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The end of slavery

At the close of the eighteenth century the slave trade was a thriving and very big business. Prominent families held slaves and interests in the slave business, a vast swathe of people depended on slavery for their livelihoods, and public opinion was undisturbed by it. When Clarkson threw in his lot with a small group of Quakers in opposition to the trade the odds of success were seemingly impossible.

On May 22, 1787 Clarkson and about a dozen others met in the James Phillip Bookstore for the first official meeting of the Committee of the Slave Trade. They devised a strategy to gather intelligence on the trade, expose it’s inhumanity via pamphlets, posters and public lectures, and build momentum for a banning of the British slave trade. Clarkson became their only full time anti slavery campaigner. He travelled tirelessly throughout England seeking to gather intelligence on the slave trade and to draw people’s attention to its cruelty and inhumanity.

The task was incredibly difficult. Few of those involved in the slavery business would talk to him; he received death threats, and at least one attempt on his life; many mocked him. In that first year he noted

I began now to tremble, for the first time, at the arduous task I had undertaken, of attempting to subvert one of the branches of the commerce of the great place which was then before me…. I questioned whether I should even get out of it alive.

Yet the tide of opinion began to turn. Petitions containing thousands of names started to find their way to Parliament. More people joined themselves to the cause, including the potter Josiah Wedgewood, who crafted a relief of a kneeling slave with the words “Am I not a man and a brother?” that became a popular and influential adornment, and parliamentarian William Wilberforce, who championed the cause in Parliament. Hundreds of thousands stopped using sugar, the major slave produced good in England, and slave-free sugar started appearing. The autobiography of freed slave Olauda Equiano became a best seller and many heard him speak.

Within five years of that first meeting at the James Phillip bookstore public opinion had turned against the slave trade. Parliament however would take longer to conquer. William Wilberforce was the spearhead of the parliamentary campaign.

So enormous, so dreadful, so irremediable did the trade’s wickedness appear that my own mind was completely made up for abolition. Let the consequences be what they would; I from this time determined that I would never rest until I had effected its abolition

Like Clarkson, Wilberforce met with fierce opposition and derision. Admiral Horatio Nelson for example, condemned “the damnable doctrine of Wilberforce and his hypocritical allies”. He also found the support of colleagues such as the Prime Minister, William Pitt.

Bills against the trade were moved in 1791, 1792, 1793, 1797, 1798, 1799, 1804, and 1805, all without success, until on February 27, 1807 a bill for the abolition of the slave trade passed the House by a vote of 283 to 16.

The anti slavery activists had assumed that once the shipping of slaves was outlawed slavery would collapse. This assumption proved naive. While no more slaves were shipped, slaves continued to be held on British owned plantations in the West Indies and their children enslaved. This set off continued campaigning. A mass uprising of slaves in 1831 signalled the oppression of slaves was no longer sustainable, and in 1833 the Emancipation Act finally saw the end of British slavery.

It took fifty six years, but who’d have thought that from that meeting of a dozen people in the James Phillip Bookstore on May 22, 1787, armed with nothing but their determination and their voices, would issue such a result?

One small voice can start a revolution

In 2004 Victor Yushchenko stood for the presidency of the Ukraine. Vehemently opposed by the ruling party Yushchenko’s face was disfigured and he almost lost his life when he was mysteriously poisoned. This was not enough to deter him from standing for the presidency.

On the day of the election Yushchenko was comfortably in the lead. The ruling party, not to be denied, tampered with the results. The state-run television station reported “ladies and gentlemen, we announce that the challenger Victor Yushchenko has been decisively defeated.”

In the lower right-hand corner of the screen a woman by the name of Natalia Dmitruk was providing a translation service for the deaf community. As the news presenter regurgitated the lies of the regime, Natalia Dmitruk refused to translate them. “I’m addressing all the deaf citizens of Ukraine” she signed. “They are lying and I’m ashamed to translate those lies. Yushchenko is our president.”

The deaf community sprang into gear. They text messaged their friends about the fraudulent result and as news spread of Dmitruk’s act of defiance increasing numbers of journalists were inspired to likewise tell the truth. Over the coming weeks the “Orange Revolution” occurred as a million people wearing orange made their way to the capital city of Kiev demanding a new election. The government was forced to meet their demands, a new election was held and Victor Yushchenko became president.

Philip Yancey writes

“When I heard the story behind the orange revolution, the image of a small screen of truth in the corner of the big screen became for me an ideal picture of the church. You see we as a church do not control the big screen. (When we do, we usually mess it up.) Go to any magazine rack or turn on the television and you see a consistent message. What matters is how beautiful you are, how much money or power you have. Similarly, though the world includes many poor people, they rarely make the magazine covers or the news shows. Instead we focus on the superrich, names like Bill Gates or Oprah Winfrey.… Our society is hardly unique. Throughout history nations have always glorified winners, not losers. Then, like the sign language translator in the lower right-hand corner of the screen, along comes a person named Jesus who says in effect, Don’t believe the big screen – they’re lying. It’s the poor who are blessed, not the rich. Mourners are blessed too, as well as those who hunger and thirst, and the persecuted. Those who go through life thinking they’re on top end up on the bottom. And those who go through life feeling they’re on the bottom end up on the top. After all, what does it profit a person to gain the whole world and lose his soul?

Source: Philip Yancey, What Good Is God, pages 184-186

Welcome Home Mr President

Hubert Humphrey was a former vice-president of the United States. When he died hundreds of people from across the world attended his funeral. All were welcome, but one – former President Richard Nixon, who had not long previously dragged himself and his country through the humiliation and shame of Watergate. As eyes turned away and conversations ran dry around him Nixon could feel the ostracism being ladled out to him.

