Missives from an Outsider: Five Metaphysical Short Stories

The Hebrew-named outsider bidding to become New York’s fifth Jewish mayor
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Some studies warn that an acute water shortage may occur within a few decades unless urgent action is taken. The environmental repercussions could affect billions of people; it is also conceivable that the control of water by large multinational businesses may become a major source of conflict in this century.

The loss of forests and woodlands entails the loss of species which may constitute extremely important resources in the future, not only for food but also for curing disease and other uses.

Different species contain genes which could be key resources in years ahead for meeting human needs and regulating environmental problems. Each year sees the disappearance of thousands of plant and animal species which we will never know, which our children will never see, because they have been lost for ever.

The great majority become extinct for reasons related to human activity. Because of us, thousands of species will no longer give glory to God by their very existence, nor convey their message to us. We have no such right. It may well disturb us to learn of the extinction of mammals or birds, since they are more visible. But the good functioning of ecosystems also requires fungi, algae, worms, insects, reptiles and an innumerable variety of microorganisms.

Some less numerous species, although generally unseen, nonetheless play a critical role in maintaining the equilibrium of a particular place. Human beings must intervene when a geosystem reaches a critical state.

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But nowadays, such intervention in nature has become more and more frequent. As a consequence, serious problems arise, leading to further interventions; human activity becomes ubiquitous, with all the risks which this entails. Often a vicious circle results, as human intervention to resolve a problem further aggravates the situation. For example, many birds and insects which disappear due to synthetic agrotoxins are helpful for agriculture: their disappearance will have to be compensated for by yet other techniques which may well prove harmful. We must be grateful for the praiseworthy efforts being made by scientists and engineers dedicated to finding solutions to man-made problems.

But a sober look at our world shows that the degree of human intervention, often in the service of business interests and consumerism, is actually making our earth less rich and beautiful, ever more limited and grey, even as technological advances and consumer goods continue to abound limitlessly. We seem to think that we can substitute an irreplaceable and irretrievable beauty with something which we have created ourselves. In assessing the environmental impact of any project, concern is usually shown for its effects on soil, water and air, yet few careful studies are made of its impact on biodiversity, as if the loss of species or animals and plant groups were of little importance.

Highways, new plantations, the fencing-off of certain areas, the damming of water sources, and similar developments, crowd out natural habitats and, at times, break them up in such a way that animal populations can no longer migrate or roam freely. As a result, some species face extinction. Alternatives exist which at least lessen the impact of these projects, like the creation of biological corridors, but few countries demonstrate such concern and foresight.

Frequently, when certain species are exploited commercially, little attention is paid to studying their reproductive patterns in order to prevent their depletion and the consequent imbalance of the ecosystem. Caring for ecosystems demands far-sightedness, since no one looking for quick and easy profit is truly interested in their preservation. But the cost of the damage caused by such selfish lack of concern is much greater than the economic benefits to be obtained. Where certain species are destroyed or seriously harmed, the values involved are incalculable. We can be silent witnesses to terrible injustices if we think that we can obtain significant benefits by making the rest of humanity, present and future, pay the extremely high costs of environmental deterioration.

Some countries have made significant progress in establishing sanctuaries on land and in the oceans where any human intervention is prohibited which might modify their features or alter their original structures. In the protection of biodiversity, specialists insist on the need for particular attention to be shown to areas richer both in the number of species and in endemic, rare or less protected species.

Certain places need greater protection because of their immense importance for the global ecosystem, or because they represent important water reserves and thus safeguard other forms of life. Let us mention, for example, those richly biodiverse lungs of our planet which are the Amazon and the Congo basins, or the great aquifers and glaciers. We know how important these are for the entire earth and for the future of humanity.

The ecosystems of tropical forests possess an enormously complex biodiversity which is almost impossible to appreciate fully, yet when these forests are burned down or levelled for purposes of cultivation, within the space of a few years countless species are lost and the areas frequently become arid wastelands. A delicate balance has to be maintained when speaking about these places, for we cannot overlook the huge global economic interests which, under the guise of protecting them, can undermine the sovereignty of individual nations.

