Tag Archives: refugee camps

Fall Contrasts

I took these picture last week while walking my dog. There were many times driving to and from work lately when I felt a strong urge to pull over onto the shoulder of the road to try getting a photo which adequately represented the glory I was seeing. Fall is a beautiful time in New Brunswick and the contrast ofbright colours of dying leaves and the dark green of the evergreens is striking!

Today in church we read the story of God showing His glory to Moses, but only from the back. Just as there is more to the whole picture and contrast in the roadside colours than I can encompass in a single still picture, God’s glory is just too big for any of us to catch all at once. As we look at the fall leaves in their shades of yellow, orange, red, and brown, perhaps we are seeing a beautiful fringe or lining on god,s cloak.

We notice the bright colours more when they are in contrast to the deep greens, perhaps we need to be looking for God’s glory in contrasts as well. We certainly know that the rows of temporary housing in massive refugee camps is a stark background, and yet against that canvass we see smiling children running and playing, we see volunteers putting forward great effort, and at times at great risk. It is here that we see the glory of God. We often want to look away from people when they are hurting, but remember that in doing so you risk seeing the contrasting glory for which we all yearn!

What Will Your Song Be? part 2

When you hear of Miriam, the sister of Moses and Aaron, do you immediately think of her quick thinking that allowed her mother to be the nursemaid for her brother under the protection of the
Pharaoh’s daughter?  Maybe you think of when she and Aaron challenge Moses’ authority since God had also spoken through
both of them at which time she was punished, being struck with leprosy and Aaron and Moses plead for her healing.  I think she is most readily associated with this simple song of celebration at being rescued from a terrible fate.  Scholars believe, in fact, that the original song on the shore of the sea was the simple two line celebration song of Miriam and that the longer version, attributed to Moses and the men, was actually written much later.  If you study the lines in terms of poetry this makes a lot of sense as there is no use of simile or metaphor in the two lines, no sign of exalted language, just the most basic and important facts.  Miriam is known for her song, for what will you and I be remembered?

Mary, unlike Miriam but much more like most of us, was a total nobody to the greater community of the tribes of Israel.  She
was pregnant but not married, the father was God.  What she had to look forward to was being the central figure of all the local gossip, being shunned, and probably losing her fiancé.  She sang in thanksgiving for news which most young women would have thought was going to totally mess up their lives!  Mary sang when she greeted her cousin Elizabeth, also pregnant, whom she visited right away after receiving her news.  There were no
instruments, no dancing, and no big crowd.  But she sang about being the most fortunate woman on earth and of all the good things that God had done for Israel since the days of Abraham.  She praised him for showing strength to bring down the tyrants, and his mercy in pulling up the victims, filling the hungry, and his faithfulness in remembering his promises to Abraham.  Obviously Mary is known for much more than her song, and yet it is the Magnificat, a song sung with almost no audience at all, which has become a part of liturgy.  We don’t need a crowd, we don’t need drums and trumpets to sing our songs.

Our children have begun another school year complete with the new shoes, the indoor and outdoor, the backpacks, binders, duo tangs, pens, pencils, erasers, etc. and a teacher/student ratio of no more than 1:29.  In Dadaab, currently the world’s largest
refugee camp, there are currently 156,000 school-age children.  Of those, 40,000 children now prepare to go back to school as well, but at a ratio of 1:100.  According to the UN, the camps are in desperate need of 1,800 more classrooms and the teachers to go with them. 

Whatever our place in the world, whatever our status in our culture, whether we are “somebodies” or “nobodies” we have a call to sing.  To be clear, while I firmly believe that everyone can sing music, it is not necessarily singing music to which I refer.   Anything you do to create harmony in the world, whatever you do in praise of God, whatever you do at God’s urging can be your song!  The feature of the September, 2011 issue of The Presbyterian Record is all about the Presbyterian women’s gathering which was held in the spring.  The theme was “Looking In, Shouting Out”.  At this event women from every province in Canada as well as from 12 partner countries met for workshops and worship on topics ranging from Caring for Creation, Nurtuting a Christian Family, Muslim Women-Myths and Facts, Yoga as Christian Practice, Bullying in Canada, and Women in Poverty.  The presenters of the workshops were shouting out!  They were
singing their songs!  And what of the over 500 who attended these workshops and worship services?  You don’t attend this kind of conference unless you already have a deep desire to make a change in the world, and these women were there preparing themselves to sing at home in their churches and communities, and perhaps even beyond.

