Boycott, divestment and sanctions: Israel and the Occupation

We cannot ignore this contentious conversation

by Ken Sehested

Introduction: In a 5 June 2015 Huffington Post article, Dr. Chuck Currie, Chaplain and Director of the Center for Peace and Spirituality at Pacific University, urged fellow United Church of Christ members to reject that body’s Synod resolution supporting the "boycott, divestment and sanctions" action in opposition to Israel's occupation of Palestine. This week I’ve written the following response.

        Thanks, Chuck, for sending me your post in opposition to the “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions” (BDS) initiative. I haven’t been involved in the movement, and won’t be at the Synod to deliberate the question. But your thoughtful writing is worthy of response.

        I fully agree with you that pursuing a two-state solution appears, from every angle, to be the preferred route to get us where we want to go. Any lasting security will surely be a mutual security. And I certainly agree that boycotts are morally ambiguous, since they are such blunt instruments for social change.

        But a number of questions remain, and I hope you can help me see what I’m missing.

        1. On the question of whether Israeli policy in the Occupied Territories (OT) is a form of apartheid: from the separation wall cutting through Palestinian land, Jews-only roads, a patchwork of Bantustan-like islands of Palestinian-controlled areas, and the daily harassments and indignities of passing through security checkpoints. My own personal experience in the region confirms former President Jimmy Carter’s assessment that this is, in fact, a form of apartheid. Rabbi Arthur Waskow of the Shalom Center in Philadelphia—himself an outspoken opponent to BDS—says that Israel’s policy is “analogous to apartheid.” The fact that circumstances in the OT and apartheid-era South Africa are not identical does not eclipse the similarities.

        2. I see little evidence that the U.S. is willing to use its leverage to stop—much less reverse—the continued building of Israeli settlements in the OT. Every day, every week, every month, more and more land is expropriated, with little more than hand-wringing complaint from the U.S. There is a slow suffocation process going on. In fact, legislation is working its way through both the House and Senate which, if approved, will punish companies which adhere to the BDS principles, effectively codifying Israel’s legal claims on the OT. It is already illegal in Israel to advocate such boycotts.

        3. The Likud Party, along with other Israeli parties whose constituency includes significant numbers of Orthodox citizens, is opposed in principle to a two-state solution. It makes me a little crazy when Hamas is indicted for not recognizing the State of Israel when the opposite is also true.

        4. Just recently Netanyahu appointed Rabbi Eli Ben Dahan as his undersecretary of defense, responsible for administrating the OT. This is the man who, in 2013, stated publicly, “To me, they [Palestinians] are like animals, they aren’t human.” Furthermore, last month, Israel’s new deputy foreign minister, Tzipi Hotovely, said in her inaugural speech to Israeli diplomats that “We need to return to the basic truth of our rights to this country,” she said. “This land is ours. All of it is ours.”

        5. The question of whether the BDS movement will strain Jewish-Christians relations is indeed a painful one. It very well might. My sense, though, is that where such relations go deeper than parlor-game exercises, they will hold up in the face of this controversy.

        6. The first step in any attempt to transform conflict is to do an analysis of power relations between the conflicted parties. The fatality report of Israel’s 2014 invasion of Gaza is telling: over 2,100 Gazans were killed, 73 Israelis. Any “resolution” of a dispute where the power imbalance between parties is great will suspect.

        In short, the level of desperation in the Palestinian community is explosive. And I see zero prospects that the current frameworks for negotiation will remove the underlying cause. But I would greatly prefer to have a different perspective. Please help me see what I’m missing.

        Blessings on you and yours.

©Ken Sehested @

News, views, notes, and quotes

Signs of the Times  •  19 April 2018 •  No. 159

Special edition
EARTH DAY – 22 April 2018

Processional. “Pleni sunt caeli et terra gloria tua. Osanna, Osanna in excelsis.” (“Heaven and earth are full of thy glory. Hosanna, hosanna in the highest.”). —“The Ground,” by Ola Gjeilo, performed by the Heritage Concert Choir at Western Washington University

Invocation. “I thank You God for most this amazing / day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees / and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything / which is natural which is infinite which is yes.” —e.e. cummings

Testify. Watch my 3-year-old grandson, J.J., recite from memory e.e. cumming’s poem.