Then Jimmy Carter, the serving US President, walked into the room. Carter was from a different political party to Nixon and well known for his honesty and integrity. As he moved to his seat President Carter noticed Richard Nixon standing all alone. Carter immediately changed course, walked over to Richard Nixon, held out his hand, and smiling genuinely and broadly embraced Nixon and said “Welcome home, Mr President! Welcome home!”

The incident was reported by Newsweek magazine, which wrote: “If there was a turning point in Nixon’s long ordeal in the wilderness, it was that moment and that gesture of love and compassion.”

Source: Reported in Maxie Dunnam, The Workbook on Living as a Christian, pp.112-113

Cory Weisman’s Basket

In February 2012 Cory Weissman led out the men’s basketball team of Gettysburg College for their last game of the season. Four years earlier he had suffered a stroke that left him paralysed on one side. Four years of rehab and he was able to walk with a limp, but was still not able to play competitively. But before his stroke he had been on the varsity team and the Gettysburgh coach wanted to give him a few seconds on court as a senior. So Cory was nominated captain and led out the starting five for what was both his first and last game for Gettysburg, for he was now due to graduate.

Knowing the struggle it was just to be there, the crowd and the players from both teams greeted him with wild applause. The Gettysburg coach gave him a few minutes on court before benching him.

With one minute to go Gettysburg was well ahead and the coach sent Cory back out on court. The Washington coach called time out and instructed his players to foul Cory Weissman. For those who don’t know basketball this was a very generous act, for it meant Cory would be given two shots at the basket.

Cory takes his place at the free throw line, feels the weight of the ball in his hands, lifts and shoots. It misses badly. But he has a second and final shot left. Again he feels the weight of the ball in his hands, lifts and shoots. This time the ball flies straight through the hoop, and the crowd breaks out in thunderous applause.

The assistant vice president for athletics at Gettysburg, David Wright, later wrote to Washington College: “Your coach, Rob Nugent, along with his … staff and student-athletes, displayed a measure of compassion that I have never witnessed in over 30 years of involvement in intercollegiate athletics.”

Source: reported by Frank Record, “When there’s more to winning than winning.” NPR Radio, Feb 22, 2012

The Special Olympics

Joni Erickson Tada is the president of JET ministries, a ministry which aims to serve the disabled. She is herself a quadriplegic. A few years ago she was a spectator at the Los Angeles Special Olympics. Her husband Ken was the coordinator for track and field events. Joni was among a large crowd watching the participants prepare for the 50 metres running race.

The starter’s gun fired and off the contestants raced. As they rushed toward the finish line one boy left the track and started running toward his friends standing in the infield. Ken blew his whistle, trying to get the boy to come back to the track, but all to no avail.

Then one of the other competitors noticed, a down syndrome girl with thick bottle glasses. She stopped just short of the finish line and called out to the boy, “Stop, come back, this is the way.”  Hearing the voice of her friend the boy stopped and looked. “Come back, this is the way” she called. The boy stood there, confused. His friend, realising he was confused, left the track and ran over to him. She linked arms with him and together they ran back to the track and finished the race. They were the last to cross the line, but were greeted by hugs from their fellow competitors and a standing ovation from the crowd.

The downs syndrome girl with the bottle glasses taught everyone present that day an important life lesson, that it’s important to take time out form our own goals in life to help others find their way. Reflecting on the episode afterwards Ken was reminded of some verses from Romans 15:

We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up . . . May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus.

Source: reported in Joni Erickson Tada, “It’s Called Unity”, found at joniandfriends.org

The Rosetto Effect

In the early 1960’s a GP and the head of medicine at the University of Oklahoma were sharing a beer when the GP told the head of medicine that heart disease seemed much less prevalent in the town of Roseto than in its neighbour Bangor. This set in motion some remarkable research.

Roseto was a town of 1600 Italian-Americans. Every home in the town had three generations living in it and the sense of community was very tight.

Teams of medical researchers spent time in Roseto trying to determine why the rate of heart attack was so much lower than nearby Bangor. Was it diet? No, Rosetans shared a typical American diet. Was it genes? No. other Italian communities had heart attack rates similar to the national average? Was it healthy habits? No.  Rosetans smoked as much as people in neighbouring towns and exercised as little as people in neighbouring towns, and met the  national average for obesity and high blood pressure. Was it the physical environment? No, there was no significant difference between Roseto and neighbouring towns. Was it a short term statistical anomaly? No, the trend held up over a fifty year study.

In the end health officials tracked the secret to good health in Roseto – ready for it: close sense of community, very strong bonds of family and friendship. The head of the research team wrote in his report: “In terms of preventing heart disease, it’s just possible that morale is more important than jogging or not eating butter.”

Interestingly, the initial research team predicted that the health benefits would diminish as successive generations ‘Americanised’ and lost their tight knit sense of community. A fifty year study found their prediction to be accurate.

 

 

Source: research reported in “The Roseto Effect: A 50-Year Comparison of Mortality Rates”, American Journal of Public Health, 1992

Who Packs Your Parachute?

Charles Plum, a U.S. Naval Academy graduate, was a jet fighter pilot in Vietnam. After 75 combat missions, his plane was destroyed by a surface-to-air missile. Plumb ejected and parachuted into enemy hands. He was captured and spent six years in a Communist prison. He survived that ordeal and now lectures about lessons learned from that experience.

One day, when Plumb and his wife were sitting in a restaurant, a man at another table came up and said, “You’re Plumb! You flew jet fighters in Vietnam from the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk. You were shot down!”

“How in the world did you know that?” asked Plumb.