The replacement of virgin forest with plantations of trees, usually monocultures, is rarely adequately analyzed. Yet this can seriously compromise a biodiversity which the new species being introduced does not accommodate. Similarly, wetlands converted into cultivated land lose the enormous biodiversity which they formerly hosted. In some coastal areas the disappearance of ecosystems sustained by mangrove swamps is a source of serious concern. Selective forms of fishing which discard much of what they collect continue unabated.

Particularly threatened are marine organisms which we tend to overlook, like some forms of plankton; they represent a significant element in the ocean food chain, and species used for our food ultimately depend on them. In tropical and subtropical seas, we find coral reefs comparable to the great forests on dry land, for they shelter approximately a million species, including fish, crabs, molluscs, sponges and algae.

It is aggravated by the rise in temperature of the oceans. All of this helps us to see that every intervention in nature can have consequences which are not immediately evident, and that certain ways of exploiting resources prove costly in terms of degradation which ultimately reaches the ocean bed itself.

Greater investment needs to be made in research aimed at understanding more fully the functioning of ecosystems and adequately analyzing the different variables associated with any significant modification of the environment. Because all creatures are connected, each must be cherished with love and respect, for all of us as living creatures are dependent on one another. Each area is responsible for the care of this family.

This will require undertaking a careful inventory of the species which it hosts, with a view to developing programmes and strategies of protection with particular care for safeguarding species heading towards extinction. Human beings too are creatures of this world, enjoying a right to life and happiness, and endowed with unique dignity.

Nowadays, for example, we are conscious of the disproportionate and unruly growth of many cities, which have become unhealthy to live in, not only because of pollution caused by toxic emissions but also as a result of urban chaos, poor transportation, and visual pollution and noise. Many cities are huge, inefficient structures, excessively wasteful of energy and water.

Neighbourhoods, even those recently built, are congested, chaotic and lacking in sufficient green space. We were not meant to be inundated by cement, asphalt, glass and metal, and deprived of physical contact with nature. The social dimensions of global change include the effects of technological innovations on employment, social exclusion, an inequitable distribution and consumption of energy and other services, social breakdown, increased violence and a rise in new forms of social aggression, drug trafficking, growing drug use by young people, and the loss of identity.

These are signs that the growth of the past two centuries has not always led to an integral development and an improvement in the quality of life. Some of these signs are also symptomatic of real social decline, the silent rupture of the bonds of integration and social cohesion. Furthermore, when media and the digital world become omnipresent, their influence can stop people from learning how to live wisely, to think deeply and to love generously. In this context, the great sages of the past run the risk of going unheard amid the noise and distractions of an information overload.

Efforts need to be made to help these media become sources of new cultural progress for humanity and not a threat to our deepest riches. True wisdom, as the fruit of self-examination, dialogue and generous encounter between persons, is not acquired by a mere accumulation of data which eventually leads to overload and confusion, a sort of mental pollution. Real relationships with others, with all the challenges they entail, now tend to be replaced by a type of internet communication which enables us to choose or eliminate relationships at whim, thus giving rise to a new type of contrived emotion which has more to do with devices and displays than with other people and with nature.

Yet at times they also shield us from direct contact with the pain, the fears and the joys of others and the complexity of their personal experiences. For this reason, we should be concerned that, alongside the exciting possibilities offered by these media, a deep and melancholic dissatisfaction with interpersonal relations, or a harmful sense of isolation, can also arise. The human environment and the natural environment deteriorate together; we cannot adequately combat environmental degradation unless we attend to causes related to human and social degradation.

The impact of present imbalances is also seen in the premature death of many of the poor, in conflicts sparked by the shortage of resources, and in any number of other problems which are insufficiently represented on global agendas. It needs to be said that, generally speaking, there is little in the way of clear awareness of problems which especially affect the excluded. These days, they are mentioned in international political and economic discussions, but one often has the impression that their problems are brought up as an afterthought, a question which gets added almost out of duty or in a tangential way, if not treated merely as collateral damage.