Call to worship. “Earth is so thick with divine possibility that it is a wonder we can walk anywhere without cracking our shins on altars.” —Barbara Brown Taylor

Hymn of praise. “Turn down your gaze upon the earth / Where is the One who never sleeps? / We call on One who guards you now / Your spirit safe in holy keep.” — Richard Bruxvoort Colligan, “God Is Holding Your Life” (Thanks Brian.)

¶ “The Earth—A Living Creature,” an amazing NASA Video. (1:28. Thanks David.)

¶ Take the quiz: “Earth Day Quiz.” —

¶ “Humanity’s total Ecological Footprint—a measure of global demand for natural resources—remained virtually constant in 2014 compared to 2013, according to new data released by Global Footprint Network today at an event at Oxford University. In another positive sign, the global Ecological Footprint per person actually decreased by 1.1 percent in 2014 compared to 2013. Still humanity’s demand for renewable resources remains 68 percent higher than what the planet can renew.” —“Has humanity’s Ecological Footprint reached its peak?” Global Footprint Network

Confession. If everyone in the world created as much trash as we do in the US, we would need at least four planets to meet our demand for natural resources and absorb our waste and pollution. ecoclean

Earth Day resources for local congregations

§ “Realm of earth, rule of Heaven: Bodified faith and environmental activism.”
        “The greatest failure in the history of Christian thought is the separation of souls from bodies, spirit from soil, the wrenching of hearts from habitation—all representing the abdication of the realm of earth from the rule of Heaven.”

§ "Earth Day: The link between Easter and Pentecost," a meditation.

        “Easter’s focus is always sharper when allied with Earth Day. We sing, properly, of being wayfaring strangers. “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor” (Deuteronomy 26:5) is among the oldest testimonies of fate and faith. We are indeed strangers; but not foreigners. In common usage these two words seem similar. Biblically speaking, though, the theological difference could not be greater.”

§ “All People That On Earth Do Dwell,” old hymn, new lyrics.

        "Though darkness threaten Love’s consent, Though feet, confounded, lose their way / Yet doth my heart rest, confident, Of Incarnation’s full display."

§ “Earth’s habitus: A meditation on creation,” a poem.

        “Creation is not simply the props and drops, / the costumes and orchestra, / the catwalks and footlights / on the stage of salvation’s drama. / Rather, creation is an active part / in history’s narration. / Without the cosmos, / Salvation’s story / cannot be comprehended.”

§ “Heaven’s Delight and Earth’s Repose,” a litany for worship inspired by Psalm 145

        “Worthy, worthy the One who conceived the earth and gave birth to bears and basil and beatitudes alike. / We extol you, Heaven’s Delight and Earth’s Repose! / So now, every hill and habitation, every honey bee and human heart, rejoice and give thanks.”

§ “Satisfy the earth,” a litany for worship on Earth Day

        “In the beginning the Verdant One saw everything that was made, and behold, it was lavish and delightful. (Genesis 1:31) / The earth is satisfied with the fruit of God’s greening hand. (Psalm 104:13) / Let the heavens be glad and the earth applaud. Let the sea roar, and the field exult, and all trees of the forest rejoice. (Psalm 96:11-12)”

 § “The earth is satisfied,” a litany for worship on Earth Day.

        “From the earth’s rich soil our souls emerge. With creation’s Breath our lungs are filled. / Even as the envoys of peace weep, when the rocks tremble and the ground itself mourns, say aloud: God is worth the trouble! / The earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work!”

§ "Go out in joy," a litany for worship adapted from St. Francis' "Canticle of the Sun" and related Scripture texts.

        “What is it you wish to know, oh mortal one? / Do you think you must ascend to the highest heaven or descend to the deepest pit? / Do you not know that Wisdom has pitched a tent in your midst? / Ask the four-legged, and they will mentor you, or the winged-of-air, and they will school you.”

