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In the Shadow of a Steeple

Time for a post-national church?

by Ken Sehested
Texts: Matthew 5:1-12, Micah 6:1-8, Psalm 15, 1 Corinthians 1:18-31

      This coming week I’ll be applying to start early retirement Social Security benefits. Those of you who’ve already past that marker know what a milestone it is. It’s intimidating, and can make you anxious. The good thing it does is make you focus your attention. That’s why I relinquished more than half my pastoral job description. I want to give significantly more time to analyzing the reality in which we live, both as citizens of the United States and as followers of Jesus.

      In preparation for today I’ve scoured my electronic and print files for how we in the Circle have broached the topic of “empire.” I was surprised. I’d forgotten how many times sermons from this podium have addressed the question of empire. It’s a conversation that’s come up fairly frequently in our meetings and gatherings and retreats, as well as here in our worship services. It’s not a new topic.

      The issue of “empire” is prominent in two major statements we’ve made as a congregation in recent years—our “peace church” statement in 2012 and our 2007 open letter, titled “We Say No” to a proposed attack on Iran.

      The topic isn’t new to us. But our responses have been piecemeal and occasional. So the question I want to put on the table today is whether this might be the time to do something more comprehensive.

      This is one of those Sundays when the lectionary texts each deserve a month of Sunday sermons and Sunday school studies. You’ve already heard the Gospel text read, as the call to worship. I’ll not read the entirety of the other texts, but it’s worth summarizing key points.

      Today’s Psalm, #15, has language that is echoed in the Beatitudes from Jesus’ sermon on the mount. Interestingly, though, the text gets a lot more specific at points, including the culminating admonition: “do not lend money at interest” (v. 5). Can you imagine the response if, in a fit of religious piety, Janet Yellon, our new Chair of the Federal Reserve, were to announce such a fiscal policy?

      The text from the Prophet Micah ends with that familiar trilogy which is often referenced in our Circle: God has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God” (6:8). That statement is what inspired our congregational motto of  “seeking justice, pursuing peace, following Jesus.”

      Today’s reading from the Newer Testament Epistles returns to that odd logic in the Apostle Paul’s thinking, where he talks about the “foolishness” of the cross, about God’s habit of choosing what is “foolish in the world to shame the wise” and “what is weak in the work to shame the strong” (I Cor. 1:18-31).

      Both the Beatitudes and this teaching from Paul call to mind the “upside down” character of the coming Reign of God. Together with the instructions from Micah and the psalmist these texts point to the way God’s work of salvation is not something we get beyond history and in a heavenly, disembodied land far, far away. Rather this salvation is also liberation which breaks out in the midst of fleshly life.

      But to arrive at this beatific vision involves a new orientation that begins with a process of disorientation. Getting confused is the first step in getting saved.

      You get a sense of this confusion when you first look at the map I’ve brought for display, with the north and south poles reversed so that everything looks upside down. Have you ever wondered by “up” is always north? It’s just a habit, one that began with the Greeco-Roman scientist Claudius Ptolemy in the second century.

      When I was in high school, I was driving and turned down one of the major thoroughfares in the town where we lived . . . and instantaneously, momentarily, felt like I’d entered the Twilight Zone. I had driven down this street hundreds of times, but suddenly I felt like I was lost. The really confusing part was that all the signs and shops were familiar, but somehow disordered. It was familiar and unfamiliar at the same time.

      It took me about 10 seconds to realize the reason I felt so confused was because the street I was on used to be a one-way street; and for the first time I was traveling it in reverse. It had become so familiar, with the pattern of store and shop signs following one after the other in a particular direction. Now those signs were reversed. Familiar but unfamiliar at the same time.

      Disorientating: Blessed are those who mourn?

      Confusing: The meek will inherit the earth?

      Confounding: Blessed are you when people revile and persecute you?

      Perplexing: God is choosing what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are?

      Unsettling: Is the Gospel foolishness?

        As citizens of the US we are schooled from birth to join the chant: We’re #1! We’re #1. And the “we’re #1” symbol—index finger pointed to the sky—is simultaneously a theological presumption that God, the real and true Number One, is on our side, is our sponsor. As recently as his May 2012 commencement address at the US Air Force Academy, President Obama reasserted the judgment that the US is “the one indispensable nation.” The claim about being the only indispensable nation was previously used by President Bill Clinton. But this isn’t just a “guy thing.” Before Clinton said it, his Secretary of State Madeleine Albright made the claim and went on to add, in reference to enforcing an embargo on Iraq in the aftermath of the first Gulf War in 1991: “If we have to use force, it is because we are America. We are the indispensable nation. We stand tall. We see further into the future.”[1]

      How many times in recent years have you heard a political realist make this sarcastic remark about some far-fetched solution to a problem: “So, you think we should just circle up, hold hands and sing Kumbaya!?” Or, remember when former Republican Senate Majority leader Trent Lott was asked in a news conference about the abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq? His response? “This isn’t Sunday school.”

      We are indeed #1 in gross domestic product and in military spending—it’s still stunning to me to think the US has over 800 military bases in foreign countries, on top of more than 5,000 bases here at home. Or that the number of musicians in US military bands is greater than the total number of professional diplomats in the US State Department. A professional baseball player just signed a contract to make over $30 million per year; a superbowl TV ad now costs $150,000 per second; 85 of the world’s richest people now control more wealth than half the globe’s population. There’s something terribly, terribly wrong with this picture.

      Among the world’s top 20 wealthiest nations, the US is also #1 in poverty rate, rates of incarceration, greatest inequality of incomes, highest social immobility, highest infant mortality and obesity rates, highest percentage of the population that lack health insurance, highest amount of guns at home and weapons sales abroad. The list goes on and on. On top of all this, we still live under the shadow of President Bush’s 2002 National Security Strategy Doctrine which declares, for the first time in our nation’s history, that the US reserves the right to preemptive war. That is to say that the President of the United States is authorized to take hostile action against any party, any where in the world, simply by chanting the mantra “war on terror.”

      We are, in short, on the precipice of a permanent state of war[2], for there are no measurable criteria for when a war on “terror” can be considered complete.

      This condition of unimpeachable authority to prosecute war when and where we wish is only recently codified into law; but the condition has been with us from the beginning. Listen to the statement of Pilgrim leader William Bradford, governor of the Plymouth Colony in precolonial America in the mid-17th century. After attaching a Pequot Indian village on the Mystic River, killing approximately 400 Pequot men, women and children, Bradford wrote in his journal:

      “It was a fearful sight to see them thus frying in the fire and the streams of blood quenching the same, and horrible was the stink and scent thereof; but the victory seemed a sweet sacrifice, and they gave the praise thereof to God.” This from those who claimed to be God’s new Israel, a “city set upon a high as a light to the nations.” This from others who would later announce our country’s manifest destiny.

      Among the most naked statements of raw imperial motive comes from an historic policy planning study written by George Kennan, then with the US State Department and later ambassador to the Soviet Union. Kennan, a Democrat and later critic of President Bush’s war in Iraq, wrote the following:

      “We have about 50% of the world's wealth but only 6.3% of its population. . . . In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment.  Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security.  To do so we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and day-dreaming. . . .

     “We should dispense with the aspiration to ‘be liked’ or to be regarded as the repository of a high-minded international altruism.  We should stop putting ourselves in the position of being our brother's keeper and refrain from offering moral and ideological advice.  We should cease to talk about vague and unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of living standards, and democratization. The day is not far off when we are going to have to deal in straight power concepts.  The less we are then hampered by idealistic slogans, the better.”

      The title for my sermon, “In the Shadow of a Steeple,” comes from the so-called “lost” verse to Woody Guthrie’s song we sang a few minutes ago. I say the verse was “lost,” not because it was unrecoverable but because it disappeared from singing. It’s kind of like that line Dr. King used, late in his life, when he forcefully came out against the war in Vietnam and then had the audacity to say that the US was “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” That quote isn’t on the new monument to Dr. King in our nation’s capital. And rarely do you hear the final verse to Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land”:

      In the squares of the city, in the shadow of a steeple
      By the relief office, I’ve seen my people
      As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking:
      Is this land made for you and me?

      That visual image of the poor standing in soup lines under the shadow of church steeples, steeples built early on in our nation’s life in the center of city squares—that is to say, at the center of political and economic power, providing ecclesial authorization for the hoarding of resources and the division between the “makers” and the “takers”—that image disturbs me greatly.

      Contemporary use of “freedom” language disturbs me greatly—freedom language being so essential to the biblical story, a story which orbits around the Hebrew prison break from Pharaoh’s slave quarters—a story that continues into the Newer Testament’s account of Jesus’ execution and resurrection coming as it did during Passover observance, the ritual remembrance of that earlier Hebrew freedom movement. Nowadays, freedom has come to mean something altogether different. Economically, freedom means the capacity of corporate capitalism to penetrate and control the economies of other nations. Politically, freedom is defined by the 2010 US Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” decision which opens the floodgates of corporation funding of electoral politics. Militarily, freedom reflects the US National Security Strategy’s authorization of preemptive war.

      And in the church, “freedom” has come to mean “don’t ask me to make commitments,” don’t talk much about money, and don’t say much about risk. This reminds me of the scene in C.S. Lewis’ “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.” Susan, one of the children who are lead characters, asks Mr. Beaver whether Aslan is a safe lion. “Course he isn’t safe,” replies Mr. Beaver. “But he’s good.” The God with whose purposes we align is not safe. God will not always keep us out of harm’s way—in fact, that’s exactly where the Spirit could end up leading us. But our story says, yes, God is good.