“I packed your parachute,” the man replied. Plumb gasped in surprise and gratitude. The man pumped his hand and said, “I guess it worked!”

Plumb assured him, “It sure did – if your chute hadn’t worked, I wouldn’t be here today.”

Plumb couldn’t sleep that night, thinking about that man. Plumb says, “I kept wondering what he might have looked like in a Navy uniform – a Dixie cup hat, a bib in the back, and bell bottom trousers. I wondered how many times I might have passed him on the Kitty Hawk. I wondered how many times I might have seen him and not even said ‘Good morning, how are you,’ or anything because, you see, I was a fighter pilot and he was just a sailor.”

Plumb thought of the many hours the sailor had spent on a long wooden table in the bowels of the ship carefully weaving the shrouds and folding the silks of each chute, holding in his hands each time the fate of someone he didn’t know.

Now, Plumb asks his audience, “Who’s packing your parachute? Everyone has someone who provides what they need to make it through the day.”

Application: pride. Don’t allow your pride to blindfold you to the people who provide the parachutes in your life, and the lives of others.

Application: encouragement, gratitude. Take time out to encourage and thank the people who provide the parachutes in your life.

Application: community, church, spiritual gifts. Charlie Plumb’s experience reminds us that every community needs every person playing their part if it is to function successfully. Some of those parts will be the glamorous roles, like the fighter pilot, while others will be behind the scenes, out of the way and apparently unimportant jobs like parachute packing. But all are vital.

Source: unknown.

The Messiah is Among You

There was once an old stone monastery tucked away in the middle of a picturesque forest. For many years people would make the significant detour required to seek out this monastery. The peaceful spirit of the place was healing for the soul.

In recent years however fewer and fewer people were making their way to the monastery. The monks had grown jealous and petty in their relationships with one another, and the animosity was felt by those who visited.

The Abbot of the monastery was distressed by what was happening, and poured out his heart to his good friend Jeremiah. Jeremiah was a wise old Jewish rabbi. Having heard the Abbot’s tale of woe he asked if he could offer a suggestion. “Please do” responded the Abbot. “Anything you can offer.”

Jeremiah said that he had received a vision, an important vision, and the vision was this: the messiah was among the ranks of the monks. The Abbot was flabbergasted. One among his own was the Messiah! Who could it be? He knew it wasn’t himself, but who? He raced back to the monastery and shared his exciting news with his fellow monks.

The monks grew silent as they looked into each other’s faces. Was this one the Messiah?

From that day on the mood in the monastery changed. Joseph and Ivan started talking again, neither wanting to be guilty of slighting the Messiah. Pierre and Naibu left behind their frosty anger and sought out each other’s forgiveness. The monks began serving each other, looking out for opportunities to assist, seeking healing and forgiveness where offence had been given.

As one traveler, then another, found their way to the monastery word soon spread about the remarkable spirit of the place. People once again took the journey to the monastery and found themselves renewed and transformed. All because those monks knew the Messiah was among them.

Lessons from Geese

When you see geese flying along in “V” formation, you might consider what science has discovered as to why they fly that way. As each bird flaps its wings, it creates an uplift for the bird immediately following. By flying in “V” formation, the whole flock adds at least 71 percent greater flying range than if each bird flew on its own.

People who share a common direction and sense of community can get where they are going more quickly and easily because they are travelling on the thrust of one another.

When a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of trying to go it alone – and quickly gets back into formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the bird in front.

If we have as much sense as a goose, we will stay in formation with those people who are headed the same way we are.

When the head goose gets tired, it rotates back in the wing and another goose flies point.

It is sensible to take turns doing demanding jobs, whether with people or with geese flying south.

Geese honk from behind to encourage those up front to keep up their speed.

What messages do we give when we honk from behind?

Finally – and this is important – when a goose gets sick or is wounded by gunshot, and falls out of formation, two other geese fall out with that goose and follow it down to lend help and protection. They stay with the fallen goose until it is able to fly or until it dies, and only then do they launch out on their own, or with another formation to catch up with their group.

If we have the sense of a goose, we will stand by each other like that.

Source: Unknown

Inside the Walls

It is said that during the Second World War some soldiers serving in France wanted to bury a friend and fellow soldier who had been killed. Being in a foreign country they wanted to ensure their fallen comrade had a proper burial. They found a well-kept cemetery with a low stone wall around it, a picturesque little Catholic church and a peaceful outlook. This was just the place to bury their friend. But when they approached the priest he answered that unless their friend was a baptised Catholic he could not be buried in the cemetery. He wasn’t.

Sensing the soldiers disappointment the priest showed them a spot outside the walls where they could bury their friend. Reluctantly they did so.

The next day the soldiers returned to pay their final respects to their fallen friend but could not find the grave. “Surely we can’t be mistaken. It was right here!” they said. Confused, they approached the priest who took them to a spot inside the cemetery walls. “Last night I couldn’t sleep” said the priest. “I was troubled that your friend had to be buried outside the cemetery walls, so I got up and moved the fence.”

 

Source: Unknown

Everything In Its Place

Most of us have become familiar with the Amish people of the United States as a result of the film Witness. There we learned that Amish people avoid modern technology. They have no TV sets in their homes, no telephones inside the home, and electricity is hooked into the barn but not the house. Such a lifestyle seems to us very harsh and rigorous, but an Amish bishop once explained why it is the Amish live this way. He suggested that most technology had in fact had a negative effect on people’s lives. Television was a good example. It brought violence and poor ethical values into our homes, so much so that many people would like to watch less TV but find they can’t.

