are vital still today. Amen.
From Paul Turley
Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf is the President of Liberia in West Africa, the first elected female head of state on the African continent and the joint winner of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize. In the lead up to Women’s Day on March 8, Liberia has become the latest nation to sign a pledge to end violence against women and girls. Earlier in February 2013, at a United Nations meeting in Dakar, Senegal, President Johnson-Sirleaf signed the U.N. pledge.
Up to 77% of Liberian women say they have been the victim of sexual violence. Human rights groups say it is likely these numbers are even higher, as many of the cases go unreported. The government of Liberia says it is determined to deal with crimes of sexual violence by the implementation and enforcement of stronger domestic violence legislation.
However, not all of Liberia’s public voices are in support of the President. In October 2012, Leymah Gbowee, who shared the Peace Prize with the President, quit her role as head of Liberia’s Peace and Reconciliation Commission and criticised Johnson-Sirleaf.
Simon Allison, writing for the Daily Maverick in October 2012, stated:
“Gbowee’s criticism focused on two areas: first, the nepotism of Sirleaf’s government, symbolized perfectly by the high positions occupied by three of her sons. Robert is head of the state oil company and a senior economic advisor; Fumba is head of the National Security Agency; and Charles is deputy governor of the Central Bank (although he is currently suspended for failing to declare his assets).
“Second, Gbowee thinks Sirleaf has not done enough to address poverty in Liberia. ‘In her first term she developed infrastructure. But what good is infrastructure if people don’t have enough to eat? The gap between the rich and poor is growing. You are either rich or dirt poor, there’s no middle class.’”
In our text, Mary performs a role that is both traditional (anointing and preparing a dead body) as well as radical and prophetic in that Jesus is still living.
There is little doubt that in a male-dominated culture like Liberia, both Leymah Gbowee and Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf are like Mary in John’s gospel, women of courage.
God we pray for the men, women, and children of Liberia. May they live in a land controlled by a fair and just government that respects the rule of law and encourages and endures criticism and dissent. We pray that the women of Liberia will be inspired by Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee, and other women of courage. And at this time of International Woman’s Year, may we all work toward a world that is a safe and just place for all women. Amen.
From Paul Turley
In Finland, a nation of a little over 5 million people, in northern Europe, the citizens are good at many things. We have known for a decade that they are good at building phones (Nokia is one of the world’s leading mobile/cell phone manufactures). What we didn’t know, but are beginning to understand, is that they are also very good at education. In fact, according to the Programme for International Student Assessment(PISA) survey conducted every three years by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Finland has ranked at or near the top in every survey since 2000.
How do the Finns do it? Well, by pretty much ignoring all of the “must dos” that most other western education systems do not even question. For example, apart from the National Matriculation Exam, which everyone takes at the end of a voluntary upper-secondary school, there is no standardizing testing in Finish Schools. Instead the public school system’s teachers are trained to assess children in classrooms using independent tests they create themselves. All children receive a report card at the end of each semester, but these reports are based on individualized grading by each teacher.
In other words, teachers in Finland are expected to treat their students as individual, unique people, with their own ways of learning, their own ways of expressing themselves, and their own strengths and weaknesses.
In Finland teaching is a well-paid profession requiring a masters degree before prospective teachers begin their teacher training. The Finns want teachers who are responsible not simply accountable. As Pasi Sahlberg, director of the Finnish Ministry of Education’s Center for International Mobility, puts it, “Accountability is something that is left when responsibility has been subtracted.”
Explore...Luke 15:1-3, 11b–32
In the gospel story of two sons and their father, the father does not respond to both his sons in the same way. He does not have a textbook in one hand called “How to Raise Boys” while he implements what he reads. Instead he deals with each according to his personality and need.
Imagine you are a school principal or government education bureaucrat.
God, forgive us when we fail our children because we are not willing to spend the energy, the money, and the resources to enable them to grow into all they can be. Forgive us when we forget how glorious it is to be a human being in your world. Help us to remember that you welcome us all into your household. Amen.
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