      Hiding behind the claim to be “exceptional” is becoming increasingly popular among political leaders in our nation’s life. And the implication of the church in such affairs is unmistakable. The “shadow of the steeple” falls again every time one of our elected leaders end their comments by demanding “God bless America.” I find it deeply alarming to hear the escalating calls for “Christian nationalism,” and believe it to be a stench in God’s nostrils.

      The question I want to put on the table for you is whether it’s time that we undertake an ambitious congregational conversation about whether we should declare ourselves to be a “post-national” church. What might it look like to declare that while we are irrevocably in love with our country, we are deeply distraught over and alienated from our nation?  For “America” has come to mean something we can no longer silently abide and thus we must, clearly and unmistakably, announce our opposition.

      There are many implications for such a stand; and I can think of several reasons why we shouldn’t do this, particularly because of the temptation to arrogance that happens when people of faith try to distinguish themselves from the larger culture; and also because we have the habit of thinking that making statements is enough, when in fact identity statements should actually flow from the concrete shape of our common life.

      Anyway  . . . there it is. I don’t plan to foster or organize such a conversation. I don’t want such a statement to be my statement or our pastoral leaders’ statement. If this conversation is desired, the request needs to come from within these assembled chairs.

      In the meantime, the beatific vision continues washing over us, announcing the coming New Heaven and New Earth. Our common prayer is that it soaks in, that it does it disorienting, confounding work on the way we have been taught to think and act. And that slowly but surely it remakes our life from the ground up.

      In the meantime, the meek are getting ready.

      In the meantime, Gospel foolishness keeps breaking out in unexpected places.

      In the meantime, rock on, you beatitudes. Turn the shadow of that steeple into a resting place for people who know the Beloved Community is on its way.

Circle of Mercy Congregation, Sunday 2 February 2014

©Ken Sehested @ prayerandpolitiks.org

[1] Journalist John L. O’Sullivan first used the phrase “manifest destiny” in an 1845 article for the Democratic Review arguing for the annexation of the Republic of Texas. US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright first terms the US “the indispensable nation” in justifying the US-led embargo on Iraq after the first Gulf War in 1991. Her boss, President Bill Clinton, used the phrase in his Second Inaugural Address in 1997. Then, in a 2012 commencement address to the Air Force Academy, President Barack Obama asserted that the US is “the one indispensable nation.” The French political theorist and historian Alexis de Tocqueville was the first writer to describe the US as “exceptional” in 1831 and 1840, in Democracy in America. But the more common reference began with Soviet leader Joseph Stalin in criticizing the American Communist Party leaders for their belief that the US was above Marxist doctrine of the laws of history.

[2] Significantly, President Obama admitted this in his 28 January 2014 State of the Union speech: “America must move off a permanent war footing.”

In praise of Ordinary Days

A meditation on Ordinary Time on the church's liturgical calendar

by Ken Sehested

“He who would do good to another must do it in Minute Particulars.”
—William Blake

§  §  §

When people of faith speak of God, and how the love of God leads to the flourishing of souls and soil alike, such language appears on the surface as something being done to us, as from the outside.

Merely being acted upon—being objectified—hints at coercion, manipulation, feeble dependency, indignity. As if we are to be kept in chains and, moreover, taught to love those chains—lovely as they may appear, but chains, nonetheless. As if we are merely utensils in a cosmic drama. As if we are chess pieces on a divine board game.

Such is not the case. Think of a time lapse video of a flower blooming, first in one layer, then another, then another, and yet another—as if from out of thin air. Prior to this there was merely a tiny bud. Pleasant enough, but without the slightest indication of what was to come—as if from nowhere, as if from outside and beyond and super-natural. As if being infused with what, originally, was not there.

Human life thrives only when surrounded by fertile humus, enriched soil generating life from decomposition. The fallen leaf does not regret its demise.

§  §  §

“No matter how much one may love the world as a whole,
one can live fully in it only my living responsibly in some small part of it.”
—Wendell Berry

§  §  §

The Blessed One is not the author and enforcer of transcendent patterns of creaturely co-dependency. The Gracious Host is not a giant Self, demanding subservience from petitioners. The Merciful One is not obsessive and in need of constant homage and ovation as a guarantee of kindly attention.

Rather, as mystics write, creaturely blooming is a growing into God and God into all.

Apotheosis—a growing into God—is the word used in Eastern Christian traditions. Frequently in Paul’s writing, the Apostle speaks of growing into Christ and being “filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:19). Or as Peter wrote, we are called to “become participants of the divine nature” (1:4).

Such language is fragile and risky and easily manipulated, because it hints that creatures may thereby strap on the glory of the Creator and be freed to wield power to reorder the world in self-aggrandizing ways.

Right: Linocut art by Julie Lonneman

Does a self/soul even survive the Spirit’s transforming fire? Yes, and no.

Yes, understood developmentally, in history’s time and space, the self that is in Christ expands, step by gradual step, to include ever-larger circles of communion with others—even, potentially, with enemies. It’s not so much a matter of denying the self but a relaxing and uncoiling of the self. The self-forgetfulness that grows is not a self-debasement. Rather, it is like the bud’s tilt toward the sun’s radiance; like the arousal of the loved to the Lover.

No, however, if the self means the continued existence of a sniveling, whining ego needing constant assurance and reinforcement of its own value and performance. Such a self demands that if I’m special, you must be less so. Being self-possessed is, by definition, being separated from the Love that binds each to all without definition, degree, merit, or measure.

§  §  §

“Hope is the ordinary things you stubbornly do every day!”
—Mitri Raheb, Palestinian pastor

§  §  §

Because we humans, at least occasionally, require reassurance, comfort, and encouragement, we assume the same for the Beloved, creation’s author. And thus our worship becomes a form of commerce, offering bribes in exchange for blessing, compliments in return for security safeguards. And when God’s honor is at stake, we assume retribution, including bloodletting, is a sacred duty.

The annulment of such duty was accomplished in the cross, confirmed in the resurrection, and kindled at Pentecost. For people of The Way, swords have become plowshares in preparation for the bountiful harvest of peace, sown in justice, and ripened in mercy.

§  §  §

“I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty
to accomplish humble tasks as though they were great and noble.”
—Helen Keller

§  §  §

It is in these days after Pentecost, Ordinary Time in the church’s calendar, that dreams are molded into deeds, that vision is mirrored in befriending habits, that yeast is unleashed, that struggle is ensued and peace is waged. The daily duties of covenant-keeping, the menial acts of fidelity, the chaste response to aggravating speech, the refusal of silence in the face of abuse, the encouraging word to the forlorn and offended—these are among the beads of your rosary. Pray it even on faltering days and throughout restless nights.

Notice the unnoticed. Choose the less lovely for a dance partner. Keep your eyes shielded from shiny baubles, your ears from the marketer’s lure. Proclaim honor in the land of disrepute. Approach all your quotidian duties in the knowledge that future blossoms begin as dirt-covered seedlings jostling amid the mire.

Live the unvarnished life, susceptible neither to flattery nor mockery.

Remember: there is no secular space or time; only sacred or desecrated. Train your eyes to spot reverential clues among sullied clutter.

Acclaim the unadorned season. Give praise to Ordinary Days.

§  §  §

“A saint is simply a human being whose soul has . . . grown up to its full stature,
by full and generous response to its environment, God.”
—Evelyn Underhill

#  #  #

Initial inspiration for this meditation came by way of watching a short (3:24) time lapse video of flowers blooming, from National Geographic.

©ken sehested @ prayerandpolitiks.org

News, views, notes, and quotes

Signs of the Times  •  11 July 2019 •  No. 197

Processional. “Listen, smith [crafter] of the heavens, / what the poet asks. / May softly come unto me / your mercy. / So I call on thee, / for you have created me.” —“Heyr himna smiður,” English-translated lyrics of a 13th century Icelandic hymn, performed by Ellen Kristjándsóttir

Above: Halitrephes Maasi jellyfish, photographed at a depth of over 4,000 feet of water off Baja California by the Exploration Vessel Nautilus. Watch this brief (1:17) video.

Special edition
SHORT STORIES & ANECDOTES

Preface

        By the time I finished my cum laude undergraduate work and with distinction seminary degree, my analytical powers were sharply honed. I was capable of researching, selecting, and presenting large troves of factual material; which I immediately put to work as an advocate for justice, peace, and human rights shaped by a passionate theological ethos.

        It didn’t take long, however, to discover that people may be convinced (about what should happen) without being convicted (to make something happen). Insight does not come with its own legs. Knowing much does not of its own momentum lead to vigorous doing. —continue reading “We don’t have anything if we don’t have stories

 ¶ “Creation,” a delightful retelling of the Genesis story of creation, produced by Will Vinton Studio, based on a poem by James Weldon Johnson, narrated by James Earl Jones, animated by Joan C. Gratz. (7:36 video. Thanks Tom.)

Chris Funk, of the music group The Decemberists, has a passion for finding “the most surprising and most extraordinary people in music.” He recently met and jammed with Gaelynn Lea, who was born with brittle bone disease, confining her to a wheel chair, but writes and performs ballads by playing a violin upright, like a cello. (3:53 video. Thanks Amanda.)

