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Dissonant memories and conflicting mandates

A meditation on the US Memorial Day

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.

Do we have no time or occasion, for instance, to mourn the loss of Afghanistan’s and Iraq’s casualties, the young and old especially, the women and children and all others whose only misstep was being in the wrong place at wrong time? The body count over the last 20 years of U.S. military engagement in these two countries begins, conservatively, at half a million and multiplies many times when accounting for the indirect fatalities due to war’s impact on access to food and potable water, poor sanitation, and minimal health care.

All of this, officially, in retaliation for the loss of 3,000 U.S. citizens in the 9/11 terrorist attacks on our shores.

§  §  §

“Those who died in war were better off than those who died later,
who starved slowly to death, with no food to keep them alive.”
—Lamentations 4:9

§  §  §

Truth be told, though, Memorial Day piety often serves to rally the emotions of national vanity and stoke the flames of vengeance. In doing so, we are caught up again in the logic of Lamech’s contention.

In the book of Genesis, immediately following the story of Cain's murder, is a brief genealogy of five generations of Cain's descendants, culminating with Lamech. The only thing we know about him is his hot pledge: "I have killed a man for wounding me; a young man for striking me. If Cain is avenged sevenfold, truly Lamech seventy-sevenfold" (Genesis 4:23a-24).

By chapter six, the relation between sin and violence is summarized in concise and explicit terms: "Now the earth was corrupt in God's sight, and the earth was filled with violence" (6:11). The presence of physical violence is the unmistakable indicator of spiritual corruption.

§  §  §

“This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel:
‘Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit,
says the Lord of hosts.’”
—Zechariah 4:6

§  §  §

A very recent news story illustrates the danger of nationalism’s seduction.

Several acclaimed authors whose books have been published by Zondervan, a division of Harper-Collins, have issued a statement opposing the publication of “God Bless the USA Bible” in its New International Version, whose cover features an American flag, and including texts of the U.S. Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights,  the Pledge of Alliance, and the lyrics to “God Bless America” and Lee Greenwood’s popular hit, “I’m Proud to be an American.”

The 25 May statement says “American nationalism is its own civil religion, where America rather than Jesus is the center of attention.  Instead of Jesus and the Church being the light of the world and the hope for humanity, America becomes the Messianic force in the world. . . . It has its own theology —manifest destiny, the doctrine of discovery and American exceptionalism.  And this is precisely why it is dangerous to mesh patriotism with orthodox Christian faith. “ —read the entire letter, “Why We’re Glad Our Publisher Isn’t Backing The ‘God Bless The USA’ Bible,” by Shane Claiborne, Doug Pagitt, Lisa Sharon Harper, Jemar Tisby and Soong-Chan Rah

As biblical scholar and activist Ched Myers notes, “Of the 41 appearances [in the New Testament] of the Greek verb eulogeoo (literally ‘speaking a good word’), only twice do we find it in the imperative mood. In neither case does it involve God. It does, however, involve us. In Jesus’ famous sermon he invites his disciples to ‘Bless those who curse you’ (Matthew 5:44 & Luke 6:28). These instructions are later echoed by the apostle Paul: ‘Bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse (Romans 12:14).’” —“Mixed Blessing: A Biblical Inquiry into a ‘Patriotic’ Cant

§  §  §

“Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.”
— Psalm 20:7

§  §  §

One of the unintended consequences of our nation’s all volunteer military is that the visceral sting of war—the death of someone you know—is born by a tiny fraction of the population.

On top of that is the fact that the cost of our post-9/11 military adventures were put on the nation’s credit card. The tally to date is $6.4 trillion, which rises to $8 trillion when factoring in the interest on those loans.

We need a reminder that Congress’ 2001 “Authorization for Use of Military Force,” the legislation entitling the president to deploy the military, was specifically aimed at the Taliban and al-Qaeda. That authorization has now been contorted to launch 41 combat operations in 19 countries; and even with recent reductions, Special Operations forces are currently deployed in 62 countries.

Since World War II, the U.S. has deployed armed forces abroad more than 200 times without once declaring war.  Current military theory now speaks of our nation’s “Multi-Domain Battle” doctrine and an open-ended world of “competition short of conflict,” i.e. low-intensity undeclared armed conflict.

§  §  §

“What causes wars? Is it not your longings and lusts?
You desire and do not have; so you kill.
And you covet and cannot obtain, so you wage war.”
—James 4:1-2

§  §  §

The failure to love enemies is to hedge on Jesus.

Let’s be very clear about this: The disagreement between proponents of just war and those of principled nonviolence does not include competition for divine affection. God is utterly beyond such partiality, and nothing we can do will tip the scales of beloved attention.

The contrast in opinion is not a contest over who excels in moral heroism, superior courage, or intellectual rigor.

The difference isn’t over virtue and decency but vision and discernment, discernment of the shape of God’s claim of imminent domain over the earth (aka what Jesus named as the kingdom of God) based on what God has done in the past, on what God has promised for the future, and how those of us on the Jesus Road can best align ourselves to that direction.

§  §  §

“Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father,
and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?”
—Matthew 26:53

§  §  §

Participation in calculated violence is, I believe, evangelism for the devil. In its stead, ours is the Gospel of grace—not of religious sentiment but the power of disarmed hearts and hands to confront and unravel the rule of hatred and hostility. The profession of Jesus-oriented faith is hinged on the conviction that the future belongs to this sort of insurgency against the present reign of rancor.

At its core, the question is what to do with dissonant memories and conflicting mandates.

The church’s memorial day occurs every time we observe the ritual of Communion. The occasion is not only an rehearsal of transcendent allegiance but also a proximate pattern for life. When we hear the invitation to the Lord’s Supper—“do this in remembrance of me”—the “remembrance” is not simply reminiscence. It is professed allegiance to the mandate Jesus set before us, what Clarence Jordan called “the God Movement.”

If next Sunday’s benediction doesn’t at least imply this mandate, ask why.

#  #  #

©ken sehested @ prayerandpolitiks.org

Ascension-deficit disorder

A meditation on the Feast of the Ascension

by Ken Sehested
Feast of the Ascension 2021

The Feast of the Ascension is observed by some on the 40th day after Easter;
by others, on the seventh Sunday of Eastertide.

The Feast of the Ascension doesn’t get marquee billing, at least not in Protestant circles. Do a quick web image search and you can see why: Many depict a pasty white Jesus, in a chalk-colored robe, levitating above his surrounding disciples in a beam-me-up pose. Makes me think of the velvet paintings of Elvis.

Right: Kurdish village guards in Turkey underneath carpet paintings of Elvis & Jesus.

Which is why most yawn at hearing details of the church’s liturgical calendar, except for Christmas and Easter, which are boons to the economy.

We have so much historical recovery to do.

The context

“Got anything to eat?”
—Luke 24:41

I am writing with Feast of the Ascension textual suggestions in mind—Jesus advising his disciples to “stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49). All this just shortly after Luke’s account of the Emmaen travelers who had come to sense Jesus’ presence “in the breaking of bread,” in the most mundane, yet life-giving, acts of human flourishing (24:28-35).

The pattern continues in the Gospels’ resurrection appearance stories. In Luke, Jesus appears from nowhere, greets the disciples by saying “Peace to you” (i.e., don’t be afraid), proves he was not a ghost by showing them his crucifixion wounds, and then asks, “Got anything to eat?” (24:36-43)

John’s Gospel accounts a similar food-featured story, of the disciples’ miraculous catch of fish, after toiling through the night with no luck, at Jesus’ suggestion yelled from the shore . . . where he was cooking breakfast (21:1-14).

Such stories, along with the some 2,000 biblical texts that emphasize God’s special attention to the poor, are indicators that food sufficiency signifies a larger livelihood and the corporeality of salvation.

Faith in the manner of Jesus is always bodified. Anything less is a signal that we suffer Ascension-deficit disorder.

The culprit

“I will restore to you the years the locusts have eaten.”
—Joel 2:25

With the disciples in the Acts 1 account, we still stand gazing to Heaven: with nostalgia for days past; with a longing for divine comfort shielded from earthly drama; with atoning desire emptied of fleshly content.

C.S. Lewis allegorized this deficiency in his classic primer on spirituality, Screwtape Letters, a book of satire written in the form of letters from Screwtape, a senior demon in the bureaucracy of Hell, to his nephew Wormwood who is a rookie tempter sent to subvert the faith of a particular individual identified as “the Patient.”

