The US Postal Service and the struggle for democracy

by Ken Sehested

Who would have thought that Mr. McFeely, the lovable deliveryman and avatar for our nation’s postal carriers on “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” could be the flash point of a fierce struggle for the preservation of democratic institutions in the US.

Of course, Mr. McFeely worked for “Speedy Delivery,”  and because of copyright laws couldn’t sport a United States Postal Service (USPS) logo.

Time was, "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds." Now, with the pandemic making life dangerous in long lines at polling places, the USPS has become the center of a big time partisan spat. Our president and many of his minions vote by mail but do not want hoards of citizens doing the same. Read more ›

Good news on the environmental front

Six very significant wins for Mama Earth

by Ken Sehested

In an attention-deficit-disordered culture, alongside a news cycle that feels like a gerbil on a spinning wheel track, important news often goes unnoticed.

Taken together, in just the past few weeks, six dramatic actions on slowing ecological disaster are worth celebrating—even when you recognize that we’re still in deep doo-doo with regard to our climate crisis.

#1-3. Within a 24-hour period in the US, “three major oil and gas pipelines were stymied—two by court decisions and one by economic pressures—in moves that represent a suite of successes for the indigenous and environmental activists long opposed to pipeline development.” Alejandra Borunda, National Geographic Read more ›

A (brief) history of the Liberty Bell

by Ken Sehested

        There are four great ironies behind the “Liberty Bell,” associated with the founding convictions of the United States of America and inscribed with the phrase “Proclaim Liberty throughout the land and unto the inhabitants thereof.” The reference, from Leviticus 25:10, is a text that stipulates profound social renewal as part of God’s covenant with the Hebrew people, requiring the forgiveness of debt, reclamation of ancestral lands and the release of slaves every 50 years.

        In the first instance, the colonial Pennsylvania Assembly ordered the bell in 1751 to commemorate the 50-year anniversary of William Penn's 1701 Charter of Privileges, Pennsylvania's original Constitution, which contains Penn's far-reaching ideas on religious freedom, his liberal stance on Native American rights, and his inclusion of citizens in enacting laws.

        The second great irony was the bell’s tolling announcing the opening of the first Continental Congress in 1774 was preface to the nation-building policies that enshrined slavery as a legal form of commerce, beginning a long history of political ideals being trumped by the lure of commercial gain. Read more ›

You corrupted wisdom for the sake of splendor

Meditation amid pandemic and pandemonium

by Ken Sehested

I will likely be considered antiquated, maybe maniacal, even apoplectic when I say we in the US (with derivative outbreaks elsewhere) are under the spell of the demonic, of those who worship death’s malicious craving, specifically the sacrificial scalp of dissenters, of those who do not genuflect in its presence, of any and all who stand in the way of imperial designs, who claim authority to divide the world into makers and takers, to shape all reality in service to the ruthless pursuit of power’s conceit, arrogance being the elixir of indefinite, everlasting rule of the strong over the weak, the privileged over the disdained, the worthy over the maimed.

Not just rule, but a despising and revulsion of the frail, now consigned as burnt offering to an unholy, odious, heinous god; a god who justifies caging children, who threatens fire from (nuclear) heavens, who shrugs and scoffs at the sight of trauma, of those begging for breath, during pandemics, racial and economic pandemonium, and ecological devastation; who laughs at every attempt of impeachment, whose word is less than worthless, whose every step is concealed in deceit, whose smirking face tells lies at every turn, whose law has become a license for infamy.

And all the profiteering minions chant: “It’s the cost of doing business. Nothing personal.” Read more ›

More is at work than what passes for the news

Pastoral encouragement for dispirited lovers of justice

by Ken Sehested
(in Pentecost’s wake 2020)

“The riches and beauty of the spiritual landscape are not disclosed to us
in order that we may sit in the sun parlour, be grateful for the
excellent hospitality, and contemplate the glorious view.”
—Evelyn Underhill Read more ›

Minneapolis fires, Pentecostal flame

by Ken Sehested

The only hope, or else despair
Lies in the choice of pyre or pyre—
To be redeemed from fire by fire.
T.S. Eliot, “Little Gidding,” lines from the final poem in his Four Quartets

T.S. Eliot’s poem, “Little Gidding,” was written in 1942 after the author survived the German bombing of London. He knew humankind faced a crucial choice: to be destroyed in the fires of enmity or to allow the fire of the Holy Spirit to refine, renew, and redeem. Read more ›

In the future, here are seven things I’ll recall about our present COVID pestilence

by Ken Sehested

        If specific moments can serve as memory triggers for a larger historical period, I would nominate seven current headlines to characterize this COVID-19 season in US history.

        1. The death by suicide of Dr. Lorna M. Breen, a renowned emergency room doctor in New York City, who, with her colleagues, bore the brunt of treating massive numbers of COVID-19 admittances.

        She eventually fell victim to the virus, took off 10 days to recover, returned to the emergency room, collapsed on the floor, then went to live with her sister in Virginia to recover. She had no history of mental illness; was active in sports and an avid salsa dancer; was a deeply religious person who volunteered weekly at a nursing home. Read more ›

Holy hell week

In the panic, be still; in the ordeal, take heart

by Ken Sehested

“Look out over the prow; there are millions of boats of righteous souls on the waters with you.
Even though your veneers may shiver from every wave in this stormy roil, I assure you
that the long timbers composing your prow and rudder come from a greater forest.
That long-grained lumber is known to withstand storms, to hold together,
to hold its own, and to advance, regardless.”
—Clarissa Pinkola Estes Read more ›

Things are not getting worse—just getting uncovered

COVID-19 and apocalyptic imagination

by Ken Sehested

The root meaning of “apocalyptic” is not “catastrophe” but “unveiling.” That which was hidden is now revealed. It is not the brutal, final flourish of history, but the opportunity for renewal, the chance to begin anew.

Simply typing the word—apocalypse—makes my fingers feel awkward, clumsy, hesitant, requiring uncommon coordination. “Apocalypse” is a tricky word. It evokes memory of the surreal 1979 film (“Apocalypse Now”) by Francis Ford Coppola and the mind-bending roles of Brando and Sheen and Duvall. Not to mention the glut of more recent dystopian movies and television shows featuring zombies and the trail of gore they dramatize.

“Apocalypse” is one of those “don’t-go-there” words for me and mine. Its associations are best left to the Left-Behind crowd, quarantined behind their cruel glee at the prospect of getting to cut in line among the lucky few refugees escaping the final sadistic revenge of a ghoulish god. Read more ›

Trouble is where we go

A sermon for Lent, following the death of my Mom

by Ken Sehested
Circle of Mercy Congregation, first Sunday of Lent 2020
Text: Matthew 4:1-11

(The first draft was written late night of 25 February 2020, Shrove Tuesday, following the death of my Mom early that morning.)

“Isn’t there anything you understand?
It’s from the ash heap God is seen.
Read more ›