Indeed, when all is said and done, they frequently remain at the bottom of the pile. This is due partly to the fact that many professionals, opinion makers, communications media and centres of power, being located in affluent urban areas, are far removed from the poor, with little direct contact with their problems. This lack of physical contact and encounter, encouraged at times by the disintegration of our cities, can lead to a numbing of conscience and to tendentious analyses which neglect parts of reality. Today, however, we have to realize that a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.

Instead of resolving the problems of the poor and thinking of how the world can be different, some can only propose a reduction in the birth rate. It is an attempt to legitimize the present model of distribution, where a minority believes that it has the right to consume in a way which can never be universalized, since the planet could not even contain the waste products of such consumption. Inequity affects not only individuals but entire countries; it compels us to consider an ethics of international relations.

The export of raw materials to satisfy markets in the industrialized north has caused harm locally, as for example in mercury pollution in gold mining or sulphur dioxide pollution in copper mining. There is a pressing need to calculate the use of environmental space throughout the world for depositing gas residues which have been accumulating for two centuries and have created a situation which currently affects all the countries of the world.

The warming caused by huge consumption on the part of some rich countries has repercussions on the poorest areas of the world, especially Africa, where a rise in temperature, together with drought, has proved devastating for farming. They do here what they would never do in developed countries or the so-called first world. The foreign debt of poor countries has become a way of controlling them, yet this is not the case where ecological debt is concerned. In different ways, developing countries, where the most important reserves of the biosphere are found, continue to fuel the development of richer countries at the cost of their own present and future.

The land of the southern poor is rich and mostly unpolluted, yet access to ownership of goods and resources for meeting vital needs is inhibited by a system of commercial relations and ownership which is structurally perverse. The developed countries ought to help pay this debt by significantly limiting their consumption of non-renewable energy and by assisting poorer countries to support policies and programmes of sustainable development.

The poorest areas and countries are less capable of adopting new models for reducing environmental impact because they lack the wherewithal to develop the necessary processes and to cover their costs. We must continue to be aware that, regarding climate change, there are differentiated responsibilities. There are no frontiers or barriers, political or social, behind which we can hide, still less is there room for the globalization of indifference. These situations have caused sister earth, along with all the abandoned of our world, to cry out, pleading that we take another course.

Never have we so hurt and mistreated our common home as we have in the last two hundred years. Yet we are called to be instruments of God our Father, so that our planet might be what he desired when he created it and correspond with his plan for peace, beauty and fullness. The problem is that we still lack the culture needed to confront this crisis. We lack leadership capable of striking out on new paths and meeting the needs of the present with concern for all and without prejudice towards coming generations.

The establishment of a legal framework which can set clear boundaries and ensure the protection of ecosystems has become indispensable; otherwise, the new power structures based on the techno-economic paradigm may overwhelm not only our politics but also freedom and justice. It is remarkable how weak international political responses have been. The failure of global summits on the environment make it plain that our politics are subject to technology and finance. There are too many special interests, and economic interests easily end up trumping the common good and manipulating information so that their own plans will not be affected.

Consequently the most one can expect is superficial rhetoric, sporadic acts of philanthropy and perfunctory expressions of concern for the environment, whereas any genuine attempt by groups within society to introduce change is viewed as a nuisance based on romantic illusions or an obstacle to be circumvented. Some countries are gradually making significant progress, developing more effective controls and working to combat corruption.

People may well have a growing ecological sensitivity but it has not succeeded in changing their harmful habits of consumption which, rather than decreasing, appear to be growing all the more. A simple example is the increasing use and power of air-conditioning. The markets, which immediately benefit from sales, stimulate ever greater demand. An outsider looking at our world would be amazed at such behaviour, which at times appears self-destructive. In the meantime, economic powers continue to justify the current global system where priority tends to be given to speculation and the pursuit of financial gain, which fail to take the context into account, let alone the effects on human dignity and the natural environment.