At one point Wormwood writes to his uncle Screwtape in frustration, saying he’s tried everything he knows to get “the Patient” to stop saying his daily prayers. Screwtape responds:

"It is, no doubt, impossible to prevent his praying for his mother, but we have means of rendering the prayers innocuous. Make sure that they are always very 'spiritual,' that he is always concerned with the state of her soul and never with her rheumatism."

One reason many of us were weaned on innocuous spirituality has to do with the English translation of Scripture.

For instance, we are instructed to "love not the things of this world" (1 John 2:15). But, on the other hand, "God so loved the world that he gave his only son" (John 3:16). On the one hand, the world is said to be passing away (1 John 2:17); on the other, "God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself" (2 Corinthians 5:19).

The Newer Testament epistles are filled with negative images of “the flesh,” perceived as corruptible, as warped desire, as licentious (Romans 13:14; 1 John 2:16; 2 Peter 2:18). Flesh is “hostile to God” (Romans 8:7), and we are warned against walking “according to the flesh” (Galatians 4:23, 29), or “setting the mind on the flesh” (Romans 8:5), “those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (8:8), and “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 15:50) contrasting it with “things of the Spirit” (Romans 8:4-13).

Let this be known: “The world” that is presently aligned against the Reign of God is a bootleg world.

Scripture repeatedly locates the work of salvation in the flesh. Ezekiel predicts the day when a new spirit will be put into human creatures, a “heart of flesh” displacing a “heart of stone” (36:26). Joel foresees the time when God will “pour out my spirit on all flesh” (2:28).

The Prophet’s claim (Isaiah 40:5)—echoed in Luke’s rendering (3:6)—is that “all flesh shall see the salvation of our God.” The first imperative in Jesus’ own model prayer is “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). And John the Revelator (11:15) asserts “the kingdom of the world will become the kingdom of our God,” a sentiment sung fortissimo in Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus.”

The conclusion

“Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”
—John 16:33

With Jesus, those aligned with Heaven’s insurrection also implore “let this cup pass from me” (Matthew 25:39) when sanction threatens. We prefer to reason: Since Jesus paid it all, what is there left for us than to agree? Slip conveniently, briefly, beneath heated baptismal waters? Pay our tithe and say grace at meals? Quote from our catechesis? And, most importantly for the zealous, convince others to do the same?

It is only by way of entering into Jesus’ Passion, and the disruption it entails, can we rediscover the Spirit’s Promise of presence—not in a space beyond tribulation but in its midst.

With the disciples, we remember that Jesus left, but we forget that this ascension would lead to a descension, of the Holy Spirit, and the its powerful animation of our little, defenseless flock on the Jesus Road into the far reaches of the globe with the profoundly unsettling news that a New Order was rising from the ashes of the old.

Throughout Scripture, the indwelling of the Spirit traffics in fleshly affairs.

The healing of our Ascension-deficit disorder requires the ekklesia to revisit the passion to which it is bound, living open-eyed in a world predicated on and subject to violation—and doing so without resort to in-kind response.

The scuttling of this disorder comes by way pathos, where we learn that God is more taken with the agony of the earth than with the ecstasy of heaven.

The Feast of the Ascension’s insistence is that God has not constructed a co-dependent relationship. The covenant is relational, not despotic. Faith entails participation, not consumption. Jesus is not our mascot, but the “pioneer of faith” (Hebrews 12:2) who bids us follow.

The threat he faced could very well be ours. But also the enduring power of joy, our buoyancy in the face of trouble.

The Feast of the Ascension is the seal of heaven’s safeguard: Not from the bootleg world, but in it, for it, on its behalf, for the blessing of Creation has not been annulled. Soon, Pentecostal power will be announced, the insurgence launched, pursuit of the New Heaven and the New Earth renewed day by day.

At the Feast of Ascension we receive our enlistment notice, and wait for the “clothing with power from on high” (Luke 24:49). It is a power "the world" does not understand and, finally, cannot resist.

Then, at Pentecost we mobilize, as the Resurrection moment animates the Resurrection movement.

#  #  #

©ken sehested @ prayerandpolitiks.org

 

An Emmaen prayer

by Ken Sehested

“He was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.”
—Luke 24:35, story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus following Jesus’ execution

 

Holy One of Heaven, maker of days and baker of bread that nourishes and brings delight, be with us in our famished disillusion.

Like the ancient disciples on the road to Emmaus, we, too, have broken dreams and manifest disappointments. The life we envisioned has collapsed; the hopes that buoyed have sunk; the promises made have unraveled.  And we walk the road of disappointment and regret.

Right: "Road to Emmaus," linocut art by Julie Lonneman

We confess that we fill ourselves with fretful, empty calories. We choke on the food of anxious toil. We spend ourselves in fruitless pursuits.

Be present among us again in the breaking of resurrecting bread. Restore to us the vision that recognizes your will and your Way. Feed us ‘til we want no more, ‘til our hearts grow stilled, ‘til our minds become set on the things that make for peace, on the harvest of justice, on the storehouse of grace, on the banquet table of mercy.

Coax us back to Jerusalem’s turmoil, where Heaven contends with Earth’s remorse, where the promise of forgiveness confronts the knots of enmity, where danger’s threat is met with the Spirit’s assurance that one day public good shall supplant private privilege, when the tyranny of might over right will end, when all tears will be dried and death itself comes undone.

Amen.

#  #  #

©ken sehested @ prayerandpolitiks.org

Breathing room

A meditation on the conviction of Derek Chauvin

by Ken Sehested
21 April 2021

As I pulled out of our driveway, the NPR radio host said that the jury in the Derek Chauvin murder trial had reached a verdict and would be announced shortly. I immediately felt my stomach tighten and swallowed an inhaled “oh no.”

Like most, I thought the evidence against him in the death of George Floyd was irreproachable. But history said otherwise, particularly given the massive loophole provided by the Supreme Court’s ruling granting “limited immunity” to law enforcement, for “breathing room to make reasonable but mistaken judgments about open legal questions.”

Each Tuesday I perform taxi service, getting my granddaughter to and from her gymnastics team workout. I was grateful the news didn’t break until after dropping her off. That came as I pulled into the grocery store parking lot on the way home, to pick up an item for dinner.

Entering the store, it seemed I was the only one who knew that a rare moment in US history had been announced. If I were more of an extrovert, I might have shouted out a few exclamation points.

More than 1,000 people are killed by police in the US each year, a number that is many times over the per capita rate in any other country. But few law enforcement officers are convicted. Between 2013 and 2019, only 1% of killings by police have resulted in criminal charges.

What follows is a list of significant observations and takeaways published or broadcast since the verdict was announced, rendered with my own commentary.

1. Yesterday was, I believe, “a new day,” as one emotional post-verdict vigil participant said to a news reporter. Not just for this one conviction, or for accountability for one Black man’s death at the hands of police; but because the period between Floyd’s death last 26 May and yesterday has been marked by a public outcry like never before.

In the last 11 months there have been marches in some 2,000 cities and towns in over 60 countries in support of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. Last summer alone it is estimated that between 15 million and 26 million people had participated at some point in the demonstrations in the United States, making the protests the largest in US history.

2. There has been a debate over whether Chauvin’s conviction represents justice.

One unnamed source commented, “This is not justice. This is accountability. Chauvin is where we start. The whole system is next.” Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison elaborated: “I would not call today’s verdict justice . . . because justice implies restoration. But it is accountability, which is the first step toward justice. And now the cause of justice is . . .  in the hands of the people of the United States."

Alencia Johnson wrote on Twitter: “The justice we seek is a world where George Floyd would still be alive.” And author and activist Shane Claiborne tweeted, "We’re not merely fighting for a world where cops go to jail for killing people; we’re fighting for a world where cops don’t kill people."

Keep in mind that since testimony in Chauvin’s trial began on 29 March, at least 64 people have died at the hands of law enforcement, with Black and Latino people representing more than half the fatalities.

At a minimum, Chauvin’s conviction is a foretaste that in the matter of police liability justice is at least possible. At the very least, Chauvin’s conviction will serve as a deterrent.

3. The verdict in this trial almost certainly turned on the evidence of the videotaping of the brutal nine-and-a-half-minute, slow asphyxiation of Floyd by Chauvin. This incident could easily have been erased from history: unacknowledged, unexamined, corruption hidden from public viewing.