Does this mean the Amish are against modern technology? No, explained the bishop. The Amish simply want to keep it in its proper place. The Amish weren’t against telephones. In fact he’d had one installed down the lane from his house. A telephone was handy to have in an emergency or to call distant family and friends. But why bring it into the house. “Telephones intrude into the most precious moments of life.” said the bishop. “You may be talking to your children or sharing something important with your wife; if the phone rings, you will allow it to interrupt what you’re saying. The family can be at prayer, and if the phone rings you will stop and answer it. You could be with your wife in bed, and you will allow the ringing telephone to interrupt what you are doing there!”

Similarly electricity could be a good thing, if kept in its proper place. The Amish in his community had electricty in their barns to refrigerate their milk, but they kept it out of their homes. Why? Because they felt it disrupted the natural rhythms of life. With electricity people stay up late instead of going to bed. With electricity people listen to radios and watch TV that involve them with the outside world rather than their Amish community.

What about tractors? If the Amish will use electricity in their barns, why not tractors in their fields. The Bishop explained that with a tractor a person can plow their field on their own. But using a horse drawn plow the whole family needed to be involved. So rejecting the tractor was a way to create family solidarity.

The Amish have perhaps given more thought to this issue than most of us have. While we may not agree with the Amish on everything we certainly could follow their lead in asking about how we can make modern technology work for us rather than allowing it to determine our lives.

Source: Bishop’s comments reported in Tony Campolo, Following Jesus Without Embarrassing God (Word, 1997)

Keeper of Secrets

At an international seminar held in Australia, Aboriginal speaker Eddie Kneebone explained the sense of importance his people were able to impart to their children when they still lived “in the old way on their land”. A feeling of insignificance or despair leading to suicide – all too common today among young adults – was unlikely then because of a unique custom:

At a certain predetermined time, a young person would be solemnly entrusted with a secret piece of knowledge-information that could prove vital to the tribe’s survival. It might be the location of a hidden waterhole in one area of their territory. It might be the medicinal powers of a certain plant. No one else in the tribe would be given that piece of important knowledge and when the time came, this young person would be expected to contribute it for the welfare of all.

“Imagine,” concluded Eddie, “what a sense of importance and belonging this custom gave our young people. Each of them had a unique place, each had an undeniably important role to play. Self-esteem and a sense of personal worth were the great benefits of this Aboriginal custom-long before any psychologist told us about these elements of healthy growth!”

Source: Reported in Catherine Hammond, Stories to Hold An Audience

The Homeless of Fifth Avenue

Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church sits on the northwest corner of 5th Avenue and 55th St, New York City. It’s a part of the city where the wealthy congregate. The exclusive St Regis hotel is on the southeast corner, with a Godiva chocalatier and Louis Vuitton showroom on the ground floor. On the Southwest corner is the Peninsula motel where you can get a room for the night for just $US1390.00.

The only problem is the people over at Fifth Avenue Presbyterian aren’t cooperating. They have a policy of allowing the homeless to sleep on the church grounds. Each morning they make their showers available to the homeless and allows them to come in and warm up each morning.

The sight of 20 or 30 people in makeshift cardboard homes in the plain view of wealthy shoppers, businesspeople and VIP’s doesn’t sit well with a lot of those in power. In late November and early December church officials were asked to keep the homeless off their premises due to the presence of important dignitaries in nearby hotels. The church obliged for those few occasions, but when the homeless returned a campaign of police harassment began. First they arrived with vans and transported many of the homeless away. Then they returned hourly throughout the night, banging on the cardboard shelters of the homeless, waking them and inquiring about their health. Police officers were clearly uncomfortable about this, but reported that the orders “came from on high”.

Well Fifth Avenue Presbyterian church went higher. They took the authorities to court, and in late December 2001 the judge ruled in their favour. The police were not to remove or harass the homeless anymore.

 

Source: reported in New York Times, December 20, 2001.

He Laughed

Written and spoken by a 16-year-old girl at the 1997 World Summit of Children:

He prayed – it wasn’t my religion

He ate – it wasn’t my food.

He spoke – it wasn’t my language.

He dressed – it wasn’t what I wore.

He took my hand – it wasn’t the colour of mine.

But when he laughed – it was how I laughed.

And when he cried – it was how I cried.

 

 

Heaven and Hell

A man spoke with the Lord about Heaven and Hell. “I will show you Hell,” said the Lord. And they went into a room which had a large pot of stew in the middle. The smell was delicious and around the pot sat people who were famished and desperate. All were holding spoons with very long handles which reached to the pot, but because the handles of the spoons were longer than their arms, it was impossible to get the stew into their mouths. Their suffering was terrible.

“Now I will show you Heaven,” said the Lord, and they went into an identical room. There was a similar pot of stew and the people had the same identical spoons, but they were well nourished, talking and happy.

At first the man did not understand.

“It is simple,” said the Lord. “You see, they have learned to feed each other.”

 

Source: unknown

Greater Than the Sum of It’s Parts

Did you know that a rope has greater strength than the combined individual strength of the strands that make it up? Why is this? The answer is quite simple. Individual strands have weak spots along them, points at which they easily break. But in a rope, the weak spots are randomly distributed along the length of the rope and the twist in the rope allows the surrounding strands to cancel out the weak spots of the individual fibres.

It’s the same with people. We all have strengths and weaknesses. On our own our weaknesses can break us, but together we work to achieve strength for all.

Source: Scientific information from New Scientist magazine

Good Corn

There was once a farmer who grew award-winning corn. Each year he entered his corn in the state fair where it won first prize. One year a newspaper reporter interviewed him and learned the farmer’s strategy for growing winning corn. What was it? Simply this: the farmer shared his seed corn with his neighbours.

“How can you afford to share your best seed corn with your neighbours when they are entering corn in competition with yours each year?” the reporter asked.