Here we see how environmental deterioration and human and ethical degradation are closely linked. Many people will deny doing anything wrong because distractions constantly dull our consciousness of just how limited and finite our world really is. It is foreseeable that, once certain resources have been depleted, the scene will be set for new wars, albeit under the guise of noble claims.

War always does grave harm to the environment and to the cultural riches of peoples, risks which are magnified when one considers nuclear arms and biological weapons. But powerful financial interests prove most resistant to this effort, and political planning tends to lack breadth of vision.

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What would induce anyone, at this stage, to hold on to power only to be remembered for their inability to take action when it was urgent and necessary to do so? In some countries, there are positive examples of environmental improvement: rivers, polluted for decades, have been cleaned up; native woodlands have been restored; landscapes have been beautified thanks to environmental renewal projects; beautiful buildings have been erected; advances have been made in the production of non-polluting energy and in the improvement of public transportation.

These achievements do not solve global problems, but they do show that men and women are still capable of intervening positively. For all our limitations, gestures of generosity, solidarity and care cannot but well up within us, since we were made for love. At the same time we can note the rise of a false or superficial ecology which bolsters complacency and a cheerful recklessness.

As often occurs in periods of deep crisis which require bold decisions, we are tempted to think that what is happening is not entirely clear.

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Superficially, apart from a few obvious signs of pollution and deterioration, things do not look that serious, and the planet could continue as it is for some time. Such evasiveness serves as a licence to carrying on with our present lifestyles and models of production and consumption. This is the way human beings contrive to feed their self-destructive vices: trying not to see them, trying not to acknowledge them, delaying the important decisions and pretending that nothing will happen. Finally, we need to acknowledge that different approaches and lines of thought have emerged regarding this situation and its possible solutions.

At one extreme, we find those who doggedly uphold the myth of progress and tell us that ecological problems will solve themselves simply with the application of new technology and without any need for ethical considerations or deep change. At the other extreme are those who view men and women and all their interventions as no more than a threat, jeopardizing the global ecosystem, and consequently the presence of human beings on the planet should be reduced and all forms of intervention prohibited. Viable future scenarios will have to be generated between these extremes, since there is no one path to a solution.

This makes a variety of proposals possible, all capable of entering into dialogue with a view to developing comprehensive solutions. On many concrete questions, the Church has no reason to offer a definitive opinion; she knows that honest debate must be encouraged among experts, while respecting divergent views.

But we need only take a frank look at the facts to see that our common home is falling into serious disrepair. Hope would have us recognize that there is always a way out, that we can always redirect our steps, that we can always do something to solve our problems. There are regions now at high risk and, aside from all doomsday predictions, the present world system is certainly unsustainable from a number of points of view, for we have stopped thinking about the goals of human activity.

Why should this document, addressed to all people of good will, include a chapter dealing with the convictions of believers? I am well aware that in the areas of politics and philosophy there are those who firmly reject the idea of a Creator, or consider it irrelevant, and consequently dismiss as irrational the rich contribution which religions can make towards an integral ecology and the full development of humanity. Others view religions simply as a subculture to be tolerated.

Nonetheless, science and religion, with their distinctive approaches to understanding reality, can enter into an intense dialogue fruitful for both. Given the complexity of the ecological crisis and its multiple causes, we need to realize that the solutions will not emerge from just one way of interpreting and transforming reality. Respect must also be shown for the various cultural riches of different peoples, their art and poetry, their interior life and spirituality. If we are truly concerned to develop an ecology capable of remedying the damage we have done, no branch of the sciences and no form of wisdom can be left out, and that includes religion and the language particular to it.

The Catholic Church is open to dialogue with philosophical thought; this has enabled her to produce various syntheses between faith and reason.

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Furthermore, although this Encyclical welcomes dialogue with everyone so that together we can seek paths of liberation, I would like from the outset to show how faith convictions can offer Christians, and some other believers as well, ample motivation to care for nature and for the most vulnerable of their brothers and sisters.

