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 ›

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 ›

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 ›

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 ›

Nevertheless

The Spirit’s plea from above whispered by voices from below

by Ken Sehested
US Presidential Inauguration • 20 January 2021

In the spring of 2016, when our pastors were planning the preaching schedule for the fall, I agreed to take that duty for Sunday 13 November. None of us were paying attention to the electoral calendar.

Long story short, it turns out I was preaching the Sunday after Donald Trump's election. Read more ›

Angel wings and devil tails

Meditation on the Feast of the Holy Innocents

by Ken Sehested

The Feast of the Holy Innocents (aka Childermas or Innocents’ Day), referencing Matthew’s account of Judean King Herod’s order to kill all the male babies in and around Bethlehem to suppress a potential rival, was first established in the fifth century BCE. Some Christian communions in the West mark the day, officially, on 28 December; in the East, 29 December.

However, the observance is largely forgotten in most congregations. You can understand why. Who wants to interrupt chirpy carols, the sight of ornamented trees and light-lit homes, and post-Christmas sales with the story of a massacre of babies?

Needless to say, few if any church Christmas pageants, with kids in bathrobes and assorted other makeshift costumes, include Matthew 2’s story. Christmas Eve candlelight services ignore this Nativity story. Read more ›

Two epiphanies on 6 January 2021

The Spirit’s disclosure and the nation’s exposure

by Ken Sehested

 

By now you may have noticed the odd coincidence of 6 January [2021] being the date of Epiphany and of Congress’ ritual of announcing the results of the Electoral College’s presidential election tally.

The latter is usually perfunctory, pro forma, pomp and ceremony. Not this time, given Republican representatives’ and senators’ announced intention to challenge the states’ votes. (Strange how a party committed to states’ rights could so easily shed that principle.) Read more ›

Dr. King and the constellating light

Admiring Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream is not the same as being captured by it

by Ken Sehested

Admiring Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream is not the same as being captured by it. Too many find it possible to respect the man but relinquish the mission. It has become too easy to revere the dreamer but renege on the dream. So let us now recall the deep roots of that vision as spoken in ages past:

We remember when Hannah praised God by saying: The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble gird on strength.

We dream of the day when the wolf shall dwell with the lamb. For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord. Read more ›

Fear not the dark

On the Feast of St. Stephen, inaugural Christian martyr

by Ken Sehested

For when lawless people supposed that they held the holy nation in their power,
they themselves lay as captives of darkness and prisoners of long night,
shut in under their roofs, exiles from eternal providence. —Wisdom 17:2

Fear not the dark, you pilgrims, stragglers, misbegotten all, disembarked from the ship of state now arising from the sinews of democracy’s disemboweled cadaver, representing not a historic quake or anomalous fate but the sepsis of a long legacy of land leeched with gunpowdery fingers, prosperity wrung from the chained sweat of chattel brow, long, longer still the ever westward spread—gallantry on its lips, guile in its heart—a destiny manifest to none but its own acclaim. Read more ›