Consider the initial public announcement of this confrontation by the Minneapolis Police Department.

“[Floyd] was ordered to step from his car. After he got out, he physically resisted officers. Officers were able to get the suspect into handcuffs and noted he appeared to be suffering medical distress. Officers called for an ambulance. He was transported to Hennepin County Medical Center by ambulance where he died a short time later.”

In other words, nothing to see here.

Without that video, we would not have heard the emotionally wrought testimonies of other bystanders. We would not have heard the testimonies of Minneapolis police officials, crossing the “thin blue line” of silence to say no, this conduct betrays our standards and training. We would not have heard from multiple medical experts verifying the accurate cause of death.

4. It’s all the more remarkable that 17-year-old Darnella Frazier, who was about to enter the convenience store just feet away from where Floyd lay, had the presence of mind to pull out her phone and make that damning video. The success of this trial outcome is largely a result of her gumption, along with the many millions of those who took part in a collaborated citizens’ uprising against police malfeasance.

Remarkably, even the Fraternal Order of Police—the nation’s largest police union—supported the verdict, saying “‘Our system of justice has worked as it should,’ according to the group’s president, Patrick Yoes. ‘The trial was fair and due process was served.’”

Due process didn’t lead to this outcome. It was not the criminal justice system or politicians who paved the way for this trial’s outcome. It was “we the people.”

As the actor Will Smith commented in an interview, “Racism isn’t getting worse, it’s getting filmed.”

It was “we the people” who provided sufficient political cover for President Joe Biden, in a televised statement to the nation following the announced conviction, to say “It was a murder in full light of day, and it ripped the blinders off for the whole world to see. For so many, it feels like it took all of that for the judicial system to deliver just basic accountability.”

For people of faith, the breath (wind) of God is the active agent in history, aspiring (breathing) to life all living things. It was such a breath that hovered over the “dark void” and breathing into the nostrils of humanity (Genesis 1:2; 2:7) in Creation’s initial dawn. It is by breath that praise is offered (Psalm 150:6) and by breath that dry bones are revived (Ezekiel 37:9). Even the hills and the trees join in festal praise (Isaiah 55:12-13).

Left: The Black Madonna of Sacred Activism by William Hart McNichols.

It was by breathing on his disciples that Jesus imparts the presence of the Holy Spirit (John 20:22; “spirit” and “breath” stemming from the same root word). It was a mighty wind (breath) that anointed the disciples at Pentecost, announcing a renewed community of conviction that aligns with Creation’s intent and Redemption’s promise (Act 2:2).

Nevertheless, these words of hope and assurance for a future brimming with justice—a future that invites our active participation as conspirators (breathing together)—are delivered in moments of calamity when hope often crashes on the jagged shoals of history.

As he often does, Charles Blow delivers this wrenching judgment. “A society that treats this much Black death at the hands of the state as collateral damage in a just war on crime has no decorum to project. That society is savage.”

Darnella Frazier did not awaken on the morning of 26 May 2020 intent on leveraging history. In that moment of travail she could have looked away. She could have continued her shopping. She could have frozen in place at the sight of Chauvin’s nonchalant savagery.

Instead, she took out her phone—and kept filming in spite of the witnessed agony. And then braved an emotionally fraught judicial hearing, under dogged questioning, with Derek Chauvin staring, and the televised world watching.

Darnella was unable to save George Floyd. But her simple act of courage may save future lives. Her reflexive action sparked a “breathing room” movement in our nation whereby genuine reform of our criminal justice system—so long demanded, so little delivered—might actually take shape.

In the end, our coinciding, breath-stealing pandemics—the COVID virus’ attacks on lungs, the asphyxiating effect of our impending environmental collapse, and the smothering results of our deeply-rooted patterns of systemic racism and economic inequity—are symptoms of spiritual crises.

“I can’t breathe” is the groan from every quarter. To respond, we ourselves must again learn to breathe and publicly, vigorously, maybe even contentiously perform resuscitation measures, creating breathing room for the Spirit’s aerating work.

Above: Ieshia Evans, being arrested in a Black Lives Matter demonstration in Baton Rouge, La., 9 July 2016. Photo by Jonathan Bachman.

#  #  #

©ken sehested @ prayerandpolitiks.org

News, views, notes, and quotes

Signs of the Times  •  22 April 2021 •  No. 213

Above: Ieshia Evans, being arrested in a Black Lives Matter demonstration in Baton Rouge, La., 9 July 2016. Photo by Jonathan Bachman.

Invocation.Breathe on Me.” —James Cleveland

Call to worship. "Beloved God, thank you that the cries of a crucified one, George Floyd, were heard. May his cries keep echoing in the soul of this nation. Don’t forgive us just yet the sins of white supremacy and abuse of power.  Don’t forgive us just yet the patterns of cruelty… not until we commit to practices of justice and mercy.

"Make this a time of the great reckoning, the turn in the road, the daring way of forging systems of respect and care for life.  Change us from being a people who takes the breath of another and instead sustains the breath of all.

"Thank you for the Black Lives Matter movement who lead us courageously in revealing truths of our sins of racism.  Thank you for the strength of the ancestors that propels perseverance and hope. 

"May these truths become self-evident. May the unjust systems that we have created be re-created, committed to getting off the necks of black and brown bodied peoples. Keep breaking our hearts with what breaks your own. Keep enlivening our imaginations with your dreams of creating the beloved community.

"Thank you for this community and communities around the world who steadfastly breathe your hope and embody your radical love. Grant us your lasting spirit of solidarity, walking us together into the wide-open space where steadfast love and faithfulness meet…and righteousness and peace kiss. In Christ’s hope we pray. Amen." —Nancy Hastings Sehested, Circle of Mercy Congregation, 21 April 2021

Hymn of praise. “Breathe On Me, Breath of God.” —Hastings College Choir

§  §  §

Breathing room
A meditation on the conviction of Derek Chauvin

by Ken Sehested

As I pulled out of our driveway, the NPR radio host said that the jury in the Derek Chauvin murder trial had reached a verdict and would be announced shortly. I immediately felt my stomach tighten and swallowed an inhaled “oh no.”

Like most, I thought the evidence against him in the death of George Floyd was irreproachable. But history said otherwise, particularly given the massive loophole provided by the Supreme Court’s ruling granting “limited immunity” to law enforcement, for “breathing room to make reasonable but mistaken judgments about open legal questions.”

Each Tuesday I perform taxi service, getting my granddaughter to and from her gymnastics team workout. I was grateful the news didn’t break until after dropping her off. That came as I pulled into the grocery store parking lot on the way home, to pick up an item for dinner.

Entering the store, it seemed I was the only one who knew that a rare moment in US history had been announced. If I were more of an extrovert, I might have shouted out a few exclamation points.

More than 1,000 people are killed by police in the US each year, a number that is many times over the per capita rate in any other country. But few law enforcement officers are convicted. Between 2013 and 2019, only 1% of killings by police have resulted in criminal charges.

What follows is a list of significant observations and takeaways published or broadcast since the verdict was announced, rendered with my own commentary.

Left: The Black Madonna of Sacred Activism by William Hart McNichols

1. Yesterday was, I believe, “a new day,” as one emotional post-verdict vigil participant said to a news reporter. Not just for this one conviction, or for accountability for one Black man’s death at the hands of police; but because the period between Floyd’s death last 26 May and yesterday has been marked by a public outcry like never before.

In the last 11 months there have been marches in some 2,000 cities and towns in over 60 countries in support of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. Last summer alone it is estimated that between 15 million and 26 million people had participated at some point in the demonstrations in the United States, making the protests the largest in US history.

2. There has been a debate over whether Chauvin’s conviction represents justice.

One unnamed source commented, “This is not justice. This is accountability. Chauvin is where we start. The whole system is next.” Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison elaborated: “I would not call today’s verdict justice . . . because justice implies restoration. But it is accountability, which is the first step toward justice. And now the cause of justice is . . . in the hands of the people of the United States."

Alencia Johnson wrote on Twitter: “The justice we seek is a world where George Floyd would still be alive.” And author and activist Shane Claiborne tweeted, "We’re not merely fighting for a world where cops go to jail for killing people; we’re fighting for a world where cops don’t kill people."

Keep in mind that since testimony in Chauvin’s trial began on 29 March, at least 64 people have died at the hands of law enforcement, with Black and Latino people representing more than half the fatalities.