Without repeating the entire theology of creation, we can ask what the great biblical narratives say about the relationship of human beings with the world. Gen How wonderful is the certainty that each human life is not adrift in the midst of hopeless chaos, in a world ruled by pure chance or endlessly recurring cycles! The creation accounts in the book of Genesis contain, in their own symbolic and narrative language, profound teachings about human existence and its historical reality. They suggest that human life is grounded in three fundamental and closely intertwined relationships: with God, with our neighbour and with the earth itself.

According to the Bible, these three vital relationships have been broken, both outwardly and within us. This rupture is sin. The harmony between the Creator, humanity and creation as a whole was disrupted by our presuming to take the place of God and refusing to acknowledge our creaturely limitations. As a result, the originally harmonious relationship between human beings and nature became conflictual cf.

It is significant that the harmony which Saint Francis of Assisi experienced with all creatures was seen as a healing of that rupture. Saint Bonaventure held that, through universal reconciliation with every creature, Saint Francis in some way returned to the state of original innocence. We are not God. The earth was here before us and it has been given to us. Gen , has encouraged the unbridled exploitation of nature by painting him as domineering and destructive by nature. This is not a correct interpretation of the Bible as understood by the Church.

This implies a relationship of mutual responsibility between human beings and nature. Each community can take from the bounty of the earth whatever it needs for subsistence, but it also has the duty to protect the earth and to ensure its fruitfulness for coming generations. The laws found in the Bible dwell on relationships, not only among individuals but also with other living beings.

Clearly, the Bible has no place for a tyrannical anthropocentrism unconcerned for other creatures. In our time, the Church does not simply state that other creatures are completely subordinated to the good of human beings, as if they have no worth in themselves and can be treated as we wish. In the story of Cain and Abel, we see how envy led Cain to commit the ultimate injustice against his brother, which in turn ruptured the relationship between Cain and God, and between Cain and the earth from which he was banished.

This is seen clearly in the dramatic exchange between God and Cain. Disregard for the duty to cultivate and maintain a proper relationship with my neighbour, for whose care and custody I am responsible, ruins my relationship with my own self, with others, with God and with the earth.

When all these relationships are neglected, when justice no longer dwells in the land, the Bible tells us that life itself is endangered. These ancient stories, full of symbolism, bear witness to a conviction which we today share, that everything is interconnected, and that genuine care for our own lives and our relationships with nature is inseparable from fraternity, justice and faithfulness to others. In this way he gave humanity the chance of a new beginning. All it takes is one good person to restore hope! The biblical tradition clearly shows that this renewal entails recovering and respecting the rhythms inscribed in nature by the hand of the Creator.

We see this, for example, in the law of the Sabbath. On the seventh day, God rested from all his work. He commanded Israel to set aside each seventh day as a day of rest, a Sabbath , cf. Gen ; Ex ; Similarly, every seven years, a sabbatical year was set aside for Israel, a complete rest for the land cf.

Lev This law came about as an attempt to ensure balance and fairness in their relationships with others and with the land on which they lived and worked. At the same time, it was an acknowledgment that the gift of the earth with its fruits belongs to everyone. Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens! This is why we adore him.

The writings of the prophets invite us to find renewed strength in times of trial by contemplating the all-powerful God who created the universe. Indeed, all sound spirituality entails both welcoming divine love and adoration, confident in the Lord because of his infinite power. It is you who made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm!

He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. The experience of the Babylonian captivity provoked a spiritual crisis which led to deeper faith in God. Now his creative omnipotence was given pride of place in order to exhort the people to regain their hope in the midst of their wretched predicament. Just and true are your ways! The God who created the universe out of nothing can also intervene in this world and overcome every form of evil. Injustice is not invincible.

A spirituality which forgets God as all-powerful and Creator is not acceptable. That is how we end up worshipping earthly powers, or ourselves usurping the place of God, even to the point of claiming an unlimited right to trample his creation underfoot.

The best way to restore men and women to their rightful place, putting an end to their claim to absolute dominion over the earth, is to speak once more of the figure of a Father who creates and who alone owns the world. Otherwise, human beings will always try to impose their own laws and interests on reality. Nature is usually seen as a system which can be studied, understood and controlled, whereas creation can only be understood as a gift from the outstretched hand of the Father of all, and as a reality illuminated by the love which calls us together into universal communion.