I’ve been watching a British TV show lately called Ballykissangel.  It is about an English Priest who ends up
posted to a church in a little town in Ireland and all his misadventures.  Recently I watched an episode in which there
was a reporter who uncovered a scandal involving a local businessman and political candidate.  When the politician
suggested that the reporter was just, “whistling in the wind.”  the reporter’s response was that he was unable to whistle but he could  certainly sing really well!  He was not going to
keep a lid on the story; he was going to sing it out so that everyone would know.  Whether or not we can whistle, we
can all sing in some way or other to let everyone know about the great things God has done for us through his son Jesus.  In the words of a song by the Carpenters;

Sing, sing a song
Sing out loud
Sing out strong
Sing of good things not bad
Sing of happy not sad.
Sing, sing a song
Make it simple to last
Your whole life long
Don’t worry that it’s not
Good enough for anyone
Else to hear
Just sing, sing a song.
Sing, sing a song
Let the world sing along
Sing of love there could be
Sing for you and for me.
Sing, sing a song
Make it simple to last
Your whole life long
Don’t worry that it’s not
Good enough for anyone
Else to hear
Just sing, sing a song.

What Will Your Song Be? part 1

When I read the Lectionary readings for Sept 11, 2011 and the passage from Exodus 14:19-31, 15:1b-11,20-21 with its very familiar story of a miraculous escape from Egypt by some 600,000 slaves, their dependants, belongings, and livestock, the thing that struck me was that anybody would have bothered recording the little bit at the end about Miriam and the other women singing a little short song after the great extensive song of Moses.   Not only is it included, but for some reason it seems to make more of an emotional impact than the longer song.  From all the times I have heard the story, I always remember the part about the women singing and dancing, but I retained no real recollection of the Song of Moses which comes first in the account as we read it today.  Women are often not even mentioned in Biblical accounts unless they are giving birth or being given in marriage.  I was intrigued and no matter how much I looked at the Lectionary readings in Romans and Matthew, I couldn’t get this oddity out of my head.  In internet searches under Miriam there are more mentions of this song than any of her other appearances in the Exodus story.  Miriam, it would seem, is remembered most often for this short song.

The Old Testament contains many songs of various types.  These include songs of; triumph, ascent, Sabbath sacrifice, love poems from Song of Songs, celebration, prophetic oracles, and Psalms.  The New Testament uses the terms hymns, psalms, and odes, which all refer to songs of praise.  Most of these songs are recorded with no mention of their sources.  There are, however, several named songs among which we find; The Song of Moses, The Song of Miriam, The Song of Deborah, The Song of Hannah, Songs of David, Song of Solomon, and from the New Testament the Song of Mary which is also called the Magnificat.   While women were not involved at all in the music of the Temple, they were frequently depicted with their drums, singing in religious celebrations and processions.  Indeed, women with drums took the second priority in the order of processions, just behind the singers.  This seems significant given that so little attention and respect are paid to women in this time.

The people of the Exodus were refugees.  Sometimes  I think that escapes our notice as we tend to think of them as a nation, but they were refugees.  Think of  the video or photo coverage you have seen of the refugee camps in countries around the world today.  On the road to the camps we see groups of refugees, some driving small carts or piled into trucks, but mostly plodding along by foot moving with their loved ones in sometimes vain hope of finding a place of safety, of peace.  Right now in East Africa this tragedy is added to by the fact that these people are near starvation as well.  They end up, if they are lucky enough, in big dusty areas in the middle of nowhere filled with tents and far more people than is probably sanitary for the amount of space.  Children are running everywhere, the people line up for hours to receive some small share of the food aid which is
provided, and often walk great distances to find fire wood and fresh water to drink.  It must be exhausting just living in such a state of chaos, away from everything with which they are familiar, clinging to their families and praying for the chance to go home.  Technically the Israelites were heading home, that is to the ancestral lands which God had given.  In reality, there was no one still alive in Egypt who had ever lived in this much talked about place.  They had all heard about Abraham and the whole story of God’s promises to their people, but what was familiar, what was home, was behind them with the Pharaoh and his army.

Miriam was “a somebody” among the Israelites of the Exodus.  She stood with her brothers Aaron and Moses in leadership over the group.  She was a prophet, not common for women, and people listened to her.  Along with the more extraordinary traits, she was the daughter of a family in slavery.  She was used to the harsh treatment which was by this time being meted
out on her people.  She was there when the Nile turned to blood, when locusts filled the land, when the midwives were instructed to kill all the male infants at birth, when the order went out from the Pharaoh to take every Israelite boy who was born and drown them in the Nile.  She was there also when Moses returned to his people and began the negotiations with Pharaoh to release the people to return to their own land.  She was there the night of the Passover when all the Egyptian first-born sons were struck down.  Along with all the other women she had quickly gathered all she could, including the bread, not yet risen, and set off on foot to an unknown place at a moment’s notice.  Twenty-four days from that hurried departure, exhausted from stress and anxiety and still in the middle of nowhere, Miriam sang and danced, leading all the women in thanksgiving and celebration of a narrow and miraculous escape from likely death or re-enslavement.

It is not too late to have your donations for the crisis in the horn of
Africa doubled by the Canadian Government. All donations received by September 16th will be matched. You may give through any of the registered charities one of which is Presbyterian World Service and Development. You can donate by visiting http://presbyterian.ca/pwsd