Kids making stuff happen. It started with 11-year-old Ruby Chitsey’s simple question to nursing home residents: “If you could have any three things, what would they be?” Now, it’s turned into a national movement. CBS NEWS (2:46 video. Thanks Donna.)

¶ “Humans simply aren’t moved to action by ‘data dumps,’ dense PowerPoint slides, or spreadsheets packed with figures. People are moved by emotion. The best way to emotionally connect other people to our agenda begins with “Once upon a time. . . .” —Jonathan Gottschall

Good news. “Earlier this week, legendary Pink Floyd guitarist and songwriter David Gilmour auctioned off dozens of his guitars—and he sold them all so he could donate the proceeds to charity. In total, Gilmour auctioned off 126 of his guitars at Christie’s, raking in a whopping total of $21 million.” McKinley Corbley, Good News Network

Extraordinary short story (and startling pictures, including the one at left) of the death and resurrection of the Cuyahoga River in Ohio. Fifty years ago, 22 June 1969, the river was so polluted it actually caught fire. It had happened before, several times, but this time the tragedy provoked the nation to do something about environmental degradation. The next year President Richard Nixon backed the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency. —Hilary Brueck, Business Insider  (Thanks Anita.)

¶ Watch this short (2:48) video profile of Wangari Maathai, a renowned Kenyan social, environmental and political activist and the first African woman to win the Nobel Prize for her work founding the Green Belt Movement.

Random act of kindness. My cousin Rustin, a welder in Oklahoma, wrote up an interesting lunch time experience.
    Me: [To the lunch lady at Morello’s] One red chili pork, please.
        Her: [Staring at me, saying something fast and in Spanish to the woman next to her]
    Me: I’m so sorry, I don’t under-
        Her #1: [smiling] She say you move her car.
    Me: [Glancing around to confirm she’s got the right fellow] Pardon?
        Her #1: [Still speaking very quickly, still in Spanish…]
    Me: [Kind of frozen…]
        Guy in Line Next To Me: She said you push her car? She was in the road?
    Me: OOOOOOOOOHHHH! Right! Wow, yeah, sorry I didn’t recognize her!
        [The ladies go to work on my food]
    Guy in Line Next To Me: They
    are very thankful you stop.
    She does not speak English
    and she was afraid. She
    said you are very, umm,
    polite?
So THIS [picture showing a plate piled with food] is what my one plain taco became.

This puts some things in perspective. “Earth’s history on a football field,” visualizing earth’s timeline—and humanity’s tiny presence. (Thanks John.)

More good news. “With the signing of House Bill 307 [in April], Maryland made history by becoming the first state in the Union to establish a state-wide commission dedicated to investigating racial terror lynchings in the United States. The Maryland Lynching Truth and Reconciliation Commission provides an opportunity for the state to take a significant step in making peace with its African American communities.” Nicholas Creary, Baltimore Sun

¶ “I regularly see young children separated from their parents. It is one of the hardest parts of working in a surgical environment. We go to great lengths to make it less traumatic for them, including medications, transitional objects, putting the parents in head to toe covering so they can stay with their child, showing the kids exactly where Mommy will be waiting for them, and forming relationships with the kids days in advance so they have someone that they trust to carry them in. Even so, it is always difficult and frequently terrifying for the children. . . .

        “I can't stop thinking about those children at border who can't find their parents and the parents who can't find their children. . . . I am realizing that, yes, this is truly evil, and yes, it's being done by my country and my tax dollars. . . .” —read the story by Hania Thomas-Adams, pediatric pre-op Child Life Specialist at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital, Oakland, Ca., in a Facebook post

Hard question. “Most of what gets shared as heartwarming stories are usually temporary, small-scale responses to systemic failures. I wish we found it just as inspirational to make structural changes to unjust systems, but I don’t know if our culture knows how to tell those stories.” —Anil Dash

¶ “As the oldest career National Park Service ranger, 97-year-old Betty Soskin (pictured at left, photo by Shaniqwa Jarvis) is unabashed about revealing all of America's history—and her optimism about our future.” Faral Chideya, Glamour

¶ “Neither revolution nor reformation can ultimately change a society, rather you must tell a new powerful tale, one so persuasive that it sweeps away the old myths and becomes the preferred story, one so inclusive that it gathers all the bits of our past and our present into a coherent whole, one that even shines some light into the future so that we can take the next step. . . . If you want to change a society, then you have to tell an alternative story.” —Ivan Illich

Old hymn, persevering power. “We've a story to tell to the nations, / That shall lift their hearts to the Lord, / A song that shall conquer evil, / And shatter the spear and sword, / And shatter the spear and sword. / For the darkness shall turn to the dawning, / And the dawning to noonday bright, / And Christ's great kingdom shall come on earth, / The kingdom of love and light.” —H. Ernest Nichol (1862-1926), lyrics to “We've a story to Tell”

“Tame Geese,” a story by Soren Kierkegaard. “Every seventh day these geese paraded to a corner of the yard, and their most eloquent orator got up on the fence and spoke of the wonders of geese. He told of the exploits of their ancestors who dared to mount up on wings and fly all over the sky. He spoke of the mercy of the creator, who had given geese wings and the instinct to fly. This deeply impressed the geese who nodded their heads solemnly. All this they did. One thing they did not do. They did not fly, for the corn was good and the barnyard was secure.”

The vocation of a writer “is to rescue from the shadows people who are genuinely heroic but unknown and unnoticed.” —Alan Gurganus (Thanks Guy.)

¶ “By the time Angela was brought to Jamestown’s muddy shores in 1619, she had survived war and capture in West Africa, a forced march of more than 100 miles to the sea, a miserable Portuguese slave ship packed with 350 other Africans and an attack by pirates during the journey to the Americas. . . .

        “Now, as the country marks the 400th anniversary of the arrival of those first slaves, historians are trying to find out as much as possible about Angela, the first African woman documented in Virginia.” DeNeen L. Brown, Washington Post

¶ “The shortest distance between a human being and the truth is a story.” —Anthony de Mello

Facing the truth. In 2018, Tulsa, Oklahoma mayor G.T. Bynum announced that the city was to reopen an investigation of the May 1921 race riot when a white mob descended on Greenwood, a thriving business district known as Black Wall Street. The mob set fire to hundreds of black-owned businesses and homes, killing more than 300 black people and leaving more than 10,000 homeless. Survivors recounted bodies tossed into mass graves. (For background, see DeNeed L. Brown, Washington Post.) The first meeting of the Mass Graves Investigation Public Oversight Committee was held on 27 June. Kendrick Marshall, Tulsa World

¶ “I’m not interested in talking about America’s history because I want to punish America. I want to liberate America.” —Bryan Stephenson, Equal Justice Initiative

Saintliness breaks out at the beauty parlor. “I arrived for a cut at the very end of their workday and witnessed them provide a warm and very human circle of care for the only other client. This was a woman past my age who had called in a panic when her long wavy hair started coming out in handfuls as a result of her cancer treatment regimen.

        “Now this was not my first time here, and in the past I've heard these women pass on some vicious gossip and fling barbed zingers at one another with glee. There was none of that this evening. Neither was there saccharine sentiments nor empty platitudes.

        “Instead, they lovingly washed her hair and efficiently shaved off what remained, completely following the woman's lead in conversation topics, which ranged from family doings to treatment experiences and side effects to the best way to fashionize her new look. Perhaps she would wear black lipstick and go Goth or maybe wear only one of her large hoop earrings for more of a pirate statement. They cut some stretchy black silky material into a headscarf and tied it into some beautiful stylish knots.

        “And they held steady when she teared up as she faced her self in the mirror without her hair.

        “It was beautiful. They were beautiful. She was beautiful.” —Amy Smith

¶ “Storytelling has but two separate but interdependent functions: To sit with the onslaught of grief and prepare for the upsurge of hope. To refuse the first is to reduce hope to pleasantry; to refuse the second is complicity with despair.” —Ken Sehested

Scripture reading depends in part on living the text. “I was converted again to this conviction one night in northern Uganda. The Lord’s Resistance Army was still at its evil games and children slept in ‘night commuter’ camps to try to stay alive and tortured into becoming a child soldier. Only one adult was stationed [at the school]—a middle-aged woman available to help. She explained that she came each night as a volunteer. She talked about the children’s need and her desire to do what she could. . . .

        “Still wanting to know more, I pressed, ‘But what motivates you to care?’ She looked me up and down and finally said, ‘Well, I am what you call a Christian. I read my Bible, go to church where we eat something called the Lord’s Supper. I can’t read the Bible every day and share in that meal and not come here at night.’” —Mark Labberton, “The plain sense? Scripture may be clear, but it’s not easy,” Christian Century 12 April 2017

Just for fun. Gospel of John (Cana’s water into wine story) alternative rendering from Rowan Atkinson. (4:43 video. Thanks David.)

Recessional. Bailey Mountain Cloggers (Mars Hill University, Mars Hill, NC), an award-winning dance troupe.

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Featured this week on prayer&politiks

• “We don’t have anything if we don’t have stories,” a new essay

©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.

