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Signs of the Times • 17 August 2021 • No. 214

Invocation. This is the kind of invocation playing out in my heart today, over the folly of the US war in Afghanistan: Maori haka dance by high school friends, performed at the funeral of a classmate.

The haka is a ceremonial dance or challenge in Māori culture of indigenous people in Aorteraroa /New Zealand. It is a posture dance performed by a group, with vigorous movemnts and stamping of the feet with rhythmically shouted accompaniment. Haka are performed to welcome distinguished guests, or to acknowledge great achievements, occasions or funerals.

If you cannot image the rage of God, you have nothing to say of God. —Ken Sehested

§  §  §

AFGHANISTAN WAR’S COSTS

Deaths

  • US troops: 2,448
  • US contractors: 3,846
  • Afghans: 200,000 (est.)
  • NATO member alliance troops: 1,144
  • aid workers: 444
  • journalists: 72

Wounded: 20,660

US citizens killed 9/11 terrorist attacks in US, which led to US invasion of Afghanistan: 2,996

Total deaths as direct result of US wars after 9/11: 801,000

Suicides among post-9/11 veterans of US Global War on Terrorism: 30,177 (compared to combined total of 7,057 who died in combat)

Financial costs

  • Cost of the Afghanistan war, most of which was put on a credit card: $2,000,000,000,000
  • Interest paid on war debt to date; $925,000,000,000
  • Anticipated interest on war debt by 2030: $2,000,000,000,000
  • 92% and 77% rise in taxes for top earners to pay for World War II and the Vietnam War, respectively
  • 8% tax cut for the wealthiest for wars in Afghanistan and Iraq
  • Cost for US post-9/11 wars combined: $6,400,000,000,000

Financial benefits: Investors in US arms makers reaped 58% more profit than other stocks over the past 20 years.

Confession. Everybody wants peace. But we also want what we cannot get without war. This is our predicament.

§  §  §

Congressional oversight of wars since 9/11

  • Number of times U.S. lawmakers have voted to declare war in Afghanistan: 0
  • Number of times lawmakers on Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee addressed costs of Vietnam War, during that conflict: 42
  • Number of times lawmakers in same subcommittee have mentioned costs of Afghanistan and Iraq wars, through mid-summer 2021: 5
  • Number of times lawmakers on Senate Finance Committee have mentioned costs of Afghanistan and Iraq wars, through mid-summer 2021: 1
  • Members of Congress who voted against the war in Afghanistan: 1
  • Number of times the US Authorization for Use of Military Force (Congress’ authorization for the US President to wage war on al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and “associated forces”) has been used to authorize combat, military training, detention, and deployments: 37 in 15 countries.

§  §  §

Call to prayer. “Tell me where is the road I can call my own, / That I left, that I lost, so long ago. / All these years I have wondered, oh when will I know, / There’s a way, there’s a road that will lead me home.

“After wind, After rain, when the dark is done, / As I wake from a dream, in the gold of day, / Through the air there’s a calling from far away, / There’s a voice I can hear that will lead me home.

“Rise up, follow me, come away is the call / With (the) love in your heart as the only song / There is no such beauty as where you belong / Rise up, follow me, I will lead you home.” —“The Road Home,” Stephen Paulus, performed by Conspirare

§  §  §

Benediction. “War/No More Trouble.—Playing for Change, featuring Bono

§  §  §

Data sources:The Cost of the Afghanistan War, in Lives and Dollars,” Newsweek • “Afghanistan: What has the conflict cost the US and its allies,” BBC  • “Teaching Costs of War,” Watson Institute, Brown University • “Afghan War Has Claimed 241,000 Lives, Report Finds,” Ayaz Gul, Voice of America • “Four times as many troops and vets have died by suicide as in combat, study finds,” Meghann Myers, Military Times  • “How one vote opened the door for more than 15 years of war,” Gregory Krieg, CNN • “Was the Afghanistan War a failure? Not for the top five defense contractors and their shareholders,” Jon Schwarz, The Intercept