§ “Covenant-making on Earth Day,” a sample pledge statement to encourage concrete practices to sustain the earth.

§ “The earth is the Lord’s," a collection of biblical texts which reveal the non-human parts of creation responding to God’s presence, promise and purpose.

§ “The earth is the Lord’s,” a litany for use in worship on Earth Day.

        “Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it; let the fields exult and all the trees sing for joy. / The mountains beheld the Beloved, and writhed; the deep bellowed and pummeled the air with its waves.”

§ “Pacem in terris,” a poem.

        “We seek no flight to another terrain / for it is this very domain— / every meadow’s shadow, every peak’s brow, / every river’s careen, every furrow’s plough— / which asserts heaven’s riposte to hades’ advance. / ‘Thy will . . . on earth.’”

§ “Set our hearts on fire,” a litany for worship inspired by Psalm 65.

        “Oh, visit the earth, ask her to join the dance! Coax rain from the sky. Drench thirsty fields awaiting your touch, ready the land for blossom and fruit. Burden every stalk with grain sufficient to satisfy the hunger of all.”

§ “Life began in a garden,” a collection of quotes on gardents.

         “For the Lord will comfort Zion; God will comfort all her waste places, and will make her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the voice of song." —Isaiah 51:3

§ “Holy Great Smokies,” a call to worship recalling the mountain sites of covenant and confrontation in Scripture.

        “Great are you, O God, and greatly to be praised. Your holy Great Smokies are the joy of all the earth. Break forth in singing, you Sierra Madres, you forests and every wild flower. . . . / Come, let us go up to Grandfather Mountain. There the Beloved will teach us the ways of righteousness that we may walk on the path of mercy.”

Right: Art by Meinrad Craighead.

Hymn of supplication. “I see the bad moon a-rising / I see trouble on the way / I see earthquakes and lightning / I see bad times today / I hear hurricanes a-blowing / I know the end is coming soon / I fear rivers overflowing / I hear the voice of rage and ruin.” —Credence Clearwater Revival, “Bad Moon Rising

Words of assurance. “This fruit does make my soul to thrive / It keeps my dying faith alive / This fruit does make my soul to thrive / It keeps my dying faith alive / Which makes my soul in haste to be / With Jesus Christ the apple tree.” —“Jesus Christ the Apple Tree,” sung by the Choir of King's College, Cambridge (Thanks Mike.)

Earth overshoot day. In 2017, the combination of consumption and waste production “overshot” Earth’s capacity in early August. In other words, we spent the Earth’s annual sustainable “budget” in less than two-thirds of the year. Learn more from this video (3:35) from Sustainability Illustrated.

Professing our faith. "The resurrection places Jesus on this side of the grave, here and now, in the midst of this life.  The Good News of the resurrection is not that we shall die and go home with him but that he is risen and comes home with us, bringing all his hungry, naked, thirsty, sick, prisoner brothers with him." —Clarence Jordan

Short story. "What a sight to see! Grandma coming home from church in her Sunday best, stepping out of her car carrying a large green trash bag, bulging with empty beer cans, bottles and sandwich wrappers. 'What in the world are you doing?' I gulped. 'Cleaning up the lane,' Grandma said matter-of-factly: 'To me the world is God's cathedral, darling. I'm just tidying my pew.'" —from Guideposts magazine

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

A more accurate way of reading 2 Corinthians 5:17—“When a man is in Christ, he is a new creature. . .”—is this: “When anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation.”

By the numbers. “Americans throw away enough garbage every day to fill 63,000 garbage trucks. That's enough garbage in a year, that if we lined the garbage trucks end to end they would reach half way to the moon. That averages to about 7 pounds per person each day.” —“Garbage: Facts,” Idaho Public Television

Short take. “While waiting to get my prescription filled, another woman at the counter asks about getting her credit card back from the clerk, but then realizes she already had. ‘I’m just back from a spiritual retreat—I’m not quite down to earth yet.’” —Ken Sehested

Preach it. In his sermon, ‘The Cedar has fallen: the Prophetic Word versus Imperial Clear-Cutting,’ Ched Myers “traces the ecological disaster of the clear cutting of Lebanon’s cedars with a moving litany from the Bible itself, with the political implications (‘there was blood on the cedars that figured so prominently in Solomon’s temple and his own royal house’ (p 217), the cedars a metaphor for empire itself. ‘The bible takes sides on behalf of the trees’” (p 222). —Vern Ratzlaff’s review of David Rhoads’ book, Earth and Word: Classic Sermons on Saving the Planet 

Some short quotes on the earthiness of spirituality.