 

We don’t have anything if we don’t have stories

Preface to 11 July 2019 special edition of Signs of the Times devoted to brief stories

by Ken Sehested

"If you want to change people's obedience then you must change their imagination."
—philosopher Paul Ricoeur

By the time I finished my cum laude undergraduate work and with distinction seminary degree, my analytical powers were sharply honed. I was capable of researching, selecting, and presenting large troves of factual material; which I immediately put to work as an advocate for justice, peace, and human rights shaped by a passionate theological ethos.

It didn’t take long, however, to discover that people can be convinced (about what should happen) without being convicted (to make something happen). Insight does not come with its own legs.

Knowing does not of its own momentum lead to vigorous doing.

Clarence Jordan, one of the great modern storytellers of the Christian community, said that there’s a difference between admiring Jesus and following Jesus, and that the purpose of the Sermon on the Mount was not so much to provoke inspiration as perspiration.

Insightful data does not necessarily lead to the incitement of transformed behavior. The lament over this maddening state of human affairs is at least as old as the Apostle Paul, who famously complained, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Romans 7:15).

Thus began the second, informal stage of my education (which continues even now), trying to grasp what it is that moves people from being convinced to being convicted. For the over-schooled, there is such a thing as the paralysis of analysis.

When one thinks, separately from engagement with actual history, that the facts will of themselves generate not just light but also heat, the end result is almost always a smoldering wick. In truth, what we need cannot be had apart from a community of conviction, where insight is communally brought to bear on actual circumstances. And nothing holds communities of conviction together more than their shared stories.

In Jewish scripture, the worst sin is amnesia—forgetfulness, of who we are, by whom we are called, and for what purpose. The heart of Torah consciousness, the so-called Ten Commandments featured most prominently in Exodus 20, begins with this preface: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. . . .” 

Instruction is tied to drama, performed—and memorialized—on a flesh and blood stage. The sole purpose of religious ritual is to refresh our memories in imaginative ways that lead to new acts of faith. Each new season, each new generation, add additional layers to the stories illustrating how faith overcomes fear, how enemies might be loved, how strangers might become friends, how the least, the lost, and the last might be restored to creation’s table of bounty.

Such practices are not detailed in a grand architectural diagram, to be precisely fabricated. Rather, they are embedded in a beatific vision—strong enough to withstand history’s brutal storms—of a coming age when mercy will trump vengeance, when tears will be dried, when death will be no more.

Incarnational faith is a storied faith. Which stories are told—and the purposes and people they serve—determine whose voices are remembered; and whose, forgotten.

“I will tell you something about stories
they aren’t just entertainment
they are all we have to fight off illness and death
we don’t have anything if we don’t have the stories
their evil is mighty, but it can’t stand up to our stories
so they try to make us confused or forget them
they would like that
because then we would become defenseless.”
—Laguna Pueblo writer Leslie Marmon Silko

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©ken sehested @ prayerandpolitiks.org

News, views, notes, and quotes

Signs of the Times  •  3 July 2019 •  No. 196

Processional. Drummer Emmanuel Afolabi from Lagos, Nigeria.

Above: Lightning and rainbow, photo by Miriadna

Invocation. “Let no one lift a coin of gold and say, ‘In God We Trust.’ The shekel’s rule and the shackle’s restraint shall feel the wrath of the One who sets prisoners free. In this confidence, sing and shout together, lift every voice and sing: Proclaim liberty throughout the land!” —continue reading “Proclaim liberty,” a litany for worship for use on US Independence Day

Call to worship. “Discard your reluctance, you saints and you sinners: / Shout vowels of praise, sing consonants of delight. / On you, Dear Beloved, have I cast my care and / entrusted my fare. Let none rejoice over my sorrow; / let none reprise my grief.” “Weeping may linger,” a litany inspired by Psalm 30

Pride Month and proud nations
The difference between dignity and dominance

“. . . No other season on our calendar is more sensitive to the demands of distinguishing between dignity and arrogance—between delightfulness and hubris—as we transition at the end of Pride Month to the week of our premier occasion for national genuflecting, the US Independence Day revelry on 4 July. . . .”  continue reading

¶ “When a group of youths stood up to police raiding a popular gay hangout in New York City on the night of June 28, 1969, they had no idea where their actions would lead. ‘What I find so inspiring is that a group of people who may have been considered weak and fearful, people who turn and run at the drop of a hairpin, confounded all expectations and had the police on the run,’ said Eric Marcus, founder and chairman of the Stonewall 50 Consortium.” Jim Byers, Los Angeles Times

Hymn of praise. “O the deep, deep love of Jesus, / vast, unmeasured, boundless, free, / rolling as a mighty ocean / in its fullness over me. / Underneath me, all around me, / is the current of Thy love; / leading onward, leading homeward / to my glorious rest above.” — Simon Khorolskiy, Katie Gayduchik (violinist), “O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus

¶ “Nearly 1 in 5 LGBTQ people ages 13 to 24 attempted suicide in the past 12 months.” Lindsay Holmes, HuffPost

¶ “The first stirring of an LGBTQ uprising—a modest one, not a riot—in the U.S. was the formation of two groups in the 1950s that lobbied for equality, as well as acceptance for gay men and lesbians. The Mattachine Society, formed in Los Angeles, was for gay men who were arrested for their sexual activity. Daughters of Bilitis was formed in 1955 in San Francisco and provided lesbians with a social life outside of bars, as well as emotional and legal support.” Sophia Waterfield, Newsweek

Good News.

        • There were tears and raindrops and rainbows everywhere today when Taiwan became the first Asian nation with a comprehensive law allowing same-sex marriage. Lily Kuo, Guardian

   • “Botswana's High Court has overturned a colonial-era law criminalizing consensual same-sex relations in a landmark victory for Africa's LGBTQ movements.” Kara Fox, CNN

Left: Activist Kat Kai Kol-Kes holds a LGBTQ pride flag inside Botswana's High Court.

   • “United Methodists across the US have protested the global denomination’s crackdown on LGBTQ members in all kinds of ways. But now a group of teens in a confirmation class at a historic United Methodist church in the Midwest has taken the unprecedented step of refusing to join the church.

        “Eight teenagers, aged 13 and 14, who make up this year’s confirmation class at First United Methodist Church in Omaha, Nebraska, stood before the congregation on Confirmation Sunday (April 28) and read a letter saying they do not want to become members at this time. . . . ‘We are concerned that if we join at this time, we will be sending a message that we approve of this decision,’ the confirmation class wrote.” The congregation then gave them a standing ovation. Yonat Shimron, Religion News

 ¶ Words of assurance. “I Behold You, Beautiful One.” —Acapellaboratory and Choral Conspiracy

 ¶ “[Cole] Porter, who first hit it big in the 1920s, wouldn't risk parading his homosexuality in public. In his day ‘the birds and the bees’ generally meant only one thing—sex between a male and female. But, actually, some same-sex birds do do it. So do beetles, sheep, fruit bats, dolphins, and orangutans. Zoologists are discovering that homosexual and bisexual activity is not unknown within the animal kingdom.” —James Owen, “Homosexual Activity Among Animals Stirs Debate,” National Geographic

Confession. “Queer people know homophobia. It’s a fact of our existence. We tell our young people things get better, but the truth is more complicated than that. For all the progress we’ve made, thing are worse. . . . If #MeToo has reminded us that women alone cannot solve misogyny, the same is true for homophobia.” Charlotte Richardson Andrews, Independent

Right: Rev. Julie Pennington-Russell (holding sign), pastor of First Baptist Church, Washington, DC, was among many in different cities offering “free Mom/free Dad/free clergy” hugs during the recent Pride Parades across the nation.

¶ “The pace of change is dizzying but uneven. Anti-LGBTQ violence has increased in recent years; transgender women of color, 10 of whom have been killed so far this year in the United States, are at particular risk. Among homeless youths, 40% identify as LGBTQ. States are expanding protections that allow health-care providers and others to discriminate against LGBTQ people on religious grounds.” —Emily Douglas, “What We All Owe to Gay Liberation,” The Nation

¶ “How did a culture and identity once defined by its marginalization—the criminalization of same-sex relationships, the classification of homosexuality as a mental illness—turn into a fashion statement?—Diane Winston, “How gay rights went mainstream—and what it cost,” Washington Post

Hymn of resolution. “Just a Closer Walk With Thee,” signature tune by the legendary clarinetist Pete Fountain.

Who’s the rogue nation? “Over these last few years, given the wars it has waged and the international treaties it has arbitrarily reneged on, the US government perfectly fits its own definition of a rogue state.” — Arundhati Roy

¶ “The term ‘rogue nation’ has come to my mind many times, such as when the US invaded Afghanistan and Iraq under President George W Bush, when President Barack Obama dramatically escalated drone strikes on sovereign nations, when Trump ordered the cruise missile strikes on Syria last year and again this year, or now as the US continues its more than half a century of embargo on Cuba.

        “But my civility prevented me from using the term. The strongest language I have used against the US is: a ‘threat to global rules and norms’”. . . regarding “Trump’s appalling actions of withdrawing from the Paris climate accord, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation and the Iran nuclear deal; cutting funding to the UN, and threatening to impose more punitive tariffs on imports and abandon trade agreements with the US’ major trade partners. The US announcement last week of pulling out of the UN Human Rights Council is the latest such action.

        “Mary Robinson, a former UN special envoy on climate change, said last year that the US pullout from the Paris accord ‘renders it a rogue state on the international stage’.