600 Afghans leaving Kabul on a US Air Force C-130 cargo plane.
©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.
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“Make them do whatever we want”

How to read the Cuban street protests in light of U.S.-Cuba history

by Ken Sehested

Cuba seems to have the same effect on U.S. administrations
as the full moon once had on werewolves.
—Dr. Wayne Smith, former director of the
US Interest Section in Havana, Cuba

Medieval European maps traced the outline of the entirety of its exploration. Just outside the bounds of what was known they inscribed the words “Here Be Dragons.”

Here Be Dragons is an appropriate mythological metaphor for the U.S. public’s image of our nearest offshore neighbor. Preoccupation with Cuba was a terrifying experience six decades ago when we came within a hair’s breadth of a full-scale nuclear war with the Soviet Union.[1]

One result of the terror—both shaping and being shaped by U.S. foreign policy—was the locking of public perceptions in a time warp. The U.S. embargo has not only been economic but also diplomatic and cultural.

Except in rare moments—like President Obama’s dramatic trip to Cuba in 2016[2] and, just recently on 11 July, the angry protests of Cubans in numerous cities across the nation,[3] the largest in decades, some met with violent repression and arrests—most in this country think little about U.S.-Cuba relations.

We just don’t get much news from there; and the little we hear is shaped by a woeful lack of historical context.[4]

Nothing that we say is accurate without a crash course in the tortured history of U.S.-Cuba relations.

And nothing could be more helpful in allowing Cubans to negotiate their future than ending the U.S. embargo, an utterly failed policy propped up not as a tool of diplomatic leverage but as a wedge in U.S. domestic politics.[5]

In this matter, we are the pariah nation.[6

§ §  §

In 1859, the Committee on Foreign Relations of the United
States Senate
reported favorably a bill “to facilitate
the acquisition of the Island of Cuba.”[7]

§ §  §

Few know that the U.S. was considering annexing Cuba not long after solidifying our own independence. In 1820 Thomas Jefferson thought Cuba is ‘the most interesting addition which could ever be made to our system of States’ and told Secretary of War John C. Calhoun that the United States ‘ought, at the first possible opportunity, to take Cuba.’”[8] In 1823 Secretary of State John Quincy Adams predicted the U.S. would annex Cuba with 50 years.[9] In 1854 President Franklin Pierce supported a plan to annex Cuba, by force if necessary.[10]

Few know that the Cuban people’s first constitution contained a provision allowing the U.S. to intervene in its affairs.[11] Or that the treaty ending the U.S. war with Spain (giving the U.S. control of Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines), the U.S.-based “Island of Cuba Real Estate Company” opened for business to sell Cuban land to Americans.[12]

We are largely ignorant of the imprint of the U.S. military’s boot there: of stepping in to steal the Cuban nationals’ expulsion of Spanish rule in 1898; of the Marines’ occupations of 1906-09, 1912, and 1917-22; the 1971 disastrous “Bay of Pigs Invasion.”[13] Still today the U.S. maintains a naval base at Guantanamo Bay on Cuba’s eastern shore.

Few know that for more than a quarter century the U.S. propped up the brutal dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista, who murdered as many as 20,000 of his critics and allowed the American Mafia to construct and control casino gambling, prostitution, and drug business, protected from U.S. law enforcement.

It is the rare scholar that knows by 1950 the U.S. owned most of Cuba’s sugar industry and foreigners owned 70% of the arable land. Or that by 1956, U.S. corporations controlled 90% of Cuba’s telephone and electric services; 50% of public railways; and Cuban branches of U.S. banks handled 25% of all deposits.[14]

Your school history class probably didn’t mention that in March of 1960, barely a year after the Cuban Revolution, U.S. President Eisenhower signed off on a Central Intelligence Agency project entitled “A Program of Covert Action Against the Castro Regime,” to create an organization of exiled Cubans to train for and carry out terrorist attacks on Cuba.[15] Or that the established U.S. policy on relations with Cuba—from the outset—called for “denying money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of government.”[16]

Furthermore, what do you make of the fact that China and Vietnam, also communist countries, are among our largest trading partners? And we frequently sell boatloads of military equipment to Saudi Arabia, among the most dictatorial governments in the world, where converting to Christianity is punishable by death.

