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 ›

Dad’s “Heart Shield” Bible

A Veterans Day reflection

by Ken Sehested

At right is the image of my Dad’s “Heart Shield” Bible, an edition of the New Testament on to which a metal plate has been attached. The engraved cover, now smudged by corrosion, reads “May this keep you safe from harm.” It was sold by the Know Your Bible Sales Company of Cincinnati, Ohio, manufactured by the Whitman Publishing Company, Racine, Wisconsin, and was designed to fit into a soldier’s uniform shirt pocket. Multiple stories exist of soldiers reportedly spared serious injury when bullets struck this tiny piece of body armor.

An inscription inside the cover indicates that Dad’s sister, my Aunt Juanita, gave him this gift. No date is listed, but it was sometime before Dad landed with the first wave of soldiers storming Omaha Beach in the 6 June 1944 D-Day invasion of Allied forces on the French coast in World War II. Dad was among the fortunate survivors, though he carried for the remainder of his life a piece of German artillery shrapnel embedded in bone behind his right ear.

I pause on this Veterans Day to ponder a number of questions (listed below). These in no way disparages the courage of my father, among countless others—fathers, mothers, children and siblings—before, during and since that particular day in 1944. Jesus truly and rightly said that greater love hath none than this, than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:13). In fact, as a pastor, I am envious of the military’s success in coaxing from its ranks the willingness to go into harm’s way for the sake of something greater than personal fortune. Read more ›

When wealth, weapons, and worship align

Trump chief strategist Steve Bannon’s frightful intent

by Ken Sehested

        The normally-reclusive Steve Bannon, President Trump’s chief strategist, took center stage this past week at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, promising a “deconstruction of the administrative state,” meaning a system of taxes, regulations and trade pacts.

        Let’s unpack that declaration. What he wants is:

        •rewriting tax policies that reinforce the rule of capital as the arbiter of the common good; Read more ›

“We tolerate no scruples”

A brief history of 20th century bombing of civilian populations

by Ken Sehested

Every year on 6 August much of the world remembers the first-ever atomic bombing, of Hiroshima, Japan; then, three days later, of Nagasaki.

Few remember, though, that the US firebombed more than 60 other cities (using the recently invented incendiary substance known as napalm), including Tokyo, causing the deaths of 100,000, mostly by fire, destroying 16 square miles of the city, leaving another million homeless. The fatality total from this “conventional” bombing rivaled each of the two atomic attacks.

Despite the Hague Convention of 1907, where European powers agreed to forbid the use of aerial bombardment of civilian populations, the prohibition was rarely observed. Both German and English aircraft killed at least 2,000 civilians during World War I. Read more ›

Patriotic holidays in the US

The nation's liturgical calendar celebrating our militarized history

by Ken Sehested

There are 14 officially-sanctioned holidays (or commemorative days) in the US annual calendar which, directly or indirectly, commemorate a militarized history of the nation.

        This does not include commemoration of the Confederate cause of the Civil War, or the birthdays of one of the Confederate leaders, in 11 Southern states (Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia) and in Pennsylvania, where the state’s Confederate partisans are remembered. In many of these, actual observance is fading or phased out entirely. (For more details, see “Confederate Memorial Day in the United States.”)

        Here's the list. Read more ›

Colin Kaepernick, national anthems, and flag-flown piety

Commentary on what is and is not sacred

by Ken Sehested

        It started as a typical evening’s research, selecting and reading a number of news stories in search of material for my weekly column. One on the list was the account of San Francisco 49ers’ quarterback Colin Kaepernick sitting during the playing of the national anthem prior to the start of the game.

        Reading these accounts led me to similar events in previous years of athletes using their public visibility as a stage for protest. That led to digging into the history of the national anthem, “The Star Spangled Banner,” including its largely unknown third verse which celebrates the killing of African slaves. This information led me to research the US invasions of Canada (also largely unknown here).

        It was a busy evening, but a fascinating one. Read more ›

This Land Is Your Land

Independence Day in light of Woody Guthrie’s enduring question about to whom the land belongs

by Ken Sehested
4 July 2016

        The fireworks started early, long before the night’s dark background provided illuminating dazzle, testimony to the pyrotechnics expert on the afternoon NPR hour who said he still prefers the “big boom” type over the advanced visual displays.

        My wife retired early to our basement apartment to escape the roar. I always shudder on Independence Day for the dogs who shiver in fright at the noise. Read more ›

Memorial Day preparation quotes

The minority report

Compiled by Ken Sehested

§ No king is saved by the size of his army; no warrior escapes by his great strength. A horse is a vain hope for deliverance; despite all its great strength it cannot save. —Psalm 33:16-17

§ You can no more win a war than you can win an earthquake. —Jeanette Rankin

§ What shall we do, we who are at war but are asked to pretend we are not? —Marvin Bell Read more ›

Memorial Day piety

A meditation on the day's significance

by Ken Sehested

        My question is not whether we should mourn, legitimately and unreservedly, the loss of our war dead on Memorial Day.

        Yes. A thousand times yes.

        My question is, on what day should we also mourn the loss of others’ war dead? Indeed, one of Memorial Day’s stories of origin traces to April 1866 when a group of women in Columbus, Mississippi, decorated the graves of Confederate solders. Noticing the nearby barren graves of Union soldiers, the women place flowers on those as well. Read more ›