§ “Holy persons draw to themselves all that is earthly.” —Hildegard of Bingen

§ “Everybody wants to save the earth; nobody wants to help Mom with the dishes.” —P.J. O'Rourke

§ “Rabbi Yochanan said: The Holy One, blessed-be-He, declared: 'I will not enter the heavenly Jerusalem until I enter the earthly Jerusalem.’” —Talmud, Taanit 5a

§ “Those who believe and humble themselves before their Lord, they will be companions of the garden.” —Qur’an, Sutra 11:23

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

§ “But, if by some miracle and all our struggle, the earth is spared, only justice to every living thing will save humankind.” —Alice Walker

 § “Heaven is not some alternative to earth, allowing us to sit lightly to earth's fate. Heaven, eternal life, is a way of speaking about the quality of life that God intends for the earth. —Douglas John Hall

§ “This we know. The earth does not belong to people. People belong to the earth. This we know. All things are connected. Whatever befalls the earth, befalls the people of the earth. We did not weave the web of life. We are but a mere strand in it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.” —Chief Seattle

§ “Even after all this time the sun never says to the earth, ‘You owe Me.’ Look what happens with a love like that. It lights up the whole sky.” —Hafiz, 14th century Persian poet

§ “Earth's crammed with heaven, / And every common bush afire with God; / But only he who sees, / takes off his shoes.” —Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Can’t makes this sh*t up. “Trump Names BP Oil Spill Lawyer, Climate Policy Foe as Top DOJ Environment Attorney.” Marianne Lavelle & John H. Cushman Jr., Inside Climate News (Thanks Betsy.)

Call to the table. “The earth is, in fact, in the heavens.” —Carl Sagan

The state of our disunion. “The meek shall inherit the earth, but that does not say anything about mineral rights under the earth.” — American industrialist J. Paul Getty

Best one-liner. “A theology that is not earthed in an experience of faith tends toward a bland form of religious metaphysics.” —David Crutchley

For the beauty of the earth. The 100 greatest owl pictures. —brightside.Me

Altar call. “God is not in his heaven and all's well on the earth. He is on this earth and all hell's broke loose!” —Clarence Jordan

Benediction. “Deep peace of the running wave to you, / Deep peace of the flowing air to you, / Deep peace of the quiet earth to you, / Deep peace of the shining stars to you, / Deep peace of the gentle night to you, / Moon and stars pour their healing light on you, / Deep peace of Christ, of Christ, / Of Christ the light of the world to you, / Deep peace of Christ to you.” —Gaelic blessing

Recessional.A Gaelic Blessing,” John Rutter, performed by The Cambridge Singers. 

Just for fun. World’s Worst Sheepdog(0:38 video. Thanks David.)

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

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Come again and feed the earth

A litany for worship inspired by IEzekiel 34:11-22.

by Ken Sehested

Enough! says the Insurgent of Heaven. I’ve had enough of your bank-bailing politicians and private-jetting executives! Enough of your trickle-down economies and your holiday-charity binges! Enough of your bloated-budget militaries and gated-community developers! Enough of your water-wasting, soil-squandering, air-fouling habits!

Hear, oh people of provident pasture: Judgment is coming. Heaven’s Reign and earth’s regimes are destined for collision.

You who feed on good pasture, why must you trample every meadow? You who drink pure water, why must you muddy the entire stream?

Hear, oh people of provident pasture: Judgment is coming. Heaven’s Reign and earth’s regimes are destined for collision.

You who are gathered secure, why must you shove others into dark distress? You safekept citizens, why must you shut your sanctuary border?