        “Joseph Stiglitz, winner of the Nobel Prize for economics, too, blasted Trump for withdrawing from the accord in an article titled ‘US a step closer to being a rogue nation’.

        “And Peter Hartcher, political and international editor of The Sydney Morning Herald, censured Trump for withdrawing from the Iran deal in a May 9 article, headlined ‘Donald Trump’s America has just become a rogue nation’”. Chen Weihua, The Nation/Thailand

¶ “The U.S. tried to change other countries’ governments 72 times during the Cold War.” —Lindsey A. O’Rourke, Washington Post https://wapo.st/2IzUce1

¶  On Monday, 6 May, the United Nations released a report saying that one million plant and animal species are on the verge of extinction due to climate change, “with alarming implications for human survival.” On that same day, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blocked an Artic Council policy statement referencing extreme polar ice melting, instead celebrating the amount of money to be made on the new shipping lane being created by the thaw, which would add dramatically to the flooding threat of rising sea levels. Rick Noack, Washington Post

¶  “US weakens first global commitment on curbing single-use plastics.” Nita Bhalla & John Ndiso, Reuters

¶  US threatens veto power on the UN Security Council resolution condemning rape as a weapon of war, demanding that the resolution’s support of “family planning” protocols be removed. Michelle Kosinski & Eli Watkins, CNN

¶  “The US has revoked the visa of the international criminal court’s [ICC] chief prosecutor in response to her intention to investigate potential war crimes by US soldiers in Afghanistan. . . . [US Secretary of State Mike] Pompeo said on 15 March that the ICC was ‘attacking America’s rule of law’ as he announced a policy of imposing visa restrictions on ‘individuals directly responsible for any ICC investigation of US personnel’”. Patrick Wintour, Owen Bowcott & Julian Borger, Guardian

The Trump Administration is refusing to endorse the “Christchurch Call,” an international agreement to combat online extremism, on the grounds that it weakens the US’ First Amendment rights. Democracy Now

The US was one of three countries [along with Ukraine and Palau] to vote against a UN human rights committee resolution condemning the glorification of “Nazism, neo-Nazism and other practices that contribute to fueling contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.” CBS News

Hymn of intercession. “If the War Goes On,” by John Bell, performed by Soikles (Monica Miller) on violin.

A Pew Research poll of citizens across 25 nations revealed that 70% think the US does not takes into account the interests of other countries. Richard Wike, Bruce Stokes, Jacob Poushter, Laura Silver, Janell Fetterolf & Kat Devlin

When only the blues will do. “John the Revelator,” Larkin Poe

¶ “The United States at War: There have been only 17 years that the US has not been involved in a war since 1776”

Preach it. “Nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism. In saying ‘our interests first, whatever happens to the others,’ you erase the most precious thing a nation can have, that which makes it live, that which causes it to be great and that which is most important: its moral values.” —French President Emmanuel Macron, remarks during the 11 November 2018 commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I

Can’t makes this sh*t up. Stephen Moore, whom President Trump was planning to pick for the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, once told a documentary filmmaker, “Capitalism is a lot more important than democracy. I’m not even a big believer in democracy. I always say that democracy can be two wolves and a sheep deciding what to have for dinner.” Peter Wade, Rolling Stone

Call to the table. “Kinderszenen" No. 7, Scenes from Childhood,” by Schumann, performed by Vladimir Horowitz. (Thanks Kimberly.)

The state of our disunion. “He gave them food, he gave them water, he gave them a place to stay. . . . He did a bad thing.” —Federal prosecutor Anna Wright in her summary (virtually a quote from Matthew 25:35) of the government indictment of Scott Warren, a volunteer with No More Deaths, a faith-based aid group which places water in the desert for migrants. Warren was facing a potential sentence of 20 years in prison. The trial ended with a hung jury, but the feds have said they will retry Warren. Gabe Ortiz, Daily Kos

Best one-liner. “Most people are willing to take the Sermon on the Mount as a flag to sail under, but few will use it as a rudder by which to steer.” —Oliver Wendell Holmes

For the beauty of the earth. Rare 'rainbow' blanket octopuses caught on camera in the Philippines. (1:38 video.)

Altar call. “The only honourable course will be to stake everything on the formidable gamble, that words are more powerful than munitions.” —French playwright and essayist Albert Camus, in “Neither Victims Nor Executioners, written just after the end of World War II

For more on the topic of patriotism, see the special issue of Signs of the Times, 28 June 2017, No. 125

Benediction. “Remember, if you dare, the Jesus-named Abba is the kind of God whose movement often trespasses on religious authority, proper social standing, predictable economic forecasts and political maneuvering of every sort. There is an otherness, a wildness, one could even say a queerness to this God which does not lend itself to ecclesiastical management, cultural propriety, futures market predictions or congressional oversight.” —excerpt from “In the Land of the Willing

Recessional. “This is my song, O God of all Nations / A song of peace for lands afar and mine / This is my home, the country where my heart is / Here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine / But other hearts in other lands are beating / With hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.” —Finlandia (“This Is My Song”) sung by flashmob in a Helsinki, Finland train station

        The Finlandia tune was written by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius in 1899, as a protest to growing censorship of Finnish society by Russia. The original piece is a longer (9+ minutes) orchestral piece, which what is now the stand-along “This Is My Song” as the final movement. Here is a full orchestral version of the complete “Finlandia” piece (with some fabulous wildlife video).  My favorite version of “This Is My Song” is an a cappella rendition by Joan Baez.

Lectionary for this Sunday. “Weeping may linger,” a litany inspired by Psalm 30

Just for fun. Bill Bailey, “Minor/Major(2:43 video)

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Featured this week on prayer&politiks

• “Pride Month and proud nations: The difference between dignity and dominance,” a new essay

• “North Carolina torture taxis: Commemorating the International Day in Support of the Victims of Torture,” a new essay

• “Proclaim liberty,” a litany for worship for use on Independence Day

• “Weeping may linger,” a litany inspired by Psalm 30

©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.

 

Pride Month and proud nations

The difference between dignity and arrogance

by Ken Sehested

       Nearly a year ago I wrote a close friend who pastors in Texas, attaching a photo of seven of our congregation’s teenagers arrayed in baptism robes, standing on the bank of a lake.

        My note said simply, “Is it OK to brag about this?”

        He and I both knew well that the Bible takes a dim view of pride. Dozens of texts warn against it, associating it with injustice (“Your doom has come, injustice has blossomed, pride has budded.” Ezekiel 7:10) and violence (“Therefore pride is their necklace; violence covers them as a garment.” Psalm 73:6).

        But a synonym of pride, “delight,” can function as an antonym: “I am the LORD who practice steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth; for in these things I delight" (Jeremiah 9:24). In fact, delight may be the first emotion of the Bible. In Genesis, at the end of creation’s six stages, Scripture says God saw everything that was made, and it was very good. That’s a tame rendering of the Hebrew—more precisely, it was “utterly delightful.”

        When we lived in Memphis, a middle-aged man asked for a meeting with our pastor. Harold wanted to transfer his membership from a large, traditional Southern Baptist church. As Nancy always does to inquirers, she asked why would you want to be part of this church? (Not many pastors try to talk potential members out of joining.)

        “Because I’m living with AIDS,” he said, “I know I’m going to die before long; and I need a community of people to accompany me.” (This was well before antiretroviral therapy medications.)

        Which is exactly what we did—though, tragically, and despite our best efforts, Harold could never imagine his being a delight in the eyes of God. To live without a sense of dignity is a special kind of hell.

        How I wish he had lived long enough to march in a Pride Month parade, and, especially, to hear a much larger chorus of people of faith assuring him of being included in creation’s delightfulness.

        On this 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising, it is stunning to reflect on how much progress has been made in welcoming the queer community to the public stage as well as to the communion table. Four decades ago, when I first began (timidly) pushing back against the vitriol of homophobia, I thought it would take another century before a significant number of church doors would be open to sexual minorities. It’s worth celebrating the gains made.

        Yet we have so far to go. Still today, nearly one-in-five LGBTQ young people have attempted suicide in the last year. [1] Our festering public discourse still generates contagion in the form of self-contempt. The colonizing of the mind is in some respects more insidious than cultural or judicial discrimination.

        The good news, according to the recently released Trevor Project, [2] is that “just one accepting adult can reduce the risk of a suicide attempt by 40%.”

        Creating a culture of affirmation—boldly declaring creation’s delightful pride in queerfolk—is still a major hurdle in society and in communities of faith. But you can be one of those people mentioned in the Trevor Project.

        Needless to say, there is Pride, and then there’s arrogance. Discernment is crucial.

#  #  #

“The Statue of Liberty is no longer saying,
Give me your poor, your tired, your huddled masses.
She’s got a baseball bat and yelling ‘You want a piece of me?’”
—comedian Robin Williams

#  #  #

        No other season on our calendar is more sensitive to the demands of distinguishing between dignity and arrogance—between delightfulness and hubris—as we transition at the end of Pride Month to the week of our premier occasion for national genuflecting, the US Independence Day revelry on 4 July.

        The majority of US citizens have been reared to confidently proclaim our nation as a “shining city on a hill,” a lighthouse to the nations, illuminating the path to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, a stalwart defender of freedom against all manner of despotism.

