Tom Walsh remembrance

by Ken Sehested
Composed on 23 September 2020

My friend Tom Walsh died last night. He was among the kindest, most gentle, intelligent person I have ever known. When I read the Beatitudes and get to “Blessed are the pure of heart,” Tom’s face appears in my mind’s eye.

He was also passionate about the Gospel, and was clear about the fact that the goodness of its news was for the dispossessed and all who took steps to be present to their voices. Read more ›

Malcolm, Martin, and the American racial impasse

Dream or nightmare?

by Ken Sehested

I’ve consciously adapted the title of one of my intellectual and spiritual mentors, Dr. James Cone (of blessed memory) for this reflection, in light of the 21 February anniversary of Malcolm X’s assassination in 1965; and in reaction to the recent announcement by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) that it will reopen the case against those convicted of that murder.

Already in 2020 the New York City district attorney announced that it had launched an investigation into the murder, for which three members of the Nation of Islam had been convicted. Malcolm X (Malik Shabazz) had broken with the organization’s policy of Black separatism, though not from his convictions regarding systemic racism.

In recent days a former New York policeman’s deathbed written confession—claiming that the police and the FBI collaborated in arranging Shabazz’s murder—is raising the investigative stakes. (For more on this see Julia Jacobo, ABC News.) Read more ›

On reading Malcolm X’s “Autobiography”

Marking the 50th anniversary of its publication

by Ken Sehested

        Malcolm X’s Autobiography was the first book that scared me. Here I was, in the transition from adolescence to young adulthood, secretly abandoning my pietist-revivalist rearing in favor of the more verdant fields of liberalism (which helped for a time), and here’s this guy, who I now am ready to befriend, sharply critical of liberal integrationists!

        Turns out he was right, unnervingly prescient, not exactly predicting the cases of Rodney King, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Freddy Gray—ad nauseum and likely to be continued—but sensing that “civil rights” could be doled out in limited doses without affecting the underlying patterns of structural disparity. Something deeper is at work sustaining the patterns of discrimination, something more than simple bigotry and prejudice.

        However sincere the righteous intent, integration has mostly been a one-way street. Despite curtailed bounds, the African American community had—before the advent of the “war on poverty” urban renewal initiatives—vibrant commercial districts, schools, neighborhoods and other cultural institutions. While the grip on access to bus seats and lunch counters and drinking fountains and even voter registration rights were loosening, the noose of widespread economic disparity was tightening. Read more ›

“Nerve us up”

Two texts for Lenten resolve

by Ken Sehested
Shrove Tuesday 2021

This past Sunday one of our members, Stan Wilson, offered the “call to the table” in our congregation’s zoom worship screen-gathering. He led with a suggestion that was equivalent, in my hearing, to a thunderclap.

“How about for Lent this year we give up Donald Trump?” Read more ›

News, views, notes, and quotes

Signs of the Times  •  16 February 2021 •  No. 211

Processional. “Forked-tongued pharaoh, behold he comes to speak / Weeping in the Promised Land / Hissing and spewing, it's power that he seeks / Weeping in the Promised Land / With dread in their eyes, all the nurses are crying / So much sorrow, so much dying / Pharaoh keep a-preaching but he never had a plan / Weeping in the Promised Land.” —John Fogerty, “Weeping in the Promised Land”

Above: Baobab trees in Botswana, photo by Beth Moore

Read more ›

Lenten woe yielding toward Easter’s weal

A fantastical dream

by Ken Sehested

Introduction. I composed the following note
to a friend after he was defrauded and defamed
by someone who should know better—and as
I began to write, an eschatological vision emerged.
Apologies in advance for the colloquial references.

                                    §  §  § Read more ›

St. Valentine

Remembering prisoners on his feast day

by Ken Sehested

        In ancient Rome lived a man named Valentine. He was a priest and a physician but was not free to express his Christian faith without the threat of persecution. He tended to his patients by day and prayed for them by night. Eventually however, he was arrested for his faith and executed on Feb 14, 270 during one of the persecutions ordered by Emperor Claudius II Gothicus. In 496, Pope Gelasius I established February 14 as St. Valentines Day.

        It is said that a jailer in a Roman prison had a daughter who was one of St. Valentine’s patients before he was arrested. He tended her for her blindness, but when he was arrested she still had not regained her sight. Before his execution, Valentine asked the jailer for some parchment and ink. He wrote the girl a note and signed it “From your Valentine.” When she opened the note, a yellow crocus flower fell out of the parchment and it was the first thing she had ever seen. She had received her sight. The crocus is the traditional flower of St. Valentine.

        Given this background story, a number of churches now prepare for Valentine’s Day by having children and youth send Valentine’s day cards and notes to prisoners. Read more ›

Feast days and history’s affliction

On the character of our spiritually forming work

by Ken Sehested

Today, 1 February, is the feast day of St. Brigit of Kildare. It brought to mind one of my favorite prayers, which I designed as a piece of art (below).

As it happens, today is also the sixty-first anniversary of the Greensboro, NC “sit-in” movement, when students at the North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University demanded to be served at a segregated Woolsworth lunch counter.

The extraordinary decision by those students to commit nonviolent resistance against injustice was not done on impulse. Much preparation went beforehand. This tactic had been tried before but did not spark of movement. Read more ›

Lamentation to adulation

Every psalmist’s perilous journey

by Ken Sehested

Blessed One, whose name we dare not speak, but of whose
Presence we dare not remain silent, we stand before you with
hearts in shreds and hands frozen.

We know that we creatures were made for praise and thanksgiving.
We recognize that gratitude is our natural home. Read more ›

Cooking fatigue

American-style pandemic blues

by Ken Sehested

“Can’t we go to a restaurant? I’m tired of eating groceries.”
—Dennis the Menace cartoon

Our local paper has a weekly section devoted to cuisine—that’s the classy word for food—and often reviews the plentiful restaurant scene in this city that’s a magnet for tourism. Read more ›