§  §  §

We do control the destinies of Central America, and we do
so for
the simple reason that the national interest absolutely
dictates such
a course. . . . Central America has always
understood that
governments which we recognize and
support stay in power,
while those we do not recognize
and support fail.[17]

—Under-Secretary of State Robert Olds, 1927,
quoted in Walter LaFeber’s “Inevitable Revolutions”

§  §  §

My personal interest in US-Cuba relations originated with a providential encounter with Rev. Raúl Súarez, a Baptist pastor in Cuba. A mutual friend connected us. I was fascinated to hear about the life of churches in Cuba, and astounded when Raúl quoted from memory long passages from the writings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.[18]

Since that day I have traveled to Cuba numerous times and developed a network of friends and contacts. During those trips I heard this repeated refrain, “Cuba is neither heaven nor hell.” Almost all also say that they thoroughly support the values of the Cuban Revolution, but not its administration, with varying degrees of dissent. Do we, as citizens of the U.S., not exhibit the same diversity of opinions on our government?

The recent street demonstrations in Cuba are due to multiple layers of frustration. Despite the fact that Cuba is the only country in Latin America to produce its own vaccine, the country’s surge in COVID cases triggered unrest rooted in other complaints, which include anger at the government’s monetary policy shift in January, which dramatically increased the price of food and consumer goods; the lack of simple medicines; repeated electricity outages; dismal performance of Cuba’s inefficient, centrally-controlled economy; and outrage over the government’s human rights record and lack of political accountability.[19]

Many of my Cuban friends report an avalanche of disinformation about the pandemic, from shadowy sources, very similar to what we are experiencing in the U.S.

The Cuban government, of course, blames the U.S. economic boycott, a brutal measure which has lasted long beyond the Cold War’s legacy and is the longest such sanctioning policy in U.S. history.

Is the embargo the root cause of Cuba’s problems?[20] Maybe. Maybe not. Near the conclusion of this reflection I will offer a policy prescription to test this opinion.

§  §  §

It is my duty to prevent, through the independence of Cuba,
the
U.S.A. from spreading over the West Indies and falling
with added
weight upon other lands of Our America. . . .
I know the Monster, because
I have lived in its lair—and
my weapon is only the slingshot of David.
—José Martí, poet, philosopher, and journalist (Cuba’s
national hero, considered the “Apostle of Cuban Independence)
in his final letter, 18 May 1895, the day before he is killed in
the revolt against Spanish rule

§  §  §

Needless to say, the audience here is my own fellow citizens. My goal is to offer historical context to expose a history largely unknown, one that we must take into account in our bilateral relations.

The key element we fail to recognize is that the Cuban revolution’s understanding of human rights, and the resulting idea of “freedom,” is different from that in the U.S.

For instance, despite its relative poverty, Cuba’s infant mortality rate is lower than that of the U.S., and its literacy rate is higher. Prior to its revolution, Cuba was considered among the wealthier countries of Latin America and the Caribbean. Yet its level of income inequality prior to its revolution was similar to that of the U.S. today, where 0.1% of the population earns as much as the bottom 90%.[21]

Cuba has one of the largest doctor-to-patient ratios in the world.[22] By contrast, in the U.S. more than half a million citizens file for bankruptcy every year because of medical bills.[23] The homeless population in the U.S. is over half a million, whereas Cuba has virtually none.[24]

Few in the U.S. even know Cuba has elections.[25] Or that a 1990 dialogue between Fidel Castro and a group of 70 pastors and religious leaders led to a roll back of many religious discrimination policies and the substitution of “secular” for “atheistic” as a national descriptor in the country’s constitution.[26]

Given the recent public demonstrations, there is considerable anger among Cubans over their governance. But after the 2020 murder by police of George Floyd, 15-25 million U.S. citizens marched in cities in every state, a few of which turned violent and many resulted in arrests by police.