At a minimum, Chauvin’s conviction is a foretaste that in the matter of police liability justice is at least possible. At the very least, Chauvin’s conviction will serve as a deterrent.

3. The verdict in this trial almost certainly turned on the evidence of the videotaping of the brutal nine-and-a-half-minute, slow asphyxiation of Floyd by Chauvin. This incident could easily have been erased from history: unacknowledged, unexamined, corruption hidden from public viewing.

Consider the initial public announcement of this confrontation by the Minneapolis Police Department.

“[Floyd] was ordered to step from his car. After he got out, he physically resisted officers. Officers were able to get the suspect into handcuffs and noted he appeared to be suffering medical distress. Officers called for an ambulance. He was transported to Hennepin County Medical Center by ambulance where he died a short time later.”

In other words, nothing to see here.

Without that video, we would not have heard the emotionally wrought testimonies of other bystanders. We would not have heard the testimonies of Minneapolis police officials, crossing the “thin blue line” of silence to say no, this conduct betrays our standards and training. We would not have heard from multiple medical experts verifying the accurate cause of death.

4. It’s all the more remarkable that 17-year-old Darnella Frazier, who was about to enter the convenience store just feet away from where Floyd lay, had the presence of mind to pull out her phone and make that damning video. The success of this trial outcome is largely a result of her gumption, along with the many millions of those who took part in a collaborated citizens’ uprising against police malfeasance.

Remarkably, even the Fraternal Order of Police—the nation’s largest police union—supported the verdict, saying “‘Our system of justice has worked as it should,’ according to the group’s president, Patrick Yoes. ‘The trial was fair and due process was served.’”

Due process didn’t lead to this outcome. It was not the criminal justice system or politicians who paved the way for this trial’s outcome. It was “we the people.”

As the actor Will Smith commented in an interview, “Racism isn’t getting worse, it’s getting filmed.”

It was “we the people” who provided sufficient political cover for President Joe Biden, in a televised statement to the nation following the announced conviction, to say “It was a murder in full light of day, and it ripped the blinders off for the whole world to see. For so many, it feels like it took all of that for the judicial system to deliver just basic accountability.”

For people of faith, the breath (wind) of God is the active agent in history, aspiring (breathing) to life all living things. It was such a breath that hovered over the “dark void” and breathing into the nostrils of humanity (Genesis 1:2; 2:7) in Creation’s initial dawn. It is by breath that praise is offered (Psalm 150:6) and by breath that dry bones are revived (Ezekiel 37:9). Even the hills and the trees join in festal praise (Isaiah 55:12-13).

It was by breathing on his disciples that Jesus imparts the presence of the Holy Spirit (John 20:22; “spirit” and “breath” stemming from the same root word). It was a mighty wind (breath) that anointed the disciples at Pentecost, announcing a renewed community of conviction that aligns with Creation’s intent and Redemption’s promise (Act 2:2).

Nevertheless, these words of hope and assurance for a future brimming with justice—a future that invites our active participation as conspirators (breathing together)—are delivered in moments of calamity when hope often crashes on the jagged shoals of history.

As he often does, Charles Blow delivers this wrenching judgment. “A society that treats this much Black death at the hands of the state as collateral damage in a just war on crime has no decorum to project. That society is savage.”

Darnella Frazier did not awaken on the morning of 26 May 2020 intent on leveraging history. In that moment of travail she could have looked away. She could have continued her shopping. She could have frozen in place at the sight of Chauvin’s nonchalant savagery.

Instead, she took out her phone—and kept filming in spite of the witnessed agony. And then braved an emotionally fraught judicial hearing, under dogged questioning, with Derek Chauvin staring, and the televised world watching.

Darnella was unable to save George Floyd. But her simple act of courage may save future lives. Her reflexive action sparked a “breathing room” movement in our nation whereby genuine reform of our criminal justice system—so long demanded, so little delivered—might actually take shape.

In the end, our coinciding, breath-stealing pandemics—the COVID virus’ attacks on lungs, the asphyxiating effect of our impending environmental collapse, and the smothering results of our deeply-rooted patterns of systemic racism and economic inequity—are symptoms of spiritual crises.

Right: Photo by David Ramos, Getty Images

“I can’t breathe” is the groan from every quarter. To respond, we ourselves must again learn to breathe and publicly, vigorously, maybe even contentiously perform resuscitation measures, creating breathing room for the Spirit’s aerating work.

#  #  #

Word. “The spirit of God Himself breathes us out from Himself that we may love, and may do good works; and again He draws us into Himself, that we may rest in fruition.” ―Evelyn Underhill, Mysticism

Benediction. “Until now Your mercy has helped us, and Your kindness has not forsaken us. . . . Do not abandon us, Hashem our God, forever. Therefore the spirit and soul that you breathed into our nostrils, and the tongue that you placed in our mouth—all of them shall thank and bless and praise and glorify, exalt and revere Your Name.” —“Nishmat Kol Chai” (“Breath of All Life”), Joey Weisenberg, Mattisyahu Brown, Deborach Sacks Mintz, adapting lyrics from the Shabbat Morning Liturgy.

#  #  #

©Ken Sehested @ prayerandpolitiks.org. Language not otherwise indicated above is that of the editor, as are those portions cited as “kls.” Don’t let the “copyright” notice keep you from circulating material you find here (and elsewhere in this site). Reprint permission is hereby granted in advance for noncommercial purposes.

Feel free to copy and post any original art on this site. (The ones with “prayerandpolitiks.org” at the bottom.) As well as other information you find helpful.

Your comments are always welcomed. If you have news, views, notes or quotes to add to the list above, please do. If you like what you read, pass this along to your friends. You can reach me directly at kensehested@prayerandpolitiks.org.

 

Easter’s fertile promise

Composting as parable of faith formation

by Ken Sehested
Easter Sunday, 4 April 2021

I’ve never had a green thumb. My wife tends indoor plants and outside flowers. I’ve never had the urge to garden, though I wish I had.

But I’ve enjoyed making dirt for over 30 years. Soil, I should say. Dark, fertile, nutrition rich soil that growing things need to thrive, filled with nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and a dozen other nutrients and organic matter.

I keep three compost stashes going. A two-gallon bucket next to the kitchen sink, where I deposit scraps from meal preparation, certain dinner leftovers, coffee grounds, napkins, and shredded paper. Once every week or so, when it’s full, I take it outside and empty it in a 96-gallon compost container, next to a mound of “brown” material—leaves and grass clippings—for covering each deposit. I’m not in a hurry, so I don’t turn the compost, which would speed up the process; I just let the weather and worms do their work.

Once each year I empty the composter and cover it with a layer of brown material, where it will sit, undisturbed. After “cooking” for a year, it’s ready to do its magic. So I shovel it into cardboard boxes, careful to remove the weed roots that encroached over the past year. The load comes to about a half-yard, filling my pickup bed for transport to our kiddos’ house up the street. My son-in-law, Rich, tends a large garden. It’s down payment for a bountiful harvest of vegetables and berries to come.

This is my substitute for an Easter sunrise service. (I’m not an early riser.)

Most of the brown material comes from my own yard. But if the leaf harvest in late fall is smaller than normal, I’ll patrol my neighborhood streets and collect bagged leaves set out for the city to pick up.

Composting isn’t hard, but it’s not convenient, either. It takes some work and persistent attention.

Sometimes the labor of spiritual formation is, in fact, hard. Grace sometimes takes us to places we would otherwise not be inclined to go; or be with people we’d otherwise avoid; or pay attention to news that we’d just as soon ignore.

Sometimes spiritual growth is like an earthquake, unsettling things we thought would always be certain and secured. Sometimes it's a big screen drama, brimming with a scary storyline, and heroic gestures and heart-pounding action, with valor in the dark and near-catastrophes and undeserved affliction.

All the saints have scars and bruises and limps and even missing limbs. All had, like us, scrap material: peelings, bruised spots, wilted and other gone-bad produce, indigestible trimmings, rinds and seeds. The promise of compost, like Easter, is that nothing is wasted. Part of resurrection’s exultation is knowing God wants all of us. In one of his poems, Steve Garnaas-Holmes has this striking metaphor, “God licks the spoon of us.”

Spiritual formation can be wearisome, can place you in a storm-tossed boat, can demand more than you think you can bear. It is almost never convenient and can be unnerving. It is not risk-averse.