Hear, oh people of provident pasture: Judgment is coming. Heaven’s Reign and earth’s regimes are destined for collision.

The One who comes will find the lost, honor the least, heal the lame and restore all who languish in anguish.

Come again and feed the earth, oh Master of Rapture and Mistress of Delight! Restore your Realm devoid of fright. No fat; no lean; no shunned or unclean. Every throttled voice rejoice!

©Ken Sehested @

Covenant-making on Earth Day

A sample pledge statement to encourage concrete practices to sustain the earth

My Earth Day commitment
For renewing my intent to care for the earth

My name: ___________________________________________________________________________


Here is what I promise for the coming year: ________________________________________________________


1. The British theologian Collin Morris wrote, “The best that most of us can do is to take hold of the near edge of some great problem and act at cost to ourselves.” Making one or more specific commitments—to things that require concerted effort and at least a bit of inconvenience—is how we grow into the people we want to be.

2. Your commitment may involve renewing and expanding habits you already practice or resolving to start something new. It might be large and ambitious; but it will more likely be something modest and incremental. Being concrete and persistent are the most important things. And it will always involve some cost—money or time or attention (frequently all three).

3. Think of the now-familiar trilogy of recommendations: reduce, reuse, recycle. Then add a fourth observation: refusebreak habits of mindless consumption. And add to these watchwords a fifth word: rejoicefostering a vision of Creation's blessedness granted at the beginning: "God saw everything that was made, and indeed, it was delightful" (Genesis 1:31: the English words "very good" fail to convey the outright glee of the Hebrew text).

4. Work at changing personal habits should always be paired, in some part, with work changing public policies. If everyone in the world started, miraculously, a serious commitment to recycling, that would not be enough to stave off ecological catastrophe. Whether local, regional, national or international, find some way to join in collective effort with others in changing the policies which permit environmental destruction.

5. Making promises helps align our intentions with our behavior. They also serve as reminders that, when we fail, grace to start again is available. We all act ourselves into new ways of thinking more than we think ourselves into new ways of acting. Remember that these choices are spiritual practices: what we most need to learn comes as a result of the commitments we pursue.

6. The web has many sites with specific ideas to consider. Do a search for “earth care ideas” or similar wording.

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©Ken Sehested @

News, views, notes, and quotes

Signs of the Times  •  11 April 2018 •  No. 158

Processional.For the Love of God” by Steve Vai, performed by Tina S.

Above: Mount Fuji, Japan, photographed from the International Space Station, February 8, 2016.

Invocation. “Ribbons, pearls, golden flags / The Messiah, son of David, is above us / He holds a goblet in his right hand  / And gives his blessing to the whole earth / Amen and amen, this is the truth / The Messiah will come this year.” —English translation of “Shnirele perele,” performed by Pharaoh’s Daughter

¡Sí, se puede! Happy birthday, Dolores Huerta. Born April 10, 1930, Huerta is an American labor leader and civil rights activist who, with Cesar Chavez, was the co-founder of the Farm Workers (UFW). Huerta helped organize the Delano grape strike in 1965 in California and was the lead negotiator in the workers’ contract that was created after the strike. She is the one who began using the Spanish phrase Sí, se puede (“yes it can be done”) in union rallies and marches, which became the motto of the UFW.

Right: Dolores Huerta, center, walks with Rick Miera, left, and New Mexico Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero during the two-mile 25th annual César Chávez March for Justice on 7 April. Photo by Marla Brose, Albuquerque Journal.

Call to worship. “Turn the other cheek he’d plead, / Love thy neighbor was his creed, / Pain humiliation death, he did not dread / Will the murders never cease, / Are thy men or are they beasts? / What do they ever hope, ever hope to gain? / Will my country fall, stand or fall? / Is it too late for us all? / And did Martin Luther King just die in vain?” —Nina Simone, “Why (The King of Love Is Dead).” Nina Simone and her band performed this song three days after Dr. King was murdered, having learned the song, written by her bass player Gene Taylor, that very day. This version (5:41) is abbreviated from the original, was much longer version (12:57).

