Another world is possible

Introduction to "We Are the Socks," Dan Buttry's new book

by Ken Sehested

"If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people together to collect wood
and assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them
to long for the endless immensity of the sea."
—Antoine de Saint-Exupery

            What Dan Buttry does in We Are the Socks is what he does better than anyone I know: Write vivid, easy-to-read narratives that are hopeful but not sentimental, honest but not cynical, revealing without being voyeuristic, personal without being self-serving, sometimes humorous but never silly. And the people he writes about, in these few selected episodes out of literally dozens of others from his global work, are not drawn from self-selected elites—the morally heroic or intelligent or ingenious. Mostly they are commonplace folk, drawn from every sort of circumstance, typical admixtures of hope and doubt, compassion and malice, vision and blind sightedness. Not your stereotypical candidates for sainthood. In other words, folk like us, like the ones in our churches and neighborhoods and families.

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More Merton quotes

Supplement to the “Signs of the Times” special edition (No. 40) on Thomas Merton

§ It may be true that every prophet is a pain in the neck, but it is not true that every pain in the neck is a prophet. There is no more firmly entrenched expression of the false self than the self-proclaimed prophet.

§ The twofold weakness of the Augustinian [just war] theory is its stress on a subjective purity of intention which can be doctored and manipulated with apparent “sincerity” and the tendency to pessimism about human nature and the world, now used as a justification for recourse to violence.

§ While we learn to be humble and virtuous as individuals, we allow ourselves to commit the worst crimes in the name of "society."  We are gentle in our private life in order to be murderers as a collective group.  For murder, committed by an individual, is a great crime.  But when it becomes war or revolution, it is represented as the summit of heroism and virtue.

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The quotable Thomas Merton

Introduction to a "Signs of the Times" collection of Thomas Merton quotes

by Ken Sehested

My favorite definition of God is Thomas Merton’s:
God is “mercy within mercy within mercy.” —Mary Lou Kownacki, OSB

A special issue of “Signs of the Times” devoted to Thomas Merton (31 January 1915 – 10 December 1968) quotes was already in the works, to mark the centennial of his birth. But when Pope Francis, in his historic address to a joint session of Congress, lifted his name for special recognition (along with three other Americans), it seemed timely to move up the schedule.

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Remembering the Future: “Bright with Eden’s dawn”

A sermon for World Communion Sunday

by Ken Sehested,
Text: Hebrews 2:5-12 (The Message)

      The main title of this sermon, “remembering the future,” is a nonsensical notion. How can you remember the future since it hasn’t happened yet? Maybe if you love science fiction, or if you’re a fan of the actor Michael J. Fox, you can imagine going “back to the future.” But remembering the future?

      How silly is that, in a grown-up world?

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Days of awe and Meccan pilgrimage

Reflections on the confluence of Jewish and Islamic holy days

by Ken Sehested

        My lectionary imagination jumped the rails, enamored by this month’s confluence of Jewish and Islamic holy days.

        For Jews the ten “Days of Awe” began with Rosh Hashanah this past Sunday at dusk, stretching through next Wednesday’s Yom Kippur observance. For Muslims the annual pilgrimage to Mecca—“Hajj,” one of the five “pillars” of Islam, taking place this year from 21-26 September (calculated, as with Jewish holidays, by distinctive lunar calendars)—is expected to draw well over 2 million people from 188 countries.

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Our job is not to end war

A collection of texts on war

by Ken Sehested

        Our job, as Christians, is not to bring an end to war. Any more than it’s President Bush’s job to “rid the world of evil.” There is a dangerous arrogance in both sentiments.

        Our calling is to speak the truth, to expose propaganda to public scrutiny, to call into question the self-serving justifications, to betray the lie of military necessity.

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Molly Ivins quotes

A brief collection of personal favorites

My collection of favorite quotes from political commentator and satirist Molly Ivins (blessed be her memory). —Ken Sehested

•So keep fightin’ for freedom and justice, beloveds, but don’t you forget to have fun doin’ it. ’Cause you don’t always win. Lord, let your laughter ring forth. Be outrageous, ridicule the fraidy-cats, rejoice in all the oddities that freedom can produce. And when you get through kickin’ ass and celebratin’ the sheer joy of a good fight, be sure to tell those who come after how much fun it was.

•It's hard to argue against cynics—they always sound smarter than optimists because they have so much evidence on their side

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Meditations on Labor and Leisure

Several reflections on Sabbath keeping

by Ken Sehested

#1: Sabbath House mission

Written as a steering committee member shaping the mission statement
of a new retreat center, with particular reference to serving
the needs of perenially over-extended clergy

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Labor in the Shadow of Sabbath

A Labor Day sermon

Text: Ephesians 4:25-32

by Ken Sehested

         This weekend we mark another Labor Day holiday, both here and in Canada (excepting Quebec). At least 80 other countries celebrate the first of May as a workers’ holiday. Jamaica has the most interesting Labor Day tradition. For most of its colonial history the country observed “Empire Day” on 24 May in honor of British Queen Victoria’s birthday and her emancipation of slaves in 1938. But in 1961 Empire Day was supplanted by "Labour Day" on 23 May, to commemorate the 1938 labor rebellion which led to independence. And the day’s focus is not on picnics, retail sales and car racing but on community service projects.

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Centennial of the lynching of Leo Frank

. . . and the struggle over the meaning of freedom

by Ken Sehested

            In August 1913 the body of 14-year-old laborer Mary Phagan was found in the basement of the National Pencil Company in Atlanta. The company’s Jewish-American superintendent, Leo Frank, was eventually convicted of the crime and sentenced to death by hanging. Two years later a last-minute commutation of the sentence to life imprisonment sent Frank to a prison farm. On the night of 16 August 1915 a group of men from Marietta, Georgia (Phagan’s hometown) abducted Frank and drove him to Marietta for a public lynching. Though identities of the lynch mob were well-known—including a former governor, a mayor, and several current and former sheriffs—none were charged. Half of the state’s Jewish population fled following the lynching.

            Three things endure.

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