“Why” said the farmer, “don’t you know? The wind picks up pollen from the ripening corn and swirls it from field to field. If my neighbours grow inferior corn, cross-pollination will steadily degrade the quality of my corn. If I am to grow good corn, I must help my neighbours grow good corn.”

The lesson for each of us is this: if we are to grow good corn, we must help our neighbours grow good corn.

Source: reported in James Bender How to Talk Well (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1994)

Billionaire George Soros on Materialism

George Soros is multi-billionaire financial wiz. He retired from his Investment Agency at the age of 70 in the year 2000. He was also phenomenally successful as an investor. If you had invested $1,000 in his Quantum Fund when he started out in 1969, he would have turned your $1000 into $4 million by the year 2000.

Yet life was not always so easy for Soros. He was born in Budapest in 1930. He also Jewish. When the Nazis invaded his homeland during World War 2 his father had to bribe government officials for false identity papers so that George could pretend to be the godson of a gentile bureaucrat. Then the family had to spend a period of the war hiding in the attics and concealed stone cellars of almost a dozen homes.

After the war the teenage Soros moved to England and worked odd jobs. As a waiter at Quaglino’s, a posh restaurant in London, he found himself scavenging the leftover profiteroles. Eventually Soros enrolled in the London School of Economics, and the rest is history.

Partly because of his background Soros is not only a capitalist, he’s also a philanthropist. He has injected almost $3 billion into foundations designed to promote open and free societies throughout the world. He plans to give away the rest of his fortune – another $5 billion – by the time he turns 80.

In recent years Soros has turned his attention to the sorts of societies being created by our international economy. And he is concerned by what he sees. Unlike others who have had a rags to riches story Soros does not believe anyone can do it. Indeed, he is worried at the way financial success has become the dominant value of our age and the skewed social outcomes this is delivering. “Markets reduce everything, including human beings (labor) and nature (land), to commodities” he says. “We can have a market economy but we cannot have a market society.”

Source: Biographical information found at Soros Foundation website. Quotation on markets taken from George Soros, “Toward a Global Open Society”, The Atlantic Monthly; January 1998. Volume 281, No. 1; pages 20 – 32.

A Good Citizen?

Jim Langstaff was a Canadian doctor who practised in the early 20th century. He was known for his extraordinary commitment to the welfare of his patients. For example, upon learning a woman who lived on an isolated farm was about to have a baby and needed medical help immediately Dr Langstaff set off. It was a bitterly cold winter’s day and the roads had become unusable. Undeterred Dr Langstaff strapped on his skis and continued. Snowdrifts on the road made skiing difficult so he took to the fields beside the road. At one point he tripped over a fence and became badly tangled in the wire. He freed himself, continue don to the farm house, delivered the baby and, once the weather had cleared, returned to his car.

People who knew Dr Langstaff say that sort of dedication was typical of the good doctor. It came from a sense of place in the world instilled into him by his father. One day Dr Langstaff’s son Walter came to his father and said “Dad, I got 99% in mathematics on my report card.” His father responded, “That’s great, but are you being a good citizen.”

Decades later the words still challenged Walter. “I have remembered that remark for the last 45 years” he said. “Was I being a good citizen?”

Don't Wait…

Just about every home in Australia today has a telephone in it. In fact many homes have multiple phones, and a lot of us carry mobiles. And many of you could easily answer the question: who invented the telephone? Of course, it was Alexander Bell. Bell was amazingly talented. Not only did he invent the telephone, he also invented the multiple telegraph, the audiometer – which is used to test your hearing, the tricycle landing gear you find on planes, and a host of other less well known machines. In addition to this he was cofounder of the prestigious magazine Science, served as President of the National Geographic Society, and spent his life working with deaf people.

But most famous of all is his telephone. It also made his family and his descendents enormously wealthy. But he almost lost it all. You see Bell never seemed to get around to submitting a patent application. Finally, his father-in-law, who had financed a lot of the research, got so impatient that he filed the patent on Bell’s behalf on the 14th of February 1876, Bell’s 29th birthday. And it was just as well, because just a few hours later, another scientist by the name of Elisha Gray went to the patent office to get a patent on a machine he’d been working on for many years – you guessed it, the telephone.

Application: Action. Bell reminds us that sometimes its not enough simply to have great ideas. We need to act on them.

Application: Faith, Works. Bell and his father-in-law are a good example of the relationship between faith and works. As James says, one without the other is ineffective. Bell had faith in his telephone but did nothing about it. His father-in-law had faith and works to go with it.

Application: Community, Giftedness. Bells story reminds us how we need all types of people to make our communities and churches function effectively. We need the thinkers like Bell, the doers like Bell’s father-in-law, and together we can accomplish great things.

Source: Scott Higgins. Scientific info from Dr Karl Kruszelnicki’s New Moments in Science #1

Ask Him About His Childhood

“You have no idea what this has meant to me. All these years I never thought you were even interested in what I had to say,” the old man told them.
It’s my get away. You heard me mention it before. My favorite restaurant for a good old clog your heart breakfast of eggs, home fries, and bacon. Oh yes. Whole wheat toast to make it healthy.

I find the most incredible people and stories in restaurants. Think about it. It’s your family dinner table removed from your kitchen and placed in a public area. Like home, but better. Somebody else is cooking and doing the dishes.

So scattered all around me are families having dinner, friends catching up with the latest news, business meetings and people like me just there to relax. Oh, of course. Great conversation.

Except in the booth across from me. Silence.