This tells us that the world came about as the result of a decision, not from chaos or chance, and this exalts it all the more. The creating word expresses a free choice. The universe did not emerge as the result of arbitrary omnipotence, a show of force or a desire for self-assertion. Creation is of the order of love.

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Even the fleeting life of the least of beings is the object of his love, and in its few seconds of existence, God enfolds it with his affection. At the same time, Judaeo-Christian thought demythologized nature. While continuing to admire its grandeur and immensity, it no longer saw nature as divine. In doing so, it emphasizes all the more our human responsibility for nature.

This rediscovery of nature can never be at the cost of the freedom and responsibility of human beings who, as part of the world, have the duty to cultivate their abilities in order to protect it and develop its potential. If we acknowledge the value and the fragility of nature and, at the same time, our God-given abilities, we can finally leave behind the modern myth of unlimited material progress. A fragile world, entrusted by God to human care, challenges us to devise intelligent ways of directing, developing and limiting our power.

In this universe, shaped by open and intercommunicating systems, we can discern countless forms of relationship and participation. Faith allows us to interpret the meaning and the mysterious beauty of what is unfolding. We are free to apply our intelligence towards things evolving positively, or towards adding new ills, new causes of suffering and real setbacks. This is what makes for the excitement and drama of human history, in which freedom, growth, salvation and love can blossom, or lead towards decadence and mutual destruction.

Yet God, who wishes to work with us and who counts on our cooperation, can also bring good out of the evil we have done. Human beings, even if we postulate a process of evolution, also possess a uniqueness which cannot be fully explained by the evolution of other open systems. Each of us has his or her own personal identity and is capable of entering into dialogue with others and with God himself. Our capacity to reason, to develop arguments, to be inventive, to interpret reality and to create art, along with other not yet discovered capacities, are signs of a uniqueness which transcends the spheres of physics and biology.

The biblical accounts of creation invite us to see each human being as a subject who can never be reduced to the status of an object. Yet it would also be mistaken to view other living beings as mere objects subjected to arbitrary human domination. When nature is viewed solely as a source of profit and gain, this has serious consequences for society.

Completely at odds with this model are the ideals of harmony, justice, fraternity and peace as proposed by Jesus. The ultimate destiny of the universe is in the fullness of God, which has already been attained by the risen Christ, the measure of the maturity of all things.

The ultimate purpose of other creatures is not to be found in us. Rather, all creatures are moving forward with us and through us towards a common point of arrival, which is God, in that transcendent fullness where the risen Christ embraces and illumines all things. Human beings, endowed with intelligence and love, and drawn by the fullness of Christ, are called to lead all creatures back to their Creator.

Our insistence that each human being is an image of God should not make us overlook the fact that each creature has its own purpose. None is superfluous. Soil, water, mountains: everything is, as it were, a caress of God. The history of our friendship with God is always linked to particular places which take on an intensely personal meaning; we all remember places, and revisiting those memories does us much good. Anyone who has grown up in the hills or used to sit by the spring to drink, or played outdoors in the neighbourhood square; going back to these places is a chance to recover something of their true selves.

The universe as a whole, in all its manifold relationships, shows forth the inexhaustible riches of God. The sun and the moon, the cedar and the little flower, the eagle and the sparrow: the spectacle of their countless diversities and inequalities tells us that no creature is self-sufficient. When we can see God reflected in all that exists, our hearts are moved to praise the Lord for all his creatures and to worship him in union with them.

This sentiment finds magnificent expression in the hymn of Saint Francis of Assisi:. Praised be you, my Lord, with all your creatures, especially Sir Brother Sun, who is the day and through whom you give us light. And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendour; and bears a likeness of you, Most High. Praised be you, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars, in heaven you formed them clear and precious and beautiful. Praised be you, my Lord, through Brother Wind, and through the air, cloudy and serene, and every kind of weather through whom you give sustenance to your creatures.

