Saturday, January 30, 2010

In Haiti There is Anguish

This hymn was written by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette, Presbyterian Church of the USA, to the tune St. Christopher ("Beneath the Cross of Jesus"). It has been circulating among pastors as one way to express some of the thoughts and feelings we have had over the last two weeks since the earthquake in Haiti.

In Haiti, there is anguish that seems too much to bear;
A land so used to sorrow now knows even more despair.
From city streets, the cries of grief rise up to hills above;
In all the sorrow, pain and death, where are you, God of love?

A woman sifts through rubble, a man has lost his home,
A hungry, orphaned toddler sobs, for she is now alone.
Where are you, God, when thousands die – the rich, the poorest poor?
Were you the very first to cry for all that is no more?

O God, You love your children; you hear each lifted prayer!
May all who suffer in that land know you are present there.
In moments of compassion shown, in simple acts of grace,
May those in pain find healing balm, and know your love's embrace.

Where are you in the anguish? God, may we hear anew
That anywhere your world cries out, you're there – and suffering too.
And may we see, in others' pain, the cross we're called to bear;
Send out your church in Jesus' name, to pray, to serve, to share.

Port-au-Prince: Destruction Up Close

An amazing panorama in The New York Times of the destroyed cathedral in Port-au-Prince. Haiti's Roman Catholic archbishop was killed in the earthquake.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Show Haiti the Money

Good article in The New York Times reminding Americans (and it applies to Canadian and other Western readers, too) that well-meant donations of blankets, water, shoes, etc. are not always helpful. For once I agree with George W. Bush when he says, "I know a lot of people want to send blankets or water. Just send your cash.” In Nicaragua I heard about overwhelming a town with containers of supplies, as there was no transportation or distribution infrastructure to get the goods out of the port.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Haitians Seek Solace in Prayer

From The New York Times today:

"With their churches flattened, their priests killed and their Bibles lost amid the rubble of their homes, desperate Haitians prayed in the streets on Sunday, raising their arms in the air and asking God to ease their grief.

Outside the city’s main cathedral, built in 1750 but now a giant pile of twisted metal, shattered stained glass and cracked concrete, parishioners held a makeshift service at the curb outside, not far from where scores of homeless people were camping out in a public park. The bishop’s sermon of hope was a hard sell, though, as many listening had lost their relatives, their homes and their possessions.

'We have to keep hoping,' said Bishop Marie Eric Toussant, although he acknowledged that he had no resources to help his many suffering parishioners and did not know whether the historic cathedral would ever be rebuilt. He said the quake had toppled the residences where priests stayed, crushing many of them.

Baptized at the cathedral, Jean Viejina, 68, said she had visited the church every Sunday morning for as long as she can remember, using it to help her endure what she described as a challenging life raising six children. Now, even this place of refuge, like so much in Port-au-Prince, was gone...

(Episcopal Bishop Zache) Duracin said organization and survival were still the priorities for both people and institutions.

'Most of the churches are down,' he said, estimating that more than 100 of the 140 Episcopal churches here had collapsed. 'There is almost no place for worship or prayer.'

People are afraid to go into buildings, including churches, that did not collapse, he said, including himself. His home was completely destroyed, so he was sleeping one of the red Coleman tents that he distributed to about 40 families.

He said that since the earthquake, he had not given a single sermon and was still trying to figure out what to say. When asked what parts of the Bible he had been contemplating lately, he answered quickly: 'Job,' he said.

Like Job, who persevered through death and destruction, Bishop Duracin said he hoped that Haiti would soon find a way to continue living.

'We have to look for opportunities from the disaster,' he said. 'We have to mourn. We have to suffer. But we have to get up because life has to continue.'"

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Underlying Tragedy

David Brooks in The New York Times:
"On Oct. 17, 1989, a major earthquake with a magnitude of 7.0 struck the Bay Area in Northern California. Sixty-three people were killed. This week, a major earthquake, also measuring a magnitude of 7.0, struck near Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The Red Cross estimates that between 45,000 and 50,000 people have died.

"This is not a natural disaster story. This is a poverty story. It’s a story about poorly constructed buildings, bad infrastructure and terrible public services. On Thursday, President Obama told the people of Haiti: “You will not be forsaken; you will not be forgotten.” If he is going to remain faithful to that vow then he is going to have to use this tragedy as an occasion to rethink our approach to global poverty. He’s going to have to acknowledge a few difficult truths."

More on those truths in his column.

I'm not saying that this is one of my churches...

Thursday, January 14, 2010


Photos and reports available on every news site - the New York Times has had very good photographic coverage of the earthquake devastation, to people and buildings. Canadian customers of Rogers and Bell Mobility (Telus any time now) can text haiti to 45678 to donate $5 per text to the Salvation Army's relief efforts (I've done it, and it works!). The United Church of Canada's updated appeal for emergency funds can be found here.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Standing up for Liu Xiaobo

Vaclav Havel and other figures from the Czech Republic and Slovakia have written this letter to Chinese President Hu Jintao, although officials at the Chinese Embassy in Prague refused to accept it. It's published in The Washington Post today but I'm reprinting it.