When I first sat down there two men sitting together quietly. One man appeared to be in his thirties. He was dressed in some old work clothes and still wearing his baseball cap. The other man I would guess was about 80. He had the most incredible face. The lines and creases gave him character. His white hair was messy from wearing a stocking cap he held on top of the table. He wore one of those red plaid shirt jackets that you might see on a construction worker. Heavy enough to keep you warm while you’re moving about, but not too bulky to limit your movement.

But he didn’t look like he was going any where. Neither was this conversation.

“Boy, I really worked up a hunger today, Pop. All that shoveling and sweeping the snow will do that,” the younger man said.

“Yeah, this is somethin’,” replied the old man.

Silence followed for the longest time.

Suddenly I heard the young man say, “Here they come,” as he pointed toward the doorway.

He almost looked relieved. Somebody who would join in and help get this conversation going.

It appeared to me that the two people who joined them were a mother and teenage grandchild. The woman sat next to the younger man and Pop stood up to let the grandchild slide in place.

“Hello, Dad. Good to see you!” she said as she sat down.

“Yep!” the old man replied.

Silence. Even longer gaps than before.

“I feel real good,” the old man said proudly.

“Oh, you look good Dad,” the younger man said. Then one by one the others agreed.

Silence.

The waitress approached and took their breakfast orders.

Grandpa excused himself. “Gotta go to the bathroom. It happens a lot when you’re old,” he said.

As soon as he was out of sight, the younger man said, “God, I don’t know what to say to him. We just sit here looking around. He never talks.”

“I know what you mean. God what do you say?” the woman added.

“He’s old. What do you talk about with an old man?” the kid joined in.

Oh, no. Here I go. I can’t just sit here and listen to this. I’m going to say something, swallow hard and wait to see if they tell me it’s none of my business.

“Ask him about his childhood,” I said as I continued eating.

“What? Pardon me? Were you talking to us, sir?” the woman asked.

“Yes. It’s really not my business, I know. But do you realize what he has to offer you? Can you even begin to understand what this man has seen in his lifetime? He most likely has answers to problems you haven’t even discovered as problems in your life. He’s a gold mine!” I said.

Silence again.

“Look, talk to him about his childhood. Ask him what the snows were like back then. He’ll have a million stories to share. He’s not talking because no one is asking,” I told them.

Just then he came walking around the corner.

“Oh, boy. I feel much better now. You know I haven’t been goin’ good in a while,” the old man told them.

They all turned and looked at me. I shrugged my shoulders. Okay. So old people also talk about the facts of life. And going or not going is a major thing when you’re old. You take the good with the bad.

After a long silence the young girl said, “Paw Paw. When you were a kid were the snows this bad?”

“Gees, honey. This is nothing like the snows I had when I was a kid. Did I ever tell you about the snow storm that covered my house?” he asked.

“No, Pop. I don’t think I ever heard that one myself,” said the younger man.

Now for the next twenty minutes the old man was in his glory. At one point he even stood up to show them how high the one snow drift was. Throughout the entire meal everyone chimed in with more questions. They laughed and he lit up like he was on stage and the play he was acting in was his life story.

Just as I was about to leave I heard the old man say, “You have no idea what this has meant to me. All these years I never thought you were even interested in what I had to say.”

“Oh….. well, I guess we just didn’t think you wanted to talk,” the woman said.

“Well nobody bothered to ask me anything. I just figured I was boring or somethin. It’s been a tough life you know. Ever since Ma Ma died I really had nothing to say.” He paused for a moment. I could see him nervously wringing his rough life worn hands together.

“You see, her and I were like a song. I made the music and she…she was the words,” he said.

Like tough guys of his time are supposed to do, he held back any visible emotion, sniffled and wiping his eye he said, “No sense talkin’ if you ain’t got the words.”

As I turned to walk away I looked across the table. I saw the young girl wave and smile at me as she put her arm around Paw Paw’s shoulders.

She didn’t have to say a word.

Source: Bob Perks © 2001. Used with permission

Contact

Contact, starring Jodie Foster, tells the story of astronomer Ellie Arroway’s search for extraterrestrial life. It is more however than a movie about aliens. It raises profound questions about life, faith and science.

Ellie’s parents both died while she way very young, and she is left with a keen sense of aloneness and a drive to discover some sense of meaning and purpose to life and existence. Her chosen path to truth is science. She refuses to accept anything on the basis of faith. Only that which can be scientifically demonstrated can be intellectually embraced.

The other central character in the movie is Palmer Joss, a spiritual adviser to the president. Ellie and Joss find themselves attracted to each other, but their relationship forces them both to explore the place of faith and reason in their lives. Ellie challenges Joss to proven that God exists. Ockham’s razor demands that the simplest explanation is the best. On this basis she asks “So what’s more likely? That a mysterious, all-powerful God created the universe, and then decided not to leave a single evidence of his existence? Or that He simply doesn’t exist at all, and that we created Him, so that we wouldn’t have to feel so small and lonely?”

Joss responds by asking Ellie if she loved her father. She affirms that she loved him deeply. Joss then turns Ellie’s demand back on her. “Prove it”. Joss explains that although he may not be able to scientifically prove God’s existence, he once had a deeply moving experience where he felt overwhelmed by the presence of God. It’s on this basis that he believes. Ellie however can’t accept this. If it cannot be proven it cannot be true.

Then one day, as Ellie is listening for signals from outer-space contact is made. Aliens from deep in space have returned radio signals to earth and then send details for the construction of what seems to be a time machine. After one person has died when the first machine explodes, Ellie is chosen to travel in the second. When Joss asks her whether she is willing to die for this she replies: “For as long as I can remember, I’ve been searching for something, some reason why we’re here. What are we doing here? Who are we? If this is a chance to find out even just a little part of that answer… I don’t know, I think it’s worth a human life. Don’t you?”

