Blessed assurance

Call to the table in the face of terror

by Ken Sehested

        One important thing that hasn’t been said this week [about the savagery of separating of children from parents at the US-Mexican border] is that this Department of Justice policy change is in fact a form of terrorism.

        The point of terrorism isn’t killing people. Terrorists make strategic use of aggressive trauma to spread fear for the purpose of affecting social or political objectives. Look up the FBI’s definition.*

        When Attorney General Jeff Sessions first announced this new administrative procedure six weeks ago, he explicitly used the threat of separating children to spread fear among would-be immigrants. Already, 2,000 children have been separated from families. Read more ›

Out of the House of Slavery

Bible study on “immigration"

by Ken Sehested

This material was delivered in 2010 to a North Carolina Council of Churches-sponsored series of clergy gatherings in various cities.

      My assignment is to do a Bible study relevant to the intense conversation underway in our nation over the question of immigration. Others will offer social analysis and practical strategies. But I should mention three presumptions I bring.

      First, I believe we have a powerful witness to bear from our Scriptures, one that is surprisingly relevant. It’s not more information that we need. We don’t so much need to be convinced as to be convicted. Read more ›

Imagination and transformation

Do not be conformed

by Ken Sehested

            Imagination is one of our age’s feel-good words, and if you use it (and I do, a lot), first pause to consider the term’s shadow side.

            Imaginary, a linguistic cousin, can be used to describe a life removed from the vicissitudes of history, e.g., pipe dreams sprinkled with pixie dust, also known as magical thinking. To call such living childish is an insult to children. Imagination is not escapism. Spiritual life is not evacuation to another world.

            Also, imagination is not exempt from human manipulation for domineering purposes. Scientific and technological imagination created weapons of mass destruction and facilitated the rapacious assault on the ecosphere. We now live in what is now being called the Anthropocene, the epoch when human extraction from the biosphere exceeds nature’s capacity for replenishment. Read more ›

al-Nakba

Meditation on Israel, Palestine, and the calculus of power

by Ken Sehested

        15 May is the anniversary of what Palestinians call al-Nakba, translated as “the Catastrophe” in reference to the day following Israel’s formation as a state in 1948. Some three-quarters of a million Palestinians were forced from their homes. Four hundred Palestinian villages cease to exist. The heirs of the expelled now number five million, most living in refugee camps on the West Bank, Gaza, and surrounding countries.

        I was in my 30s when I first heard the word Nakba, and the historical moment it represents, well into a career requiring broad knowledge of global affairs. In my experience, few here in North America know the word.

        A more evocative translation of al-Nakba could be “the Humiliation,” since in English “catastrophe” is often associated with “natural” disasters. As such, no human agency is implied—only the brute hand of climatic turbulence well beyond our control or even prediction. Read more ›

Readings from Jewish, Christian and Islamic scripture and tradition

Prepared for "A Penitential Opportunity," worship resources for a service in commemorations of the 50th anniversary of the My Lai massacre

§The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble gird on strength. Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry have ceased to hunger. . . . [God] raises up the poor from the dust [and] lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with the rulers and inherit a seat of honor. —1 Samuel 2:4-5, 8a

§You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also. . . . You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say unto you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. —Matthew 5:38-39, 43-44

§The Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him) said: Whoever is untrustworthy in his dealings has no faith, and whoever is not committed to his promises has no religion. —Bayhaqi

§By three things the world is preserved, by [restorative] justice, by truth, and by peace, and these three are one: if [restorative] justice has been accomplished, so has truth, and so has peace. —JT Ta'anit 4:2 Read more ›

Dr. James Cone: A brief remembrance

by Ken Sehested

I was traveling when the news of Dr. James Cone’s death was reported on Saturday. The first thought that came to mind was what seems to be a providential concurrence: His passing came two days after the opening of the National Peace and Justice Memorial, solemnizing the lynching in the US of some 4,400 black people, in 800 counties, between 1877 and 1950.

Cone’s last book, The Cross and the Lynching Tree, was recipient of this year’s Grawemeyer Award in Religion. In that book he wrote “in the United States, the clearest image of the crucified Christ was the figure of an innocent black victim, dangling from a lynching tree.” A fitting reminder in this season of Eastertide.

My second thought was more personal. Dr. Cone was my seminary master’s thesis reader. Yet in our several meetings to discuss my research and writing progress, only one clear memory remains—one that had nothing to do with my academic project, a survey and assessment of 19th and 20th century exegesis of the “community of goods” accounts in Acts 2 and 4. (Hint: Those texts made scholars of every stripe—across the conservative-to-liberal spectrum—squirm. One respected scholar went so far as to say this account was surely idealized for it would have otherwise revealed the early apostles as lacking in common sense!) Read more ›

Life began in a garden

A collection of quotes on gardens

Compiled by Ken Sehested

§ And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. Out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. ~Genesis 2:8-9

Right: "Psalm 67" art by John August Swanson

§ Gardening is cheaper than therapy and you get tomatoes. ~author unknown Read more ›

Boycott, divestment and sanctions: Israel and the Occupation

We cannot ignore this contentious conversation

by Ken Sehested

Introduction: In a 5 June 2015 Huffington Post article, Dr. Chuck Currie, Chaplain and Director of the Center for Peace and Spirituality at Pacific University, urged fellow United Church of Christ members to reject that body’s Synod resolution supporting the "boycott, divestment and sanctions" action in opposition to Israel's occupation of Palestine. This week I’ve written the following response.

        Thanks, Chuck, for sending me your post in opposition to the “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions” (BDS) initiative. I haven’t been involved in the movement, and won’t be at the Synod to deliberate the question. But your thoughtful writing is worthy of response.

        I fully agree with you that pursuing a two-state solution appears, from every angle, to be the preferred route to get us where we want to go. Any lasting security will surely be a mutual security. And I certainly agree that boycotts are morally ambiguous, since they are such blunt instruments for social change. Read more ›