But most of the time, spiritual formation is much like composting. It requires persistent attention, intentional choices, and locating yourself in a community where some bring nitrogen, some phosphorous, some potassium and the like. Mostly there are no fireworks or theatrics, much less headline news, and almost never fame nor fortune.

Spiritual formation is quotidian work. In ordinary circumstances. Sweating the small stuff; showing up; giving attention, without the need for billboards, to the needs on the streets whose names you know. It requires constructing a custom-made rhythm of work and rest; of action and reflection; of listening and speaking; and making a nest with others—ordinary, non-saintly, sometimes eccentric others—who are attempting the same.

Civility is among the many daily habits we practice. As the author of the book of James noted, the tongue can cause all manner of harm (3:5-6).  However, when confronting injustice, civility is not a primary virtue. “Peace” is not always “quiet,” and silence becomes violence.

Some conflicts need to be heightened, confronted, brought to the surface, before they can be dealt with. What passes for order must sometimes be dismantled before communities can flourish. Some trouble is “good trouble,” in the words of former Congressman and heralded civil rights leader John Lewis.

There is work to be done (not to mention merriment and sweet treats). But ultimate outcomes are not ours to engineer. There is a fecund Presence in Creation we can count on.

Dominion is not up to us. But cultivating is. Don’t mind the sweat and don’t neglect your gloves; but don’t postpone joy.

As Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote, in his say-it-slant way, God longs to “easter in us.” Join your will to that Way.

#  # #

©ken sehested @ prayerandpolitiks.org

News, views, notes, and quotes

Signs of the Times  •  12 April 2021 •  No. 212

 

 

Invocation. With tonight’s setting sun, 1.9 billion Muslims around the world began observance of Ramadan, the month of special practices designed for spiritual renewal. Let us ask them to pray for the people of the United States, for we as a people believe that history’s shape and consummation is assured by the barrel of a gun.

Call to worship. “The Adhan,” the call to prayer in Islam, performed by Hassen Rasool, a muezzin (a man who calls Muslims to prayer from the minaret of a mosque) in the United Kingdom.

Ramadan: A bit of background

Ramadan is a month of spiritual renewal, marked by daylight fasting, commemorating the revelation of the Qur’an, Islam’s scripture, to the Prophet Mohammad.

I confess a certain ambivalence in highlighting holy seasons of any special religious observance, because the public practice of piety so often overlaps with the outbreak of violence. Indeed, the first mention of religious ritual in Hebrew Scripture, the respective “offerings to the Lord” by Cain and Abel (whose story is contained not only in Jewish and Christian Scripture, but also in the Qur’an), was also the occasion of the first murder (cf. Genesis 5).

Secularists are right to point out the frequent coincidence between religious devotion and human bloodshed.

But not right enough. Given the fact that violence is often justified by claims of transcendent and redemptive purposes, the most effective challenge to this coincidence should be mounted by interfaith coalitions committed to delegitimizing violence done in God’s name.

For more on that see “The things that make for peace: The purpose, promise and peril of interfaith engagement.”

For a little more background about Ramadan:

• Here is a short overview of the tradition and practices of Ramadan.

• “Six questions on Ramadan answered,” by Mohammad Hassan Khalil, is a very helpful and brief primer on Islam’s major annual observance. Religion News Service.

Ramadan is observed during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and is observed by Muslims worldwide as a month of fasting (Sawm) to commemorate the first revelation of the Quran to Muhammad according to Islamic belief. This annual observance is regarded as one of the Five Pillars of Islam. The month lasts 29–30 days based on the visual sightings of the crescent moon. Wikipedia

• One way to practice interfaith understanding might be learning to pronounce a traditional greeting in Arabic: "As-salamu alaikum," which translates “Peace be upon you”; and the traditional response: “Wa alaykumu as-salam,” or “And unto you peace.” Here is one very brief aid in pronouncing of these two phrases(Transliteration Arabic into English results in a variety spellings.)

• For more on the commonalities in peacemaking traditions among Jews, Christians, and Muslims, see “Peace Primer II: Quotes from Jewish, Christian, and Islamic Scripture & Tradition.”

§  §  §

¶ “Erev Shel Shoshanim” (“Evening of Lilies [or Roses”]) by Yuval Ron Ensemble. This song, a love song well known throughout the Middle East, is dedicated to the children of Jerusalem, the vision of peace between Jews and Arabs, and peace around the world.

§  §  §

Last week I received an Associated Church Press award for the following short story.

A Broadman Hymnal story

The story begins on a Saturday, before dawn, while still in high school. I began my 12-hour shift of pumping gas, doing oil changes, and washing cars in my hometown along the South Louisiana bayous.

First thing when we opened was to transfer product displays and stacks of new tires outside. The radio was on—the station owner loved the Cajun and Zydeco music on the local station. Then the music stopped, momentarily, for a bit of news. The announcer was saying something about Martin Luther King Jr.

“That Martin Luther Coon, he ain’t no Christian,” Mr. Dediveaux muttered toward the radio in an emphatically derogatory tone. “Everywhere he go there’s trouble.”

It would be years before it occurred to me the same was likely said about Jesus.

As the product of a piety-saturated, apolitical religious environment (except when liquor and gambling policies were on the electoral ballot), I was largely oblivious to the Civil Rights Movement. But by the time I entered seminary, the history and figures of the era became an obsession. I read everything I could get my hands on.

One of my purchases was an oversized book filled with photos of Dr. King and a host of other movement luminaries. To this day I retain the vivid memory of being caught up in a bewildering epiphany as I turned from one page to the next. As if my gut had goosebumps.

It took me a few seconds to comprehend the prophetic disclosure that unfolded. The photo was of Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife Coretta sitting at a piano, their infant daughter Yolanda perched on Martin’s lap, as he and Coretta sang from an open hymnal.

As my eyes began searching out the details, there it was. The hymnal cover was clear. It was the Broadman Hymnal. The hymnal I grew up with. Published by the Southern Baptist Convention, a denomination that formed over the express conviction that even missionaries could own slaves.

At one time I could quote from memory the page number of dozens of titles in that hymnal. As I came to discover, a good many churches that hosted Civil Rights Movement mass meetings—churches that were threatened by cross-burning Klan torches—did their singing from the Broadman.

I also learned that terrorism on American soil has a long history.

That moment—that photo—stands among my life’s greatest revelations. I came to realize that the language of faith can have many different, even competing meanings, just as any chemical compound, minus even one element, turns into something else altogether.

My life’s preoccupation since then has been sorting out the redemptive notes from the enslaving.

§  §  §

¶ “Christ is risen from the dead / Trampling down death by death / And to those in the tombs / Bestowing life!” —translated lyrics of “Christ Is Risien,” a Greek/Antiochian Orthodox Paschal troporian sung on Easter Sunday, by Fairouz

§  §  §

An Easter Sunday meditation

Easter’s fertile promise: Composting as parable of faith formation

I’ve never had a green thumb. My wife tends indoor plants and outside flowers. I’ve never had the urge to garden, though I wish I had.

But I’ve enjoyed making dirt for over 30 years. Soil, I should say. Dark, fertile, nutrition rich soil that growing things need to thrive, filled with nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and a dozen other nutrients and organic matter.

I keep three compost stashes going. A two-gallon bucket next to the kitchen sink, where I deposit scraps from meal preparation, certain dinner leftovers, coffee grounds, napkins, and shredded paper. Once every week or so, when it’s full, I take it outside and empty it in a 96-gallon compost container, next to a mound of “brown” material—leaves and grass clippings—for covering each deposit. I’m not in a hurry, so I don’t turn the compost, which would speed up the process; I just let the weather and worms do their work.

Once each year I empty the composter and cover it with a layer of brown material, where it will sit, undisturbed. After “cooking” for a year, it’s ready to do its magic. So I shovel it into cardboard boxes, careful to remove the weed roots that encroached over the past year. The load comes to about a half-yard, filling my pickup bed for transport to our kiddos’ house up the street. My son-in-law, Rich, tends a large garden. It’s down payment for a bountiful harvest of vegetables and berries to come.

This is my substitute for an Easter sunrise service. (I’m not an early riser.)

Most of the brown material comes from my own yard. But if the leaf harvest in late fall is smaller than normal, I’ll patrol my neighborhood streets and collect bagged leaves set out for the city to pick up.

Composting isn’t hard, but it’s not convenient, either. It takes some work and persistent attention.