While it’s true that some Cubans (and many Cuban Americans) are calling for extreme measures, including violent overthrow of Cuba’s government, a recent poll in the U.S. reveals that one in three citizens agree with the following statement: “The traditional way of life [in the U.S.] is disappearing so fast that we may have to use force to save it.”[27]

§  §  §

In one of his early visits to the U.S., Rev. Francisco “Paco” Rodés
asked me
to help him find a kitchen cabinet handle to replace
a broken one in his
home. These are the sorts of consumer items
often difficult to find in
Cuba. No problem, I said, and I drove
him to a nearby home improvement
store. It took a few minutes
to find the right aisle. Then Paco’s eyes
bulged in wonder: hundreds
of different shapes, colors and designs of
cabinet handles. Then
he turned to me, with a sly grin on his face,
raised his arms and jubilantly announced, “FREEDOM!”[28]

§  §  §

Back then to the prior question: Is the Cuban government’s claim that its nation’s ills can be traced directly to the embargo an established fact or a fig leaf to cover its own failures?

There’s only one clear way to find out, and the burden is on the U.S., not Cuba, to provide the answer. An act of Congress and a presidential signature would end the embargo.[29]

If such a policy improved the lives of the Cuban people, its government’s excuse would be quickly exposed. The people themselves would know soon enough. And so would we.[30]

I do not know what freedom should look like in Cuba’s future. And, given our history of interference, the U.S. lacks credibility to instruct.

But I wonder about one thing, and I fear another.

Did Cuba’s independence leaders, working hard to fend off manipulation by the U.S., end up fending off the always-needed reforming influence of its own people?

My fear is that, in whatever change comes to Cuba, freedom might look like what one thoughtful Cuban friend said to me. When I asked if he thought the embargo would ever be lifted, he paused for a moment and then said: “Yes, but I fear your country will simply buy ours.”

Cuba’s resident population has been attempting to throw off colonial occupation since Columbus landed in 1492 (thinking it was a coastal island of Asia). He wrote:

“This is the most beautiful land ever seen by human eyes.” Then he went on to comment on the indigenous Taíno people of what is now Cuba: They “are so naive and so free with their possessions that no one who has not witnessed them would believe it. When you ask for something they have, they never say no. To the contrary, they offer to share with anyone. . . . With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.”

And in his letters, he repeatedly invoked the name of “our Saviour” and “His holy service” as justification for this subjugation. (Is it any wonder that the Cuban Revolution’s government declared itself atheistic?)

The Cuban people deserve to set their sights on a future freed from imperial meddling. Toward that purpose, and for us in the U.S., the first two steps require that we tell the truth about our nation’s orchestration of terrorist attacks on the country (for more than six decades) and then press hard for an end to the embargo.

# # #

ENDNOTES

[1] U.S. President John Kennedy made a secret deal with Soviet Nikita Khrushchev that the U.S. would removed its nuclear weapons in Turkey in exchange for the Soviets withdrawing their missiles from Cuba. “The Cuban Missile Crisis, October 1962,” Department of State, Office of the Historian. For decades the U.S. has had nuclear weapons, based on land, ships, and submarines, ringing the Soviet borders.

[2] See “Background to the touch down: President Barack Obama’s historic visit to Cuba,” by Ken Sehested

[3] Hundreds of protests against coronavirus-related restrictions have occurred in at least 34 states in the U.S. —Wikipedia

[4] For some “did you know?” background on Cuba, see Ken Sehested’s “Thirty-five interesting facts about Cuba and its US relations

[5] See “A Time For Change: Rethinking U.S.-Cuba Policy,” Lilah Rosenblum, Washington Office on Latin America

[6] This past June the United Nations General Assembly voted (for the 29th straight year) to end the US embargo of Cuba. The vote: 184-2. Only Israel joined the U.S. in opposition.