Prague, Jan. 6, 2010

Your Excellency,

On Dec. 23, the Beijing Municipal No. 1 Intermediate People's Court -- after holding him for over a year without trial -- sentenced respected intellectual and human rights activist Liu Xiaobo to 11 years in prison for "inciting subversion of state power."

Mr. President, we would like you to know that we do not consider this trial an independent judicial process in which neither you nor your government can interfere. In fact, it is just the opposite. Mr. Liu's trial was the result of a political order for which you carry ultimate political responsibility. We are convinced that this trial and harsh sentence meted out to a respected, well-known and prominent citizen of your country merely for thinking and speaking critically about various political and social issues was chiefly meant as a stern warning to others not to follow his path.

Thirty-three years ago, on Jan. 6, 1977, we, playwright Vaclav Havel; actor Pavel Landovsky; and writer Ludvik Vaculik, were arrested by the police in our own country, then a one-party Communist state, for "committing" exactly the same "crime": the drafting of Charter 77 and collection of signatures with the intent to call on our own government to respect our country's constitution, its international obligations and basic civic and human rights. Later, some of us were also sentenced to long prison terms in politically ordained judicial proceedings, just as the court in Beijing shamefully sentenced Mr. Liu Xiaobo in December 2009.

We strongly believe, and we dare to remind you and your Government, that there is nothing subversive to state security when intellectuals, artists, writers and academics exercise their core vocation: to think, re-think, ask questions, criticize, act creatively, and try to initiate open dialogue. On the contrary, the present and future well-being of a society is undermined when governments suppress intellectual debate.

There is nothing subversive to state security or damaging to future prosperity when citizens act guided by their own will and according to their best knowledge and conscience, when they associate among themselves to discuss and express peacefully their concerns and visions about the future development of their society.

On the contrary, a country's material and spiritual future is undermined when its citizens are not allowed to act, associate, think and speak freely.

This is why we call upon you and your Government to secure a fair and genuinely open trial for Liu Xiaobo when the court hears his appeal.

We are also asking you and your Government to end the house arrests and police surveillance which have been imposed on other Charter 08 signatories. We call upon you and your Government to end the criminalization of free speech and to release all prisoners of conscience.

Mr. President, we would like you to know that we will continue to watch carefully the treatment of Mr. Liu Xiaobo and other signatories of Charter 08. We will, together with many of our colleagues from the Czech Republic and Slovakia who signed the original Charter 77, make continued and sustained efforts to draw international attention to their plight.

With regards,

Vaclav Havel, playwright

Pavel Landovsky, author

Vaclav Maly, bishop of Prague

A Couple of Saturday Quotes

George Jonas in The National Post:
"Western-style democracies can survive terrorists. Whether we can survive our own security bureaucracies is a different question. We’re stuck in the groove of an obsolete mindset that isn’t helping us in the age of asymmetric warfare. Many security measures, far from defeating terrorism, are doing the terrorists’ job for them."

Nicholas Thompson, reviewing Michael Gordin's Red Cloud at Dawn in The New York Times, on the beginning of the nuclear arms race between the USA and USSR in the 1940s:
"Somehow, rational decision was piled upon rational decision to create something utterly irrational. Four decades later, two countries with few disputes over land had lavished trillions of dollars and rubles on world-destroying weapons."

Monday, January 04, 2010

Five - count 'em, five - newly discovered "exoplanets"!

I like the "fluffy" planet - could be made of Styrofoam that has escaped Earth's orbit...Maybe there's another planet made out of socks from the Earth's dryers. Here's the Washington Post article. What an amazing universe (see John 1:3).

This reminds me that I saw Avatar - absolutely awesome CGI, although the story was basically Pocahontas in space. I'm not sure that a completely alien race would show emotion in the same way as humans - smiling, laughing, crying. But, like all good science fiction, movies such as Avatar and District 9 make us think hard about our behaviour and attitudes on this planet.

Ataque de Pánico!

This short film from Uruguay has had five million views on YouTube, and brought director Fede Alvarez a $30 million movie contract. So giant robots don't always invade the United States or Japan, apparently.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Jesus as Census Poster Boy

Interesting bit I finally got around to reading in The Washington Post - posters being distributed to Latino church congregations in the US, fostering participation in the upcoming census by pointing out that in Luke's story Jesus was born as the result of a census.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

New Year, New Post

New Year's resolution: post more often. Here is U2 singer Bono's New York Times column, with "10 for the next 10." I'm particularly interested in the Abrahamic festival, non-violent revolution, and the African decade.