Sometimes the labor of spiritual formation is, in fact, hard. Grace sometimes takes us to places we would otherwise not be inclined to go; or be with people we’d otherwise avoid; or pay attention to news that we’d just as soon ignore.

Sometimes spiritual growth is like an earthquake, unsettling things we thought would always be certain and secured. Sometimes it's a big screen drama, brimming with a scary storyline, and heroic gestures and heart-pounding action, with valor in the dark and near-catastrophes and undeserved affliction.

All the saints have scars and bruises and limps and even missing limbs. All had, like us, scrap material: peelings, bruised spots, wilted and other gone-bad produce, indigestible trimmings, rinds and seeds. The promise of compost, like Easter, is that nothing is wasted. Part of resurrection’s exultation is knowing God wants all of us. In one of his poems, Steve Garnaas-Holmes has this striking metaphor, “God licks the spoon of us.”

Spiritual formation can be wearisome, can place you in a storm-tossed boat, can demand more than you think you can bear. It is almost never convenient and can be unnerving. It is not risk-averse.

But most of the time, spiritual formation is much like composting. It requires persistent attention, intentional choices, and locating yourself in a community where some bring nitrogen, some phosphorous, some potassium and the like. Mostly there are no fireworks or theatrics, much less headline news, and almost never fame nor fortune.

Spiritual formation is quotidian work. In ordinary circumstances. Sweating the small stuff; showing up; giving attention, without the need for billboards, to the needs on the streets whose names you know. It requires constructing a custom-made rhythm of work and rest; of action and reflection; of listening and speaking; and making a nest with others—ordinary, non-saintly, sometimes eccentric others—who are attempting the same.

Left: Easter Sunday flowered cross, Milagro Christian Church, Boulder, CO. Photo by Marnie Leinberger.

There is work to be done (not to mention merriment and sweet treats). But sustainability is not ours to engineer. There is a fecund Presence in Creation we can count on.

Dominion is not up to us. But cultivating is. Don’t mind the sweat and don’t neglect your gloves; but don’t postpone joy.

As Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote, in his say-it-slant way, God longs to “easter in us.” Join your will to that Way.

Ken Sehested, Easter Sunday, 4 April 2021

§  §  §

Benediction.Tala' al-Badru Alayna” (“White Moon”),” which many believe to be the oldest known Islamic song, welcoming the Prophet Muhammad and his companions as they sought refuge in Medina. —Abraham Jam

#  #  #

©Ken Sehested @ prayerandpolitiks.org. Language not otherwise indicated above is that of the editor, as are those portions cited as “kls.” Don’t let the “copyright” notice keep you from circulating material you find here (and elsewhere in this site). Reprint permission is hereby granted in advance for noncommercial purposes.

Feel free to copy and post any original art on this site. (The ones with “prayerandpolitiks.org” at the bottom.) As well as other information you find helpful.

Your comments are always welcomed. If you have news, views, notes or quotes to add to the list above, please do. If you like what you read, pass this along to your friends. You can reach me directly at kensehested@prayerandpolitiks.org.

 

A few (somewhat unconventional) music suggestions for Holy Week and Easter

Introduction

It's important to remember that the first Holy Week was not upbeat, chocolatey, nor an occasion for spring fashion. The disciples did not want to be in Jerusalem. They knew the dangers for Jesus, and for themselves, since both the Temple elite and the Roman rulers were lying in wait for an opportunity to nab Jesus.

It was Passover season, recollecting the Hebrew freedom march out of Egypt; thus nationalist sentiment ran hot. Rome always brought in extra security forces during this period. The crowd that welcomed Jesus waved palm branches—symbols of victory which, then as now, implied military engagement. And they shouted "Hosanna"—"God save us!"—not so much for heaven but from Rome's colonization. Both the palms and the hosannas had an undercurrent of insurrection. Given Jesus' notoriety, many hoped—or feared—he was there to ignite a violent insurgency against Roman tyranny and Temple collaboration. Palm Sunday was a dangerous provocation, which Jesus struggled to clarify in Maundy Thursday's footwashing. As the disciples feared, the authorities arrested, tortured, and lynched Jesus by crucifixion, a form of capital punishment reserved for political subversives. The disciples went into hiding. No one had an inkling of what came next.

Palm Sunday

§ Watch this short (3:49) video from 1940 of Arab Christians marking Palm Sunday by marching from Bethphage, down the Mount of Olives, through the Kidron Valley, and then climb again to reach Jerusalem. This is the trek Jesus made on his final entry into Jerusalem, where crowds formed a processional line waving palm fronds.

§ “O’er all the way green palms and blossoms gay Are strewn this day in festive preparation, Where Jesus comes, to wipe our tears away, E’en now the throng to welcome Him prepare.” —translated lyrics of Jean-Baptiste Faure’s “Les Rameaux (The Palms)” sung by Enrico Caruso

§ “Hosanna son of David: / Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord, King of Israel: / Hosanna in the highest. / O give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good: / His mercy endures for ever. / Thou art my God and I will praise thee; thou art my God, I will exalt thee.” —“Hosanna filio David,” Chœur grégorien de Paris

Holy Monday

§ “Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world / have mercy on us / Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world / grant us peace.” —translated text for “Adagio for Strings,” Samuel Barber

§ “Your only Son no sin to hide / But You have sent Him from Your side / To walk upon this guilty sod / And to become the Lamb of God.” —“Lamb of God,” Eden’s Bridge

§ “Hold on jus’ a little while longer / Hold on jus’ a little while longer / Hold on jus’ a little while longer / Everything will be all right.” —traditional Negro spiritual, performed by Bobby McFerrin & The Kumba Singers

§ “Ah! Turn me not away, / Receive me tho' unworthy; / Hear Thou my cry, / Behold, Lord, my distress! / Answer me from thy throne.” —“O Divine Redeemer” by Charles Gounod, performed by Jessye Norman

Holy Tuesday

§ “My Spirit seeks you early in the night watches, for Your commandments are a light on the earth. . . . Behold, the Bridegroom is coming in the middle of the night. And blessed is the servant He shall find awake and watching.” —“Behold the Bridegroom (Arabic)”

§ “God Almighty here I am / Am I where I ought to be / I’ve begun to soon descend / Like the sun into the sea / And I thank my lucky stars / From here to eternity / For the artist that you are / And the man you made of me.” —Kris Kristofferson, “Feeling Mortal

§ “What Wondrous Love Is This.” —Currie Burris, hammer dulcimer

§ “O God, full of compassion, Who dwells on high, grant true rest upon the wings of the Shechinah, in the exalted spheres of the holy and pure, who shine as the resplendence of the firmament, to the souls of Victims of September 11th who [have] gone to their eternal home; may their place of rest be in Gan Eden.” —translated lyrics of Jewish Cantor Azi Schwartz singing “prayer for the dead” at Ground Zero in New York City

Left: Linocut art ©Julie Lonneman

Holy Wednesday

§ “To love the right, / yet do so wrong. / To be the weak, / yet burn to be so strong.” —“Sinner’s Prayer,” B.B. King and Ray Charles.

§ “Oh, sinnerman, where you gonna run to?” Nina Simone

§ “All the pain that you have known  / All the violence in your soul  / All the 'wrong' things you have done  / I will take from you when I come.” —Sinéad O'Connor, “This Is to Mother You

§ “I have no place / And I have no country / I have no home / With my fingers I make the fire / And with my heart I sing for you / The ropes of my heart cries.” —translated  lyrics to “Nací en Palestina” (“I Was Born In Palestine”), Emel Mathlouthi

§ “Once I stood in the night with my head bowed low / In darkness as black as the sea / In my heart felt alone and I cried oh Lord / Don't hide your face from me.” —Merle Haggard, “Where No One Stands Alone

Maundy Thursday

§ “And am I born to die / To lay this body down / And as my trembling spirit fly / Unto a world unknown.” —“Idumea (Am I Born to Die),” Doc Watson and Gaither Carlton

Right: Pope Francis shocked conservatives by washing the feet of women, Muslims and Orthodox Christians at a prison in Rome, during the annual Maundy Thursday ritual. In the past, the pope has only washed the feet of other priests.