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Harrowing yet hopeful, insightful and compelling, this family's story is truly unforgettable. Magic, high comedy, and intense drama move through an enchanted yet harsh life chronicle, as a young girl leaves rural Puerto Rico for New York's tenements and a chance for success. In the summer of , Louis Mendoza set out from Santa Cruz, California and bicycled 8, miles around the entire perimeter of the country, talking to people in large cities and small towns about their experiences either as immigrants or as residents who have welcomed--or not--Latino immigrants into their communities.

Mendoza offers his own account of the visceral, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual dimensions of traveling the country in search of an understanding of what it means to be Latino in the United States in the twenty-first century. With a blend of first- and second-person narratives, blog entries, poetry, and excerpts from conversations with people from all walks of life, Mendoza presents his own thoughts alongside the stories of others. As a boy, Dan-el came here legally with his family.

Their visas lapsed, and Dan-el's father returned home, but Dan-el's mother was determined to make a better life for her bright sons. Without papers, they faced tremendous obstacles, but in a triumph of the American Dream, Dan-el eventually rose to graduate as salutatorian of his Princeton class. Beginning in the s, as the Hmong were being massacred for their collaboration with the United States during the Vietnam War, Yang recounts the harrowing story of her family's captivity, the daring rescue undertaken by her father and uncles, and their narrow escape into Thailand where Yang was born in the Ban Vinai Refugee Camp.

When she was six years old, Yang's family immigrated to America, and she evocatively captures the challenges of adapting to a new place and a new language. Through her words, the dreams, wisdom, and traditions passed down from her grandmother and shared by an entire community have finally found a voice. From the author of The Latehomecomer , a powerful memoir of her father, a Hmong song poet who sacrificed his gift for his children's future in Minnesota.

In the Hmong tradition, the song poet recounts the story of his people, their history and tragedies, joys and losses; extemporizing or drawing on folk tales, he keeps the past alive, invokes the spirits and the homeland, and records courtships, births, weddings, and wishes. Written with the exquisite beauty for which Kao Kalia Yang is renowned, The Song Poet is a love story--of a daughter for her father, a father for his children, a people for their land, their traditions, and all that they have lost.

Most Americans know little of the story of the Hmong people who came from the mountain villages of Northern Laos. This book presents a capsule view in word and text of the transplanting of an ancient culture to a land unlike anything these people knew. A moving visual portrait of the Hmong people who escaped their homeland after the Vietnam War and settled in America in places like Central California. In Merced, CA, Lia Lee was born, the 13th child in a Hmong immigrant family coping with their plunge into a modern way of life.

The book describes the violent clash of cultures that occurred when Lia developed a severe case of epilepsy. The report of the family's attempts to cure Lia through shamanistic intervention and the home sacrifices of pigs and chickens is balanced by the intervention of the medical community that insisted upon the removal of the child from deeply loving parents with disastrous results. In an unforgettable portrait of Iraqis whose voices have remained eerily silent--from art gallery owners to clairvoyants, taxi drivers to radicalized teenagers--Fassihi brings to life the very people whose goodwill the U.

Haunting and lyrical, Waiting for An Ordinary Day tells the long-awaited story of post-occupation Iraq through native eyes.

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Zainab Salbi was 11 years old when her father was chosen to serve as Saddam Hussein's personal pilot. As a palace insider, she offers a glimpse of life under a dictator and provides an intimate portrait of the man she was taught to call 'uncle'.

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In the winter of Nabeel Yasin, Iraq's most famous young poet, gathered together a handful of belongings and fled Iraq with his wife and son. Silenced by a series of brutal beatings at the hands of the Ba'ath Party's Secret Police and declared an enemy of the state, he faced certain death if he stayed. Nabeel's Song is the gripping story of a family and its fateful encounter with history. From a warm, lighthearted look at the Yasin family before the Saddam dictatorship, to the tale of Nabeel's persecution and daring flight, and the suspense-filled account of his family's rebellion against Saddam's regime, Nabeel's Song is an intimate, illuminating, deeply human chronicle of a country and a culture devastated by political repression and war.