[7] “Cuba and Congress,” Albert J. Beveridge, The North American Review, Vol. 172, No. 533 (Apr., 1901, p. 537), University of Northern Iowa

[8] Quoted in “Cuba-United States Relations,” footnote in Wikipedia, citing The American Empire Not So Fast, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. World Policy Journal

[9] Cuba-United States Relations,” Wikipedia, citing Cuba and the United States : A chronological History Jane Franklin. Ocean Press; 1997.

[10]Ostend Manifesto,” Wikipedia

[11]Platt Amendment,” Wikipedia

[12]Cuba-United States relations,” Wikipedia

[13]Bay of Pigs Invasion,” Wikipedia

[14]Fulgencio Batista,” Wikipedia

[15]Operation Mongoose,” Wikipedia

[16]Memorandum From the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State [Lester D. Mallory] for Inter-American Affairs,” Department of State Office of the Historian

[17] The US has overthrown the democratically elected governments of numerous governments: In Iran in 1953, in Guatemala in 1954, in Chile in 1973. [For more, see “The U.S. tried to change other countries’ governments 72 times during the Cold War,” Lindsey A. O’Rourke, Washington Post and “United States involvement in regime change,” Wikipedia

[18] Raúl, pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Havana, would later found the Martin Luther King Center and, later still, become among the first three Christians to be elected to the Cuban National Assembly.

Also see “Martin Luther King Jr. in Cuba: A Cuban pastor’s story of King’s influence,” by Francisco Rodés

[19] See “Explainer: Causes of the protests in Cuba,” Andrea Rodríguez, Associated Press.

[20] “No one will ever know the extent to which the US embargo has created the current failed state of Cuba, and the extent to which it is a failure of the socialist system. The US determined at the outset of the Cuban Revolution that it could not risk finding out if socialism could work, that would be too much a threat to our system if in fact it did. So we created every obstacle we could to ensure that it did fail, and then when we are successful in its failure, we can blame it on socialism.” Personal correspondence with Stan Dotson who, with his spouse Kim Christman, has lived in Cuba for much of the past six years. I highly recommend Stan’s book, “Cuba: A Day in the Life,” a wonderful collection of stories from everyday life.

[21] See “Income Inequality in the United States.”

[22]Countries With The Most Doctors Per Capita,” World Atlas.

[23]25+ Medical Bankruptcy Statistics to Know in 2021,” Christo Petrov, Spendmenot.

[24]List of countries by homeless population,” Wikipedia

[25] Ken Sehested, “Cuba’s historic electoral process November 2017 – April 2018: For the first time since its revolution, Cuba will not have a president named Castro,” by Ken Sehested

[26]CUBA: Churches Tackle Divisions by Discussing Ethics, Not Doctrine,” Dalia Acosta, Inter Press Service News Agency and “Sanctioning Faith: Religion, State, and U.S.-Cuban Relations,” Jill Goldenziel, Harvard University

[27]Poll shows disturbing level of support for political violence,” Dominick Mastrangelo, The Hill.

[28] The author’s personal story. Also see “Martin Luther King Jr. in Cuba: A Cuban pastor’s story of King’s influence,” by Francisco Rodés

[29]Why the Cuba embargo needs to end, explained in 3 minutes,” Zack Beauchamp, Vox

[30] For more see “Bring Down the Wall in the Caribbean: A resolution in support of renewed diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba,” written by Ken Sehested, approved by the 23-25 June 2016 annual meeting of the Southern Conference of the United Church of Christ and later approved by the 31st General Synod of the United Church of Christ, June 30-July 4, 2017.

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.”

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¶ “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.

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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.

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¶ “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

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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

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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

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©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