§ “O all you who walk by on the road, pay attention and see: / if there be any sorrow like my sorrow. / Pay attention, all people, and look at my sorrow: / if there be any sorrow like my sorrow.” —translated lyrics to "Tenebrae Responsories – 14 – O vos omnes," Tomas Luis de Victoria (1548-1611) performed by The Sixteen

§ “Where charity and love are, God is there. / Love of Christ has gathered us into one. / Let us rejoice in Him and be glad. / Let us fear, and let us love the living God. / And from a sincere heart let us love one.” —“Ubi Caritas,” Holy Thursday (Solesmes Monks) Gregorian chant

§ “After the supper was over and the table had been cleared away / When the last bottle was empty, there was nothing much left to say / Jesus started humming an old tune, everybody fell right in / They sang the last song, the last song.” —Kate Campbell, “The Last Song

Tenebrae

§ “How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart?” —“How long, Lord?” translated lyrics from “Eela Mata Ya Rabbou,” hymn adapted from Psalm 13 of lament over the Israeli massacres of Palestinian protestors in the Gaza Strip, performed by Fairouz

§ “Remember when we saw / the unloved daughter or son / abandoned and undone / remember when we watched / a city burning down / the sound of hate so loud / We want to know where you were / we want to know where you are / we want to know what you do / God you seem so far away.” —“Remember When,” The Many

§ “Nocturne in C Sharp Minor (No. 20).” —Frédéric Chopin, performed by Christian Li and Gordon Back

§ "They Have Taken the One I Love." —Lévon Minassian, remembering the Armenian Genocide, which began in April 1915, taking the lives of an estimated 1.5 ethnic Armenians in the Ottoman Empire and its successor state, Turkey

§ “This world is so profane, / I can hear the earth screaming,  / screaming in pain. / Everywhere; / There is not compassion left in us. / Why is it that so much pain is caused? / and so much injustice is done in the name of God? / Why have children stopped dreaming? / and why is it that mothers won't stop crying; / I just ask myself how can God look at us.” —translated lyrics of “¿Porque?” (“Why?”), Yasmin Levy

§ “No food on my table / And no shoes to go on my feet / My children cry for mercy / They got no place to call your own / Hard times, hard times.” —John Lee Hooker, “No Shoes

§ “Lament for the Forgotten II.” Oleksa Lozowchuk

Good Friday

§ “On this day is crucified on the Cross / He who suspended the earth upon waters / A crown of spines crowns / The King of angels / He was dressed in a purple robe of mockery / He who adorns the heavens with clouds.” —translation of “The Passion,” performed by Fairouz

§ “Old Rugged Cross.” —Zane King, steel guitar

§ “The right-hand thief cried out saying: Remember me, O my Lord, remember me, O my savior, remember, me, O my King, when you come into Your Kingdom. The Lord answered him in a lowly voice saying: This day you will be with Me in Paradise.” —“Golgatha,” ancient Coptic hymn performed by Logos Music

§ “Stay With Me.” —Jacques Berthier, Taizé community of France

§ “Go to Dark Gethsemane.” —The Celebration Choir

§ “Dido’s Lament.” —“When I am laid in earth” aria from Henry Purcell’s opera “Dido and Aeneas,” performed by Alison Moyet

§ “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?—Annie Moses Band

§ “Crucifixus,”— J.S. Bach, performed by Collegium Vocale Gent

§ “When Jesus came to town, the working folks around, / Believed what he did say; / The bankers and the preachers they nailed him on a cross, / And they laid Jesus Christ in his grave. / Poor working people, they follered him around, / Sung and shouted gay; / Cops and the soldiers, they nailed him in the air, / And they nailed Jesus Christ in his grave.” —Woody Guthrie, “Jesus Christ

Holy Saturday (Easter Vigil)

§ “What language shall I borrow  / to thank thee, dearest friend,  / for this thy dying sorrow,  / thy pity without end?  / O make me thine forever;  / and should I fainting be,  / Lord, let me never, never  / outlive my love for thee.” —Darrell Adams, “O Sacred Head Now Wounded

§ “Were You There (When They Crucified My Lord)?—Mahalia Jackson

§ “Hear me Jesus / Hide me in thy wounds / That I may never leave thy side / From all the evil that surrounds me / Defend me and when the call of death arrives / Bid me come to thee.” —Mary Lou Williams, “Anima Christi

§ “We all see through different eyes / Blinded by each other’s lies / Truth be told we’re all the same / A mother lies awake at night / Not a trace of hope in sight / She’s asking god who to blame / She’s on her knees and screams his name / No luck from above God knows it’s not easy to love.” —Eli Yacinthe, “Easy to Love

§ “We hunt your face and long to trust that your hid mouth will say again / let there be light, a clear new day. / But when we thirst in this dry night, / we drink from hot wells poisoned with the blood of children. / And when we strain to hear a steady homing beam, / our ears are balked by stifled moans / Till our few atoms blow to dust or form again in wiser lives / or find your face and hear our name in your calm voice the end of night if dark may end. / Wellspring gold of dark and day, be here, be now.” —James Taylor, “New Hymn

§ “Lento e Largo.” —second movement of Henryk Górecki’s Third Symphony, Opus 36 (“Symphony of Sorrowful Songs”), second movement
        “No, Mother, do not weep, / Most chaste Queen of Heaven / Support me always.” This is the opening line to the Polish prayer to the Virgin Mary. The prayer was inscribed on wall 3 of cell no. 3 in the basement of "Palace," the Nazi German Gestapo's headquarters in Zadopane, Poland. Beneath is the signature of Helena Wanda Blazusiakówna, and the words "18 years old, imprisoned since 26 September 1944."

Easter

§ “Ain’t No Grave (Can Hold My Body Down).” —A Southern Gospel Revival & Jamie Wilson

§ “The Angel Cried, Christ Has Risen.” —Russian Orthodox Chant for Easter

§ “The angel up on the tombstone / Said He has risen, just as He said / Quickly now, go tell his disciples / That Jesus Christ is no longer dead.” —Keith Green, “Easter Song

§ “Good News From the Graveyard." —Southern Raised

§ “The shackles are undone / The bullets quit the gun / The heat that's in the sun / Will keep us when there's none / The rule has been disproved / The stone it has been moved / The grave is now a groove / All debts are removed / Oh can't you see what love has done?” —“Window in the Skies,” U2

§ “People, what have you done? / Locked him in his golden cage, golden cage / Made him bend to your religion / Him resurrected from the grave, from the grave / He is the God of nothing / If that's all that you can see / You are the God of everything / He's inside you and me.” —“My God,” Jethro Tull

§ “The kingdom of this world; / is become the kingdom of our Lord, / and of His Christ / and of His Christ / And He shall reign forever and ever.” —Handel’s “Hallelujah” chorus from Messiah, performed by VOCES8 (cf. Revelation 11:15)

§ “Easter Dance.” —Irish dance and fiddle

Eastertide

§ “I was there when they crucified my Lord / I held the scabbard when the soldier drew his sword / I threw the dice when they pierced his side / But I've seen love conquer the great divide / When love comes to town I'm gonna catch that train / When love comes to town I'm gonna catch that flame / Maybe I was wrong to ever let you down / But I did what I did before love came to town.” —“When Love Comes to Town,” U2 and B.B. King

§ “In the morning when I rise, / Give me Jesus.” —“Give Me Jesus,” Vince Gill

§ “Let's talk about Chi town / Let's talk about Gaza / Let's talk about, let's talk about Israel / 'Cause right now it is real / Let's talk about, let's talk Nigeria / In a mass hysteria, yeah / Our souls are brought together so that we could love each other / We are here / We are here for all of us / We are here for all of us / That's why we are here, why we are here / We are here.” —Alicia Keys, “We Are Here

§ “There are people who want to live in peace / Don’t give up, keep dreaming / Of peace and prosperity / When will the walls of fear melt / When will I return from exile / And my gates will open / To what is truly good.” —translated lyrics of “Prayer of the Mothers,”Yael Deckelbaum & The Mothers, a 14-member ensemble of Jewish, Arab and Christian women

§ “Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes / Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies / Heaven's morning breaks, and earth's vain shadows flee / In life, in death, o Lord, abide with me / Abide with me, abide with me.” —“Abide With Me,” instrumental by Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane

§ “Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross.” —in Russian, performed by Simon Khorolskiy; violnist Katie Gayduchik

§ “What a Wonderful World.” —Playing for Change

§ —Matisyahu with the Israel social music movement Koolulam in Haifa, Israel, leading 3000 people singing “One Day” in three languages

Postscript

For Jesus’ disciples and followers, Easter morning had no orchestra-backed choir singing the Hallelujah chorus, no flowered cross, no spring fashion, no easter egg hunt. The disciples’ hopes were crushed, and they huddled behind closed doors in fear of sharing Jesus’ fate. After all this time, they (and we) still didn’t understand the true nature of messiahship.