        Alas, much of the world does not share this generous assessment. In a 2018 poll, the Pew Research Center [3] revealed that 70% of citizens of other countries think the US does not take into account the interests of other nations. [4]

        In a separate study, when Pew researchers examined voter turnout of wealthier democracies in the world, they found the US ranks 26th out of 32. [5] And when the three richest Americans hold more wealth than the bottom 50% in the country, does democracy mean anything? [6] Given the unbridled role of money in electoral politics, former President Jimmy Carter believes the US is now an oligarchy rather than a democracy. [7]

        It is undoubtedly true that our nation’s founding documents set forth a breathtaking vision of liberty for its era. What is not acknowledged is the implementation of those values required violent repression and near-annihilation of the land’s indigenous people, the importation of millions of African slaves, and the limitation of voting to white, male, property-owning men.

        “All men are created equal” was profound in its promise but defective in its delivery. This has been true from the beginning; but the current administration’s “Make America Great Again” policies have escalated our descent into villainy.

        Take for example this statement by former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. In the early months of the Trump Administration, Tillerson addressed the Department’s diplomats and other staff to explain the president’s “America First” policy implications.

        “I think it is really important that all of us understand the difference between policy and values. . . . Our values around freedom, human dignity, the way people are treated—those are our values. Those are not our policies.” [8]

        What most citizens do not understand is that, particularly when it comes to foreign policy, our political values have always been mugged by our economic/security interests. Tillerson is bluntly owning up to what has always been the case. When it comes to matching economic interests with spiritual values, Jesus was very blunt in his analysis: “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21)

        Scripture articulates a blistering critique of national arrogance: “Do not say to yourself, ‘My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth’” (Deuteronomy 8:17).

        In the coming days many will be singing “America! America! God shed his grace on thee.” When doing so, remember that the second verse says “America! America! God mend thine ev’ry flaw.”

        Grace cannot be segregated from mending. We live with severe tears in our nation’s moral fabric. Repair begins with truth telling, humbling as it may be. Only then can we undertake the work of disentangling our values from our disordered desires and exploitative policies.

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For more on the topic of patriotism, see the special issue of Signs of the Times, 28 June 2017, No. 125

ENDNOTES

[1] Lindsay Holmes HuffPost https://bit.ly/2Nvpx62

[2] https://bit.ly/2XfxIYM

[3] https://www.pewresearch.org/global/2018/10/01/trumps-international-ratings-remain-low-especially-among-key-allies/

[4] Richard Wike, Bruce Stokes, Jacob Poushter, Laura Silver, Janell Fetterolf & Kat Devlin https://www.pewresearch.org/global/2018/10/01/trumps-international-ratings-remain-low-especially-among-key-allies/

[5] Sabrina Tavernise, New York Times https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/03/us/non-voters-midterm-elections.html

[6] Noah Kirsch, Forbes https://www.forbes.com/sites/noahkirsch/2017/11/09/the-3-richest-americans-hold-more-wealth-than-bottom-50-of-country-study-finds/#3b49d80a3cf8

[7] Eric Zuesse, huffpost https://www.huffingtonpost.com/eric-zuesse/jimmy-carter-is-correct-t_b_7922788.html

[8] Julian Borger, “Rex Tillerson: ‘America first” means divorcing our policy from our values,” The Guardian https://bit.ly/2JlkyQp

©kensehested @ prayerandpolitiks.org

 

North Carolina torture taxis

Commemorating the International Day in Support of the Victims of Torture

by Ken Sehested

Preface
June 26 is the International Day in Support of the Victims of Torture. The United Nations
Convention against Torture (CAT), approved in 1984, took effect on 26 June 1987. Since the CAT’s
entry into force, the absolute prohibition against torture and other acts of cruel, inhuman, or
degrading treatment or punishment has become accepted as a principle of customary
international law. The US ratified the CAT in 1994, but with a boatload of exceptions.

§  §  §

Most of my fellow North Carolinians would be surprised, maybe shocked, to learn that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operated a “torture taxi” in partnership with a local air service, Aero Contractors. Operating mostly out of a small taxpayer-subsidized Johnston County Airport in Smithfield, a Gulfstream jet would fly to Dulles International Airport, pick up an extraction team, fly to foreign countries, kidnap suspected terrorists, rendering them to secretive “black site” prisons in several regions of the world for “enhanced interrogation” by all manner of inflicted torment.

Right: Photo by Justin Norman-flickr-cc

All told, over 50 countries throughout Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East participated in the CIA’s Rendition, Detention and Interrogation (RDI) program. Whether in proxies’ jails or the CIA’s own facilities, captives were held secretly, denied access to families or lawyers, and subjected to severe interrogations.[1]

It’s what most folk would call torture. It is illegal in both international and U.S. law, though George W. Bush administration lawyers spun elaborate layers of sophistry to make the practice appear clinical. It is a rendering begging for a mending.

It lasted for at least five years following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. It was among the ways public officials “went to the dark side,” as Vice President Dick Cheney commented, employing “tools we had never before used” according to CIA counsel John Rizzo.[2] Every journey to that dark side heightens the risk of being inescapably trapped in its web: We ourselves are rendered to the very thing we hate.

Left: US soldiers waterboarding insurgent during Philippine-America War 1899-1902.

We know of this dark history from two sources. The 2014 Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report on the CIA’s rendition program outlines an especially gruesome period in our nation’s history. It reveals how the U.S. orchestrated and implemented a clandestine network of interrogation and torture.

That massive, 6,700-page report, five years in the making, is still classified, though a much shorter executive summary was made public.

Proponents of the program claimed, as some do today, that this effectively made us safer. Multiple credible sources say otherwise.

According to former CIA director John Brennan, some “useful information” was gained “but there was also a lot that was bogus.” One former top agency office estimated that “ninety per cent of the information was unreliable.”[3] According to the chief of one of the CIA’s secret prisons, the information gleaned from torture resulted in “the production of mediocre or, I dare say, useless intelligence.”[4]

Aero Contractors’ role in sourcing the rendition program surfaced in 2005 in the New York Times.[5] Among the readers were residents in Johnston County. Thus began a grassroots effort, NC Stop Torture Now, to raise public attention to the airport’s infamous role in exporting torture.[6]

Vigorous efforts were made to get county, state, and federal officials to acknowledge the truth and provide public accountability, thus far without success. We know, for instance, that rather than taking steps to investigate Aero, North Carolina officials have taken measures to support the company.[7]

Right: Abuses by US military personnel at Abu Ghraib prison, Iraq, came to light in April 2004-Photo-AP Photo.

Building on these grassroots organizing, the NC Commission of Inquiry on Torture (NCCIT) was formed in 2017, with a distinguished list of scholars, jurists, and human rights advocates. After an investigation and public hearings, in 2018 the NCCIT published its findings in a report, “Torture Flights: From North Carolina’s Role in the CIA Rendition and Torture Program.” It confirms that Aero Contractors was responsible for rendering at least 49 individuals for interrogation, either to foreign custody or at CIA black sites.

I urge you to read at least the two-page executive summary of that report.

In December 2014, following the release of the Senate’s torture report’s executive summary, Rep. Senator John McCain (himself a victim of torture) offered an impassioned speech on the Senate floor, saying, “I know the use of torture compromises that which most distinguishes us from our enemies.”[8]

Our story from North Carolina, as part of the larger story of our nation’s temptation to fight terror with terror—which, as one writer noted, is like hitting a dandelion with a golf club—is instructive and calls for a choice from citizens and public office holders alike. In the coming days many will be singing “America! America! God shed his grace on thee.” When doing so, remember that the second verse says “America! America! God mend thine ev’ry flaw.”

Grace cannot be segregated from mending. We live with a severe tear in our nation’s moral fabric. Repair begins with truth telling, humbling as it may be. Only then can we develop reweaving strategies.

Above: French artist Alain Carrier donated this art to Amnesty International.

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©ken sehested @ prayerandpolitiks.org. This article is a slightly longer version of an article commissioned by the North Carolina Council of Churches "NC No Torture" program.

ENDNOTES

[1] North Carolina Commission of Inquiry on Torture

[2] Mark Danner, “How Dick Cheney Became the Most Powerful Vice President in History," The Nation

[3] Jane Mayer, “The Black Sites: A rare look inside the CIA’s secret interrogation program,” The New Yorker, 5 August 2007

[4] Quoted in a declassified portion of the “Report of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Committee Study,” p. 144

Right: Torture of accused heretics during the Catholic Church's Inquisition.

[5] “C.I.A. Expanding Terror Battle Under Guise of Charter Flights,” Scott Shane, Stephen Grey, & Margot Williams

[6] The North Carolina Council of Churches has played a significant, though mostly behind-the-scenes role, in supporting the work of NC No Torture and the NC Commission of Inquiry on Torture. For more see “NC No Torture Releases Christian Study"

[7] "Torture Flights: North Carolina’s Role in the CIA Rendition and Torture Program," Executive Summary, p. 7

[8] Jim Nintzel, “McCain: ‘I Know the Use of Torture Compromises That Which Distinguishes Us From Our Enemies,” Tucson Weekly

US citizens should be very wary of any US rationale for an attack on Iran

by Ken Sehested

        The dogs of war threatening full scale conflict between the US and Iran are straining their respective leashes. Iran openly admits that it shot down a US drone, claiming it was over Iranian territorial waters—by international law, extending 12 miles from a country’s coast line.