So Ellie finds herself sitting in a small metallic sphere suspended from massive circular arms. The arms start rotating furiously, reaching a point where the sphere is dropped. This time the machine doesn’t explode, the sphere simply falls to earth. Nothing has happened…

Or at least that’s how it appears to inside observers. Ellie’s experience within the capsule is extraordinary. She finds herself hurtling down a “wormhole”, a doorway through space, until she emerges on a beautiful beach. A figure walks across the sand toward her. It’s her father…in fact an alien life form coming to her in the guise of her father so that she will feel comfortable. Finally Ellie has overcome her sense of cosmic aloneness, perhaps found some of the answers she is looking for. In some poignant lines the alien says: “You’re an interesting species, an interesting mix. You’re capable of such beautiful dreams and such horrible nightmares. You feel so lost, so cut off, so alone, only you’re not. See, in all our searching, the only thing we’ve found that makes the emptiness bearable is each other.”

After 18 hours Ellie has to return. When she does she finds herself confronted by the same skepticism towards her experience that she showed to Joss when he spoke of his experience of God. From the viewpoint of everyone observing from outside the capsule nothing happened. Surely Ockham’s razor demands the simplest explanation – that nothing did happen other than Ellie being fooled? Surely they can’t be expected to accept Ellie’s story on the basis of nothing but faith? Ellie’s confronted with a terrible dilemma. Can she now embrace her experience on the basis of nothing but faith? It seems her answer is “yes”. She says “I had an experience I can’t prove, I can’t even explain it, but everything that I know as a human being, everything that I am tells me that it was real. I was part of something wonderful, something that changed me forever; a vision of the universe that tells us undeniably how tiny, and insignificant, and how rare and precious we all are. A vision that tells us we belong to something that is greater than ourselves. That we are not, that none of us are alone. I wish I could share that. I wish that everyone, if even for one moment, could feel that awe, and humility, and the hope, but… that continues to be my wish.”

 

Application: Science and religion, truth, God’s existence, evidence for God, apologetics. The movie suggests that faith and science are not opposed, as Ellie thinks, but can complement each other as Joss believes. Truth can be accessed not only through scientific experiment but also through experience. Indeed, the film suggests that the greatest truths – love, meaning, purpose, etc – are outside the ability of science.

Application: Meaning of Life. Ellie’s closing words represent a wonderful description of the Christian perspective on life. “I had an experience I can’t prove, I can’t even explain it, but everything that I know as a human being, everything that I am tells me that it was real. I was part of something wonderful, something that changed me forever; a vision of the universe that tells us undeniably how tiny, and insignificant, and how rare and precious we all are. A vision that tells us we belong to something that is greater than ourselves. That we are not, that none of us are alone. I wish I could share that. I wish that everyone, if even for one moment, could feel that awe, and humility, and the hope, but… that continues to be my wish.”

Application: Relationships, Loneliness, God’s presence. The alien in the movie provides a poignant expression of our desperate need for others (and God), when he says of humans, “You feel so lost, so cut off, so alone, only you’re not. See, in all our searching, the only thing we’ve found that makes the emptiness bearable is each other.”

Storms

The Sydney to Hobart is one of the world’s great yacht races. But in 1998 it was struck by terrible disaster, when a ferocious storm forced most of the fleet to retire and claimed six lives.

One of the yachts competing was the 43 footer, the Sword of Orion. During that storm the Sword of Orion was a cork on the ocean, battling its way against huge seas. All of a sudden the crew heard a roar like the sound of a train, a breaking wave of 80 feet hit their yacht side on, and flipped it over. When the boat righted itself, one crewman had been swept away, the mast had torn away from its footing and was threatening to spear straight through the hull, and the equipment and rigging was in terrible shape.

The crew sent out a mayday call and did their best to keep the yacht afloat. They braced the hull to prevent it from collapsing, they started bailing out the water seeping in, and like a cork bobbing on a violent ocean they waited for a rescue team to arrive.

They waited through the night and heard nothing. Then in the dim light of early morning one of the crewman saw something he almost couldn’t believe. There just 150 metres away was another yacht! He raced below deck to grab the flares. He let off the first, but got no response. He let off a second, but got no response. He let off the third, but got no response. Hadn’t they seen him? Couldn’t they see this yacht was in trouble? He let off a fourth and a fifthbut still no response. With their hearts sinking the crew of the Sword of Orion watched the other yacht sail away.

The other yacht was the Margaret Rintoul II The skipper of the Margaret Rintoul had seen the flares set off by the Sword of Orion, but was faced with an agonising decision. One of the first rules of yachting is that you always go to the aid of a yacht in distress. But the Margaret Rintoul was only just making it through the storm herself. The engine was not working, making manoeuvrability in the atrocious conditions very difficult, and to go to the aid of Sword of Orion would mean turning the Margaret Rintoul II side-on to the giant waves, and that would mean a very strong risk that Margaret Rintoul IIwould herself be flipped and left helpless by the sea. Weighing up the risk to his own crew the skipper of the Margaret Rintoul II made the heartbreaking decision to sail on. They eventually sailed to safety, and were later vindicated by the coroner for their choice.

Meanwhile back on the Sword of Orion the crew held on. They were located by a search plane, and a short time after watching it fly off, they heard the drone of a helicopter engine. The helicopter lowered a cable into the raging seas, and a crewman would jump overboard, grab the cable, attach it to themselves and be hoisted to safety. After rescuing three of the nine crew the helicopter had to leave, it was running low on fuel. When it arrived back at base it had just 10 minutes of fuel left. The six remaining crew waited out a cold and terrifying night. Then the next morning another helicopter arrived, able to rescue the remaining six crewman. Moment after the last crewman was rescued the Sword of Orion was flung down the face of another huge wave and began to crack apart.