Unfortunately, spiritual formation often begins in bitter disillusionment and confusion. Some disciples wanted to run for the hills—think of the road to Emmaus story. Some surely chose to withdraw into quietism, as if spirituality is a kind of levitation above, and segregation from, history’s agonized drama.

It would take multiple resurrection appearances to restore the nerve and clarify the vision of that early community, which began to sense that salvation was not from the world but for it. Significantly, the community completely reimagined their economic relations as reflections of their spiritual bonds. (See Acts 2 and 4.)

Eastertide’s vigilance would lead to Pentecostal power, which ensued, as Clarence Jordan wrote, to becoming a “demonstration plot for the Kingdom of God”; or as Martin Luther King Jr. envisioned, an enfleshed movement whose eyes were on the prize of The Beloved Community where the demands of justice and the prerequisites of peace are mediated by the work of mercy.

Resurrection’s promise couples Creation’s delight with history’s redemption in anticipation of that great day establishing a “new heaven and a new earth,” when all tears will be dried and death will be no more (cf. Revelation 21). For the community of faith, practiced resurrection points to God’s rainbow covenant (cf. Genesis 9) with the day when “all flesh shall see the salvation of our God” (Luke 3:6) and mercy trumps vengeance.

For this reason the community of faith—living precariously amid history’s violent surges, with pain abounding and affliction seemingly without end—proclaims its insurrectionary witness and prays its incendiary prayer, “Come quickly, Lord Jesus.”

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—compiled by Ken Sehested, March 2021, prayerandpolitiks.org

Hong Kong, Britain’s 19th century war to save its drug cartel in China, and escalating US-China relations

To understand the present, you have to know some history

by Ken Sehested

US-China relations have deteriorated dramatically in recent months. Once an outspoken admirer of Chinese President Xi, President Trump is now laying much of the blame for the COVID-19 pandemic at China’s door, further exacerbating the preexisting conflict over balance of trade.

Some of China’s blame, for delaying news of the pandemic’s spread, is merited. Then again, CNN has identified 37 instances where Trump praised China’s handling of the coronavirus between 22 January and 1 April. Then, as the pandemic began to spread widely in the US—and the US government’s inaction became apparent—the president began looking to deflect responsibility.

Until this past week, when China pushed through Hong Kong’s legislature an act severely penalizing criticism of Beijing, Trump has remained neutral on the ongoing civil unrest there. Now both he and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are making very public threats against China.

It’s important to understand Hong Kong’s history to make sense of current events there.

Britain went to war with China in 1841 when China attempted to suppress the British East India Company’s opium production in Bengal (what is now Bangladesh). It was a British-protected drug cartel, which sold opium to Chinese smugglers for illicit distribution in China.

As one writer put it, Britain’s Queen Victoria “became the first drug dealing monarch in history.”

Also, Britain was enduring a significant trade imbalance with China. (Know anybody in the US government upset about a trade imbalance with China?)

Hong Kong then became a British colony  (under very undemocratic rule) until 1977 (except for Japanese occupation during World War II). Under Britain’s security umbrella, the province became a center of international trade. Though Britain did provide safe haven for Chinese political dissidents—insomuch as the dissidence was directed at Beijing.

By the middle of the 20th century, these two factors—a significant population of objectors to China’s ruling Communist Party, along with Hong Kong’s booming economy—created a distinctly Hongkonger cultural and political identity.

Right: Political cartoon by Chappatte, New York Times

After decades of diplomatic wrangling, Britain agreed in 1997 to return sovereignty of Hong Kong to China, with the provision of what is called the “One Country, Two Systems”  treaty provision, permitting Hong Kong’s powerful international banking and free market institutions to continue, but under a governing body sympathetic to Beijing’s interests.

The moral of this story?

1. Drug cartels didn’t originate in Latin America.

2. When you hear the “America first” demand to bring back American companies’ jobs from abroad (including from China), remember: China (and other countries) didn’t steal these jobs. US corporate managers sent them abroad in order to be more profitable. A bunch of consumer goods we consume will cost more if those jobs come back.

3. China is undoubtedly attempting to challenge US geopolitical and economic influence in the Asia-Pacific region. Yet China’s escalating military budget is still less than a quarter of the Pentagon’s budget, even though its population is 4.5 times ours.

Picture this: The US has some 800 military bases outside the US, and 400 of those are in the Pacific region. China has one foreign military base, and it’s in Africa. Who is provoking whom?

4. As you observe the current escalating hostilities between the US and China, take the brief historical sketch above into account.

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©ken sehested @ prayerandpolitiks.org

The death of George Floyd was a match that lit a bonfire

Four testifiers

by Ken Sehested

I encourage you to open a second tab and listen to the song “Stand Up
by DGLS, a young African American quartet, as you read this post.

As has been said, no one can create a movement. But you can be prepared for it. And the evidence suggests we are now witnessing—and, hopefully, participating in—one here in the US (with echoes sounding around the world).

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The author Ta-Nehisi Coates is no sentimental optimist regarding the state of racial injustice. He writes as candidly about the state of our sin sick soul as anyone I know.

So when he says this—“I can’t believe I’m gonna say this, but I see hope. I see progress right now.” —“Why Ta-Nehisi Coates Is Hopeful,” conversation with Ezra Klein, Reader Supported News

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Rebecca Stolnit is on my short list of essential interpreters for the living of these days. Below is a paragraph from her newest essay, “The Slow Road to Sudden Change” (Literary Hub).  I highly commend it to you (along with everything else she’s written).

“The death of George Floyd was a match that lit a bonfire, and how the fuel for the bonfire piled up is worth studying. That is, for a national and international uprising against anti-Black racism and police violence to achieve such scale and power, many must have been ready for it, whether they knew it or not. Not in the sense of planning it or expecting these events, but by having changed their minds and committed their hearts beforehand.”

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Finally, Vincent Harding is in my opinion the best interpreter of the Civil Rights Movement. He also wrote the first draft of Martin Luther King’s most controversial speech, “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break the Silence.” Years ago I was in a retreat Harding led, and he began his first session playing a recording of the Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway rendition of that old hymn, “Come Ye Disconsolate.” Then he asked those of us in the room, “What do you do with your disconsolation.”

It wasn’t a rhetorical question. The group’s interactive lamenting went on for two days. It wasn’t depressing; it was empowering. It was as if we were able to put a bridle on our sorrow and anger and frustration to guide and hasten our journeys. Such is the goal of lament’s proper work.

Here is a short excerpt from Harding’s There Is a River: The Black Struggle for Freedom in America:

“Somewhere near the heart of this work is a search for meaning, an attempt to apprehend and share with others my own tentative grasp of the harrowing and terrifying beauty of my people’s pilgrimage in this strangely promised land. Why did it happen?

“…this collective venture toward wholeness. A sense of meaning – which we surely create out of our particular responses to the ‘facts’ of experience – is crucial if we are to join ourselves to the past and the future, to commune with the ancestors as well as the coming children.

“Without it we lose touch with ourselves, our fellow humans, and other creatures, with the earth our mother, and with the cosmos itself. Without the search for meaning, the quest for vision, there can be no authentic movements toward liberation, no true identity or radical integration for an individual or a people.

“Above all, where there is no vision we lose the sense of our great power to transcend history and create a new future for ourselves with others, and we perish utterly in hopelessness, mutual terror, and despair. Therefore the quest is not a luxury; life itself demands it of us.”

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Finally: “What if this darkness is not the darkness of the tomb, but the darkness of the womb?” —listen to this short (2:07) video of Valarie Kaur, civil rights activist rooted in the Sikh religious tradition, filmmaker, and founder of the Revolutionary Love Project.

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The times are hard and harrowing; but there is also an unforeseen fallowness in our social landscape—an apparently fertile moment—that holds out hope for meaningful change.

So we continue scheming (see the art at top) together, anticipating the day when hope and history align. And we “Stand Up,”  no matter how small and circumspect your circumstances allow, or how large and bodacious the path you take.

Participate in this work of personal and social repentance and transformation whenever you can, however you can, in what particular way you can, given whatever light the Spirit shines on your way.

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©ken sehested @ prayerandpolitiks.org