Situated hundreds of miles from any other settlement, deep within the inhospitable desert of northern Kenya where only thorn bushes grow, Dadaab is a city like no other. Its buildings are made from mud, sticks or plastic, its entire economy is grey, and its citizens survive on rations and luck. Over the course of four years, Ben Rawlence became a first-hand witness to a strange and desperate limbo-land, getting to know many of those who have come there seeking sanctuary. In City of Thorns, Rawlence interweaves the stories of nine individuals to show what life is like in the camp and to sketch the wider political forces that keep the refugees trapped there.

Hawa Abdi, "the Mother Teresa of Somalia" and Nobel Peace Prize nominee, is the founder of a massive camp for internally displaced people located a few miles from war-torn Mogadishu, Somalia. Since , when the Somali government collapsed, famine struck, and aid groups fled, she has dedicated herself to providing help for people whose lives have been shattered by violence and poverty. She turned her acres of farmland into a camp that has numbered up to 90, displaced people, ignoring the clan lines that have often served to divide the country. She inspired her daughters, Deqo and Amina, to become doctors.

Together, they have saved tens of thousands of lives in her hospital, while providing an education to hundreds of displaced children.

Prospero | The Economist

This book follows the story of a family as they struggle to survive in Kenya and then in America. Roble is a resident of Rochester. The amazing story of a young girl who grew up in Somalia. Her life is one of extreme hardship and survival, yet, because of unyielding determination, she has succeeded in life. Haji is a resident of Rochester. May Seven-year-old Francis Bok was selling his mother's eggs and peanuts near his village in southern Sudan when Arab raiders on horseback burst into the quiet marketplace, murdering men and gathering the women and young children into a group.

Strapped to horses and donkeys, Francis and others were taken north into lives of slavery under wealthy farmers. For ten years, Francis lived in a shed near the goats and cattle that were his responsibility. After two failed attempts to flee--each bringing severe beatings and death threats--Francis finally escaped at age seventeen. The translator who escorted journalists into the dangers of Darfur now takes you along on a journey to his homeland. A suspenseful, harrowing, and deeply moving memoir of one person who made a difference in the world.

This compelling, human story is coupled with timely issues facing the world: the crisis in Darfur, control of limited oil reserves, terrorism by radical Islamic groups. Told through the experiences of two boys, Ayuel Leek and Beny Ngor Chad, the book traces the journey of thousands of displaced children who walked for months across barren land, menaced by starvation, disease, wild animals, and gunfire. Author Barbara Youree, in collaboration with Leek and Chad, follows them through their years in refugee camps and their journey to the United States, where the author mentors them in college as they follow the American dream and pursue their goal of helping other Sudanese.

Drawing from years of experience covering Syria for Vanity Fair, Newsweek, and the front pages of the New York Times, award-winning journalist Janine di Giovanni gives us a tour de force of war reportage, all told through the perspective of ordinary people--among them a doctor, a nun, a musician, and a student. What emerges is an extraordinary picture of the devastating human consequences of armed conflict, one that charts an apocalyptic but at times tender story of life in a jihadist war zone.

A devastating and personal account of the ongoing uprising in Syria from a prominent Syrian journalist now in hiding. As a young child, Lac Su made a harrowing escape from the Communists in Vietnam. With a price on his father's head, Lac, with his family, was forced to immigrate in to seedy West Los Angeles where squalid living conditions and a cultural fabric that refused to thread them in effectively squashed their American Dream. Lac's search for love and acceptance amid poverty--not to mention the psychological turmoil created by a harsh and unrelenting father--turned his young life into a comedy of errors and led him to a dangerous gang experience that threatened to tear his life apart.

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Heart-wrenching, irreverent, and ultimately uplifting, I Love Yous Are for White People is memoir at its most affecting, depicting the struggles that countless individuals have faced in their quest to belong and that even more have endured in pursuit of a father's fleeting affection. From award-winning author Andrew X.