When we’re in crisis often the only thing we can do is hang on and wait for help. Like the crew of the Margaret Rintoul we might be so overwhelmed by the crisis we face that we’re not able to help others in need. But in a healthy community there will always be those who can help us through.

 

Source: Scott Higgins. Information on the yacht race found in Rob Mundle, Fatal Storm.

Bearing Another’s Burden

Albert Schweitzer was one of the most famous missionaries of the modern era. Leaving behind both an academic career (Schweizer had Phds in both theology and physics) and a musical one (Schweizer was also a concert organist) he set up a medical clinic in French Equatorial Africa. He was 85 years old when Andrew Davison of Colgate Rochester Seminary had the privilege of visiting. Davison tells how one morning, at around 11.00, he, Schweitzer and some others were walking up a hill. It was extremely hot. Suddenly the 85 year old Dr Schweitzer walked away from the group. He made his way toward an African woman struggling up the hill with a large load of wood for the cookfires. Schweitzer took the entire load of wood from the woman and carried it up the hill for her.

When Schweitzer rejoined the group one of them asked why he did things like that. With the rest of the group this person was surprised and concerned that a person of Dr Schweitzer’s age would strain themselves so. Dr Schweitzer looked at the group, then pointed to the woman and said, “No one should ever have to carry a burden like that alone.”

 

Source: Reported in a letter by Andrew Davison found in Illustrations Unlimited.

A Banquet for the Homeless

It’s Christmas 2001. One thousand specially invited guests are seated on coaches transporting them to a secret location. They arrive to a splendidly decorated ballroom, find their seats and sit down to a sumptuous meal prepared by chefs from Sydney’s Regent and ANA hotels: a beautiful salad of prawns and mangos, traditional roast turkey and ham with stuffing and vegetables and to top it off traditional Christmas pudding with a gourmet custard. Guests will be treated to complimentary gifts and an evening of entertainment.

Who are these 1000 specially invited guests? They are homeless people from the streets of Sydney. They’ve been invited by Jeff Gambin, a former restauranter. In 1993 Gambin and his wife set up Just Enough Faith. Every night Gambin and his team of volunteers prepare and distribute meals to Sydney’s homeless. They also provide them with housing, employment, rehabilitation and counselling. In the nine years they’ve been running Jeff Gambin and his wife have spent $2.5 million of their own money, and plan to continue until it runs out. And at Christmas they treat the homeless to a celebration normally reserved for the rich and the celebrity.

Gambin knows he will exhaust all his resources and receive nothing material in return. Yet he says “it is easily the most gratifying thing I have ever done in my life.”

What a wonderful image of the banquet feast of God described by Jesus, a banquet to which the marginalised and the poor are invited, a banquet which turns on its head our common notions of importance, status and honour. Here is grace available to all.

Source: reported on Today Tonight news show, Channel 7, December 21, 2001.

A Pilgrim Church

Eminence, a novel by Australian author Morris West, tells the story of Luca Rossini, a Cardinal in the Roman Catholic Church. Luca who now serves in the Vatican, live sin the shadow of a terrible experience he suffered as a young priest in Argentina. It was the 1970’s, a time when the military junta that ruled Argentina, acted with terrible brutality. Luca was brutalised in front of the villagers. Lucky to escape with his life he was spirited out of Argentina. Yet the scars across his back are an outward symbol of the scars he bears within. By the time we find him in West’s novel Luca is 50 years old, a confidant of a rigidly conservative Pope. He has had to deal not only with his suffering, but his sense of betrayal at the silence of many Church leaders during the “dirty war” in Argentina.

At one point in the novel Luca is interviewed by Steffi Guillerman, a journalist. They sit opposite each other, and Guillerman launches straight into it. “Let’s deal with the big questions first. What’s wrong with the Church?”

Luca’s reply is insightful and instructive, an answer that points us to the true nature of the people of God. Guillerman has asked what’s wrong with the Church. Luca replies, “The same things that have been wrong with it for two thousand years – people! Men and women and children, too, who make up the family of believers. This isn’t a community of the pure and the perfect. They’re good, bad and indifferent. They’re ambitious, greedy, fearful, lustful, a rabble of pilgrims held together by faith and hope – and the difficult experience of love.”

 

Source: Morris West, Eminence (Harper Collins, 1998) p151.

Awareness Test. Can You See the Dancing Bear Video

An incredible video highlighting how we tend to see only what we’re looking for and easily miss things. Can be applied to relationships, not seeing the needy, worldview and how we interpret the bible.

We Are All Family – A Story About Loving One’s Enemy

CNN television  reporter Peter Arnett was once on assignment in Israel when a bomb exploded. Through a mass of wounded people strode a man carrying a little girl. She had been badly injured by the blast. The man begged Peter to take her to a hospital. As a member of the press he was one of the few be able to get through the security cordon that police had formed. Peter agreed. He bundled the man and the girl into his car. The trip to the hospital was traumatic. Neither Peter nor the man knew if the beautiful little girl would make it.

They made it to the hospital, rushed the girl in, and waited anxiously for news. After what seemed an eternity the doctor came out with the tragic news that the little girl had died. The man collapsed in tears. Peter Arnett stumbled to comfort him as best he could. “I don’t know what to say. I can’t imagine what you must be going through. I’ve never lost a child.”

The man turned and looked at Peter. “That girl was not my daughter. I’m an Israeli settler. She was a Palestinian. But there comes a time when each of us must realize that every child, regardless of that child’s background, is a daughter or a son. There must come a time when we realize that we are all family.”

 

Source: unknown. I have been unable to confirm the details of this story.