        The US claims the drone was over international waters, doing so under the terms of the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of Seas (UNCLOS). Complicating matters: Oman, across the Strait of Hormuz, also has legal claim to a 12-mile territorial sovereign claim. Yet at its narrowest point, the Strait of Hormuz is only 21 miles wide.

        Understand, though, that neither the US nor Iran ratified the UNCLOS.

        The international legal norms are tangled and in dispute, to such a degree that both the US and Iran can justify their respective claims, since the US is relying on the international custom known as the “doctrine of innocent passage or transit passage.” (And that’s a whole ‘nuther complicated story. For more background on these matters, see Susan Simpson, “Is the Strait of Hormuz Governed by Treaty or by Customary International Law?” The View From LL2.)

        Adding yet more threat, on 11 June the US joint chiefs of staff posted its updated “Nuclear Operations” rules of engagement which makes it easier to undertake limited nuclear strikes, saying “Using nuclear weapons could create conditions for decisive results and the restoration of strategic stability.” But within a week the Pentagon removed that document from its website. Now it’s available only through a restricted access electronic library.

        Why has this narrow waterway been such a flashpoint for US military vigilance? Nearly a quarter of the world’s oil is shipped through this channel. The US will soon be a net exporter of fossil fuels (for the first time in 70 years). But control of this essential resource exerts a profound influence on US foreign policy. Remember, it was former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger who said, "Oil is much too important a commodity to be left in the hands of the Arabs."

        The takeaway from all this? US citizens should be very wary of any US rationale for an attack on Iran. Given our history—such as the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, where President Johnson manufactured a non-existent strike by North Vietnam on a US naval vessel, the incident that launched the Vietnam War; and the fabricated stories of Iraq having weapons of mass destruction, which launched the Iraq War—we must demand a higher, more stringent bar of evidence for any attack on Iran. (Not to mention that our Constitution requires an act of Congress to declare war.)

        [For a faith based statement opposing any US attack on Iran, see “We Say No, Again: Baiting Iran toward a dangerous collision”]

        The US has legitimate policy grievances against Iran. Few here remember, however, that Iran has legitimate grievances against the US. Here are but three egregious examples.

        1. Those include the fact that in 1953 the CIA overthrew the democratically-elected government of Iran and installed a dictator whose brutal reign lasted until the Shah’s overthrow in 1979. (We remember the US hostages taken, but not the triggering cause.) We then sold the shah boatloads of advanced weaponry to guarantee our cheap access to Iranian oil.

        2. During the 1980s war between Iraq and Iran, the US removed Iraq from its “state sponsors of terrorism” list in order to expedite weapons transfers to the country—then our preferred ally in the region—as well as providing crucial military intelligence to Saddam Hussein. Among the weapons sold to Iraq were ingredients for Hussein’s chemical weapons which he used against Iran and then on his own Kurdish minority population.

        3. In 1988 the US Navy shot down an Iranian passenger plane, flying in Iranian airspace, killing all 290 passengers. President Reagan admitted “regrets,” saying the Navy ship’s commander thought it was an Iranian military jet.

        Not to mention the fact that the US has more than two dozen military bases in the nations that border Iran and enforcement of a crushing schedule of economic sanctions.

        Because of interlocking rivalries and alliances in that region, an outright attack by the US on Iran risks a dramatic escalation of conflict involving several nations (as well as non-state but heavily armed actors). It is a dangerous, foolhardy gambit. On this 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, we need to pause and consider the costs: One political assassination in 1914 led to more than 20 countries joining the fray, at a cost of 37 million casualties.

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Ken Sehested is curator of prayerandpolitiks.org, an online journal at the intersection of spiritual formation and prophetic action.

News, views, notes, and quotes

Signs of the Times  •  13 June 2019 •  No. 195

Processional.Ain’t a That Good News,” performed by the combined Boston Chidren’s Chorus and the Chicago Children’s Choir.

Above: Iceland's volcano, Hekla, erupted at the same time that auroras were visible overhead. Photo by Sigurdur H. Stefmisson.

Special issue
GOOD NEWS – SHORT NOTES AND BRIEF STORIES

Preface

"I believe that I shall see the goodness of God in the land of the living,"
—Psalm 27:13

        When preparing each issue of “Signs of the Times,” I intentionally look for bits of good news to leaven the litany of fraud and wreckage that fills our many news feeds.

        Part of the problem in finding good news is that such information does not easily catch the eye. Local newscasts tend to give disproportionate attention to carnage because it’s cheaper to find—just monitor first responders’ communications for directions to the latest wreck or shooting or wildfire. Or the weather channel, which salivates over devastating storm coverage.

        On top of that, scandal in the body politic appeals to a deep-seated human attraction to dirty linen and ignominy, often all out of proportion to newsworthiness.

        Which is why we all have to work at looking for and lifting up the overlooked evidence that life is different from cable news. Make it a habit; consider it to be among your spiritual disciplines.

Invocation. “From the cowardice of accepting new truth, from the laziness of being satisfied with half-truth, from the arrogance of thinking we know all the truth: Deliver us, O Lord.” —from "A Wee Worship Book," Wild Goose Worship Group

Call to worship. "Heaven and earth are threads of one loom." —anonymous, quoted in "By Shaker Hands" by June Sprigg

I confess I’m head-over-heels in awe of Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenager who was recently awarded Amnesty International’s coveted “Ambassador of Conscience Award for 2019, on behalf of the Fridays for Future [aka Youth Strike 4 Climate] movement of school children demanding bold action to address the global climate crisis.

        [For more on that, see Amnesty International.  Also, watch this short (4:12) video of Thunberg and fellow “school strikers for climate change” from around the world.]  —continue reading “Greta Thunberg: When the muted find a voice

¶ “Despite an epidemic of childhood obesity, the cholesterol levels of American kids have been improving over the past 20 years, a new study shows. Researchers found that since 1999, levels of "bad" LDL cholesterol among US children and teens have declined, while levels of "good" HDL cholesterol have risen.” Researchers can’t point to one specific reason; but clearly the educational-advocacy work of individuals and organizations to shine a light on the need for improved eating habits is working. Amy Norton, Healthday News

¶ “Judge throws out Trump order and restores Obama-era drilling ban in Arctic.” Juliet Eilperin, LA Times

¶ “With the signing of House Bill 307 [in April], Maryland made history by becoming the first state in the Union to establish a state-wide commission dedicated to investigating racial terror lynchings in the United States. The Maryland Lynching Truth and Reconciliation Commission provides an opportunity for the state to take a significant step in making peace with its African American communities.” Nicholas Creary, Baltimore Sun

¶ “France Becomes The First Country To Ban All Five Pesticides Linked To Bee Deaths.” Herbs Info (Thanks Kristin.)

¶ 22 May 2019 “marks the official launch of Covering Climate Now, a project co-sponsored by The Columbia Journalism Review and The Nation. Joined by The Guardian and others partners to be announced, Covering Climate Now will bring journalists and news outlets together to dramatically improve how the media as a whole covers the climate crisis and its solutions.

        Read a portion of Bill Moyers’ conference keynote speech, “What if we covered the climate crisis like we did the start of the second world war?” —Guardian

¶ “Iceland has made it illegal to pay women less than men.” Emma Willis, Business Insider

Janet Mills, Maine’s governor, has signed a bill making the state the first to prohibit public schools, colleges, and universities from using Native American symbols as mascots. David Williams, CNN

Connecticut will soon become the 7th state to provide paid time off to new parents and caregivers. Mark Pazniokas, CT Mirror

Short story. By the time Lélia and Sabastião Salgado took over their family’s historic ranch in the Minas Gerais region of Brazil, its tree coverage was mostly gone and the wildlife had disappeared. “The land,” said Salgado, “was as sick as I was.”

        The couple decided rebuild the formerly lush rain forest. Twenty years later “hundreds of species of flora and fauna call the former cattle ranch home. In addition to 293 species of trees, the land now teems with 172 species of birds, 33 species of mammals, and 15 species of amphibians and reptiles—many of which are endangered,” and dried-up springs have returned. Kelly Richman Abdou, My Modern Met

More than 400,000 people have toured the National Memorial for Peace and Justice and Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Alabama, in its first year; currently, attendance is averaging 3,000 per day. —Brad Harper, Montgomery Advertiser

Word. “The threat of the world today is lied about every time you open your computer or switch on your phone. Terror lives in your pocket, on a device that does not differentiate between wisdom, information, propaganda, and deceit. The good news is that you can learn more than ever before, connect quicker, and heal yourself (some of the world’s great healers and healing techniques are mobile apps). The challenge—and the invitation —is that you need to learn how to edit what you're seeing. No one else will do that for you—indeed, it is in the interests of the military-industrial-entertainment-gossip-complex that you stay unconscious, and click on as many links as possible.” —Gareth Higgins & Brian McClaren, “Us, Them, and the End of Violence: A Lenten Journey”

¶ “Sikhs around the world are taking part in a scheme to plant a million new trees as a ‘gift to the entire planet.’ The project aims to reverse environmental decline and help people reconnect with nature as part of celebrations marking 550 years since the birth of the founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak.” Isabella Kaminski, Guardian

        For more background on Sikhs, see Simran Jeet Singh, “Who are the Sikhs and what are their beliefs?—Religion News

Left: Cape Town South Africa school children strike for climate change. Reuters photo.