Yom HaShoah (aka “Holocaust Remembrance Day,” more formally “Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day”) is observed one week after the end of Passover, this year beginning at sundown on Wednesday 11 April, the date linked to the anniversary of the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto uprising. Increasingly, the word Shoah (“calamity”) is preferred because holocaust has historical roots in the Hebrew word olah, meaning “completely burnt offering to God,” with the implication that Jews and other “undesirables” murdered by the Nazis during World War II were a sacrifice to God.

Profession of faith. “I have looked our destruction, our miserable end, straight in the eye and accepted it into my life, and my love of life has not been diminished. I am not bitter or rebellious, or in any way discouraged. . . . My life has been extended by death, by accepting destruction as part of life and no longer wasting my energies on fear of death or refusal to acknowledge its inevitability. It sounds paradoxical: by excluding death from our life we cannot live a full life, and by admitting death into our life we enlarge and enrich it.” —Etty Hillesum, An Interrupted Life. A Dutch Jew, Hillesum died at age 29 in Auschwitz, the Nazi concentration camp, in 1943. Her story been referred to as the adult counterpart to that of Anne Frank.

Prayer of confession. “Dear God: We confess that it is beyond our capacity to imagine the magnitude and meaning of the holocaust of the Jews. Hunted. Hounded. Herded. Shot. Gassed. Starved. Worked to death. Incinerated. We acknowledge that many among those who devised and implemented this unspeakable horror were those who breathed your Name in their liturgy of carnage.” —continue reading “Shoah prayer,” for use by Christians on Holocaust Remembrance Day

Hymn of praise. “Holy, holy, holy Lord / God of power and might / Heaven and earth are full of Your Glory / Hosanna in the highest.” —English translation of lyrics to “Sanctus” by Karl Jenkins, performed by the Orchestra of the Welsh National Opera and four Welsh choirs

Right: Beverly Langley, right, hands out water and encouragement as Oklahoma teachers march to Oklahoma City. Photograph: Mike Elk for the Guardian.

Good news. “We aren’t gonna shut up, we aren’t done, this movement has gelled us together. We are ready to fight for our kids for the long haul. We have power together.”

        So said Madeline Jacobsen, third-grade teacher, one of 150 Oklahoma teachers who marched 110 miles from Tulsa to the state capitol in Oklahoma City, calling attention to underpaid teachers and underfunded schools.

        Afterwards, the First Christian Church of Chandler hosted them for a special service. Though they come from different faith traditions, “they have developed a faith in each other.” —for more see Mike Elk, The Guardian

Testify.We’re Educators in Oklahoma. Our Faith Compels Us to Walk Out.” —Alan Parker & Janet Bentz Parker, Sojourners

¶ “Teachers across the country are striking and protesting en masse, shutting down school systems and putting the pressure on state lawmakers to meet their demands.” —for more see Sean Rossman, USAToday and Josh Eidelson, Bloomberg

 ¶ “Teachers in the U.S. are paid about 30% less than other comparably educated workers in the economy, and this gap is larger than most other industrialized countries. . . .”

        “Nationally, inflation-adjusted teacher salaries are down nearly 5% since the onset of the recession, and all of the protesting states have seen reductions of 6% or more from their peak. . . .”

        “Combining these salary reductions with increases in health insurance premiums and contributions to retirement benefits—both of which have fallen more on teachers’ shoulders over the last decade—means that most teachers have significantly less in take-home pay than they used to.” —Michael Hansen, “Hidden factors contributing to teacher strikes in Oklahoma, Kentucky, and beyond,” Brookings

Left: Artwork by Dan Trabue.

Hymn of supplication.Djelem Djelem,” Žarko Jovanović, performed by Barcelona Gipsy Klezmer Orchestra. The song, in the Romani language, tells about the atrocities Roma people suffered in World War II and the rise of the Roma people to come. (Click the “show more” button for more background.)

Bill Maher is not my favorite talk show host. But he absolutely nails it in this scathing commentary (5:35 video) about the inadequacy of public school teachers’ salary. (Thanks Bill.)

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

¶ As the Economic Policy Institute reports, teachers “are burdened by growing pay inequities. Over the last two decades, teachers are contributing more and more toward health care and retirement costs as their pay falls further behind. Teacher pay (accounting for inflation) actually fell by $30 per week from 1996 to 2015, while pay for other college graduates increased by $124.”  Jeff Bryant, commondreams

Right: Jennifer Hanner, a first-year teacher from Harts, W.Va., held a sign Thursday outside the state Senate chambers in Charleston, West Virginia. Teachers statewide went on strike Thursday over pay and benefits. (John Raby/AP)

Hymn of intercession. Baba Yetu” (“The Lord’s Prayer” in Swahili), Angel City Chorale.

¶ “Why America’s Schools Have a Money Problem,” by Cory Turner from National Public Radio, explains a basic level of injustice in school funding: The surrounding tax base plays a significant role. Simply put, schools in wealthier districts reap greater benefits than those in poorer districts.

Courage is contagious. “I think the #MeToo movement has even really propelled us forward.” —52-year-old Radonn Broeffle Musgrove, 31-year teaching veteran, on the Oklahoma teachers’ march

For more background on the starving of public education. “The teacher crisis has been brewing for more than a decade. The recession hurt local tax receipts, which led to a cut in school funding and teacher layoffs. Nationally, teacher pay is 1.6% below their average earnings in 1999 and 5% lower than their 2009 pay, adjusted for inflation, according to the Department of Education.” Aimee Picchi, CBSNews (Thanks Susan.)

Hymn of resolution. “If I can help somebody, as I travel along / If I can help somebody, with a word or song / If I can help somebody, from doing wrong / No, my living shall not be in vain.” —“If I Can Help Somebody,” performed by Memphis' Cordova High School Concert Singers exactly 50 years after King's assassination in their city. (Thanks Kimberly.)

Preach it. Responding on Facebook to news that Trump has pledged federal funds to train teachers to carry weapons, my friend Sally Sandidge writes:

        “They should be armed all right. Armed with paid off student loans. Armed with a professional level salary. Armed with schools that have social workers. Armed with schools that have homework help centers during after care or free time. Armed with paraprofessionals that can go into the class when the teacher, or a child, needs a time out. Armed with raised garden beds, musical instruments and dance lessons. Armed with a community that cares a lot more about a child than a test score. The teachers need to be armed all right with every weapon available to fight the fight.”

Can’t makes this sh*t up. “Text neck” is becoming a medical issue that countless people suffer from, and the way we hang our heads has other health risks, too, according to a report published last year in The Spine Journal.” Adam Popescu, New York Times (Thanks Jo.)

Call to the table. “I have bled on half of these women.” —Madeline Jacobsen, third-grade teacher from Tulsa, after Oklahoma teachers marched the 110 miles from Tulsa to the state capitol in Oklahoma City to demand increased support for public education. She was referencing the blisters most of them developed during the walk.

The state of our disunion. “Food shaming” public school children—who get behind in paying their lunchroom cost—has gotten to the point that state legislators are passing legislation to outlaw all such stigmatizing action. In March 2017 New Mexico was the first to enact such legislation. In 2016 a Canon-McMillan, Pa., school district lunchroom staffer, Stacy Koltiska, resigned her job instead of refusing to provide a student’s meal. “As a Christian, I have an issue with this,” said Koltiska, of Canonsburg, Pa. “It’s sinful and shameful is what it is.” T. Rees Shapiro, New York Times

Best one-liner. “True national security begins within our borders, in the health and education of our people.” —former Oregon Republican Senator Mark O. Hatfield (1922-2011)

For the beauty of the earth. Dance of the Peacock Spider, with accompanying soundtrack.  (3:01 video. Thanks David.)

Altar call. Franz Schubert’s “Serenade,” performed on guitar by Shin-icki Fukuda, with video of scenes from Jewish victims of Nazi terror. The song was played many times by Jewish musicians in concentration camps.

Benediction.Shalom Alechem” (“Peace Be With You”), Barcelona Gipsy Klezmer Orchestra.