¶  “The world is literally a greener place than it was 20 years ago, and the data from NASA satellites has revealed a counterintuitive source for much of this new foliage: China and India. This surprising new study shows that the two emerging countries with the world’s biggest populations are leading the improvement in greening on land. The effect stems mainly from ambitious tree planting programs in China and intensive agriculture in both countries. In 2017 alone, India broke its own world record for the most trees planted after volunteers gathered to plant 66 million saplings in just 12 hours.” Good News Network (Thanks Jaroslav.)

¶ “Tired of receiving notices warning that their drinking water may have been compromised and having little recourse to fight corporate polluters, voters in Toledo, Ohio approved a measure granting Lake Erie some of the same legal rights as a human being. Sixty-one percent of voters in Tuesday's special election voted in favor of Lake Erie's Bill of Rights, which allows residents to take legal action against entities that violate the lake's rights to ‘flourish and naturally evolve’ without interference.

        “The initiative was modeled on ‘rights to nature’ laws which have passed in Lafayette, Colorado; by the Ponca Nation of Oklahoma and the Chippewa Nation in Minnesota; and countries including India and Nepal.” Julia Conley, Common Dreams

Preach it. “Our civilization is being sacrificed for the opportunity of a very small number of people to continue making enormous amounts of money. Our biosphere is being sacrificed so that rich people in countries like mine can live in luxury. It is the sufferings of the many which pay for the luxuries of the few.” —Greta Thunberg

¶ “[P]eople all around the world are banding together to make the UN Sustainable Development Goals a reality. Child mortality is decreasing every year, while a health infrastructure that helps women find skilled obstetric care is lessening maternal deaths in Ethiopia. The Democratic Republic of Congo has a program training health workers that is aimed at making vital medical care more accessible.

        • “Three women in Afghanistan are running their own veterinary clinic and teaching the importance of education to change attitudes and stifle gender inequality. Dr. Devi Shetty, a cardiac surgeon in India, set up an affordable healthcare company called Narayana Health to provide low cost, high quality healthcare and now has more than 20 medical centers in India.

        • “In 2016, Costa Rica successfully powered its electrical grid with renewable energy for 113 consecutive days, and private sectors in Malawi are creating custom-built portable water filters for households lacking access to safe drinking water, lessening the risk of contracting water-borne diseases by half.

        • “On a larger scale, the country of Rwanda became the first low-income country to provide universal eye-care to its entire population. Although this might seem like a trivial cause compared to fighting poverty, if uneducated parents—particularly mothers—can keep their eyesight sharp, they can continue working their jobs and their work won’t deteriorate as they age.” —Sarah Westbrook, “UN Sustainable Development Goals: What Progress Has Been Made?”, Seeds of Hope

Right: 'Mother Earth' by textile artist Galla Grotto

Can’t makes this sh*t up. (The good news is that this was uncovered.) "Redistricting is like an election in reverse! It's a great event," he said with a smile at a National Conference of State Legislatures event in 2000. "Usually the voters get to pick the politicians. In redistricting, the politicians get to pick the voters!" That was Republican strategist and electoral mapmaker Thomas Hofeller, speaking at a National Conference of State Legislatures event in 2000. A key proponent of adding a “citizenship” question to the 2020 census, Hofeller promised that efforts to redraw electoral maps would be “advantageous to Republican and Non-Hispanic Whites.”  After his death in 2018 his daughter found massive amounts of computer files revealing electoral rigging proposals. —for more see Miles Parks, NPR

Call to the table. “We’re asking adults to step up alongside us . . . today, so many of our parents are busy discussing whether our grades are good, or a new diet or the Game of Thrones finale—whilst the planet burns. But to change everything, we need everyone. It is time for all of us to unleash mass resistance . . . if we [demand change] in numbers we have a chance.” —Greta Thunberg

Graduation season. This is the most extraordinary graduation speech I’ve ever heard, from Asheville High School class of 2019 valedictorian Ascher Walker Williams. (8 minutes)

Father’s day specials

        • Dad’s were meant for many things. Among them, to be apostles of encouragement and delight for their children. You can never plan these things in advance. But if an opportunity (of who knows what sort) comes your way, be this kind of dad. (3:01 video. Thanks Blake.)

        •Be like this dad. (0:30 video. Thanks Dick.)

        • And this dad. (0:50 video. Thanks Kimberly.)

Best one-liner. “Storms make trees take deeper roots.” —Dolly Parton

For the beauty of the earth. 10 good news stories re. environmental affairs. —from “Words Presents” (2:01. Thanks Faye.)

Recessional.Rhapsody in Blue,” George Gershwin. A bit of trivia about the song: “The opening clarinet glissando came into being at rehearsal when, as a joke on Gershwin, Whiteman’s virtuoso clarinetist exaggerated the opening measure adding what he considered a humorous touch to the passage. Gershwin told him to play it that way at the concert and to add as much wailing as possible.” Good News Network

Lectionary for this Sunday. “The voice of Wisdom,” a litany for worship inspired by Proverbs 8

Lectionary for Sunday next. “Elijah’s pity party,” a litany for worship inspired by 1 Kings 19: 1-15

Just for fun. Amazing Cirque de Soleil jump rope artist. (2:55 video)

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Featured this week on prayer&politiks

• “Fire and Fury: Reading Elijah in light of Charlottesville,” a sermon rooted in 1 Kings 19:1-18 by Nancy Hastings Sehested

• “Greta Thunberg: When the muted find a voice

• "Elijah’s pity party,” a litany for worship inspired by 1 Kings 19:1-15

©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.

 

Greta Thunberg

When the muted find a voice

by Ken Sehested, with extensive quotes from Jonathan Watts, “Greta Thunberg, schoolgirl climate change warrior: ‘’”, The Guardian

        I confess I’m head-over-heels in awe of Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenager who was recently awarded Amnesty International’s coveted “Ambassador of Conscience Award for 2019, on behalf of the Fridays for Future movement of school children demanding bold action to address the global climate crisis.

        [For more on that, see Amnesty International. Also, watch this short (4:12) video of Thunberg and fellow “school strikers for climate change” from around the world.]

        Then 15, Thunberg was considered little more than a curiosity when, in August 2018, she began skipping school to hold vigil outside Sweden’s parliament. She sat rather forlornly against the building with her hand-painted sign, which read skolstrejk för klimatet (school strike for climate), calling on Swedish legislators to take climate change seriously.

        What an odd duck, we might say in English; or one joker short of a full deck. No doubt some thought hers was a cute gesture, “brave” only in the sense of how we dismiss people with fanciful grasp of reality. In effect, foolhardy. Harmless, really; but harebrained, nonetheless.

        Truth is, Thunberg is a little loony. Literally, she has been diagnosed with “selective mutism,” a condition on the Asperger diagnostic scale of mental health disorders. Her symptoms exhibit a “childhood anxiety disorder characterized by a an inability to speak and communicate effectively in select social settings.”

        People of the Book will recall an ancient story, about a man named Moses (cf. Exodus 4:10), who tried to beg off a public leadership task because he wasn't good with words.

        “People with selective mutism have a tendency to worry more than others. Thunberg has since weaponised this in meetings with political leaders, and with billionaire entrepreneurs in Davos. ‘I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act,’ she told them.

        “In this regard, her family see her Asperger’s as a blessing. She is someone who strips away social distractions and focuses with black-and-white clarity on the issues. ‘It’s nothing that I want to change about me,’ she says. ‘It’s just who I am. If I had been just like everyone else and been social, then I would have just tried to start an organisation. But I couldn’t do that. I’m not very good with people, so I did something myself instead.’”

        “I don’t care if what I’m doing – what we’re doing – is hopeful. We need to do it anyway. Even if there’s no hope left and everything is hopeless, we must do what we can.”

        It is we who live with cognitive dissonance.

Right: Greta Thunberg is greeted by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker at the February meeting of the European Economic and Social Committee meeting in Brussels, drawing legislators and business leaders across the continent.  At this meeting, Juncker indicated that the European Union is pledging a quarter of $1 trillion budget over the next seven years to address the crisis of a rapidly heating planet. In the financial period beginning in 2021, Juncker said, the EU will devote a quarter of its budget to solving the crisis.

        “There are no comfortable reassurances in her speech, just a steady frankness. Asked whether she has become more optimistic because the climate issue has risen up the political agenda and politicians in the US and Europe are considering green New Deals that would ramp up the transition to renewable energy, her reply is brutally honest. ‘No, I am not more hopeful than when I started. The emissions are increasing and that is the only thing that matters. I think that needs to be our focus. We cannot talk about anything else.’”

        “On social media, there have been other crude attacks on Thunberg’s reputation and appearance. Already familiar with bullying from school, she appears unfazed. ‘I expected when I started that if this is going to become big, then there will be a lot of hate,’ she says. ‘It’s a positive sign. I think that must be because they see us as a threat. That means that something has changed in the debate, and we are making a difference.’”

        I will never again read the Prophet Isaiah's breath taking vision of Creation's promised fulfillment, including the line about how "a little child shall lead" (11:6), without thinking about Greta Thunberg.

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There are numerous excerpts on the web of Thunberg speaking. Among the brief ones, here is one of my favorites, when she addressed the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP24) conference in Katowice, Poland.

©ken sehested @ prayerandpolitiks.org