Recessional.Hallelujah,” Ken Medema, with new lyrics drawn from Psalm 23 and sung to Leonard’s Cohen’s tune.

Lectionary for this Sunday. “Beloved, what we will be has not yet been revealed.” —1 John 3:2

Lectionary for Sunday next. “The Lord’s my shepherd, I’ll not want / Green pastures rise and from the font / Flow waters, ever gentle, to surround me / My soul restored, my heart aflame / My feet will walk and for that Name / My lungs will lift to sing, Hallelujah.” Ken Sehested, new lyrics drawn from Psalm 23 sung to the tune of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”

Just for fun. You’ve seen the videos of thousands of dominoes falling. But this creative genius actually creates art and not just spectacle. (Thanks David.)

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Featured this week on prayer&politiks

• “Like shooting fish in a barrel,” brief commentary and background to Israeli Defense Forces’ killing of Palestinians in Gaza

• “Cuba’s Historic Crossroads: A new president—one not named Castro—will soon take office,” commentary by Stan Hastey

• “Earth Day resourcesfor local congregations

©Ken Sehested @ 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 “prayer&” 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


Cuba’s Historic Crossroads

A new president—one not named Castro—will soon take office

By Stan Hastey

            Cuba stands at a crossroads unlike any other in the 59 years since a rebel army headed by Fidel Castro and his younger brother, Raul, defeated the supposedly far superior armed forces under the command of Fulgencio Batista. Batista, the last in a series of corrupt and repressive Cuban presidents backed and kept in power by the United States for the previous half century, fled the island nation as three columns of rebel soldiers bore down on Havana during Christmas week 1958. Declaring victory on New Year’s Day 1959, the three commanding officers—Raul Castro, Ernesto (Che) Guevara, and Camilo Cienfuegos—welcomed Fidel to Havana one week later, where the charismatic leader formally declared victory before a massive crowd of supporters convinced that a new day had dawned on the economically and educationally deprived nation.

Right: Cubans voting in precinct elections, November 2018.

            Among the undeniably significant achievements of the Castro brothers’ revolution have been the virtual elimination of illiteracy by means of a system of public education funded and overseen by the government from kindergarten through university graduate studies and a public health system premised on prevention that boasts a lower infant mortality rate than that of the United States. These are measurable successes.

            Yet another and overriding factor, this one immeasurable, has kept the Castro regime in power for the past two generations, namely, a fiercely held sense of nationalism that has persevered against all efforts by the U.S. to secure its demise. These include dozens, if not hundreds, of attempts by the Central Intelligence Agency to assassinate Fidel Castro and one failed invasion of Cuba undertaken by CIA-backed Cuban Americans at the aptly named Bay of Pigs.

            Toward the end of a long battle with an undisclosed gastrointestinal disorder, Fidel Castro in 2008 conferred power as head of state onto his brother Raul, who then was ratified as president by Cuba’s unicameral legislative body, the National Assembly of People’s Power. Nearly five years younger than his more celebrated brother, Raul announced last November that he will step down on April 19, 2018.

            On the most recent of my more than 30 visits to Cuba over the past 25 years, I sensed a restlessness in friends of long standing who over time have offered the benefit of their perspectives on their nation to this eager observer. Some of these have been openly supportive of the “revolutionary project.” Others have been either privately or publicly critical of the “excesses” of the Revolution. Most have verbalized both satisfaction and criticism, a not uncommon assessment of the state of their country. Their current unease has to do with uncertainty over the political future of Cuba, and specifically over the identity of Raul’s successor.

Left: US President Barack Obama arriving on Air Force One at the Jose Marti International Airport in Havana, 17 March 2016. Photo by Jose Luis Casal.

            What is known is that Cuba’s next president will be a communist who will not be popularly elected by citizens at large. As in Raul Castro’s selection to succeed his brother, the National Assembly will select the younger Castro brother’s successor. That alone will be a more than sufficient reason for the Trump administration to maintain a hard line on U.S.-Cuba relations. Although this is a story unto itself, here in brief is what this harder line is about.

            In December 2014, former President Barack Obama and Cuba’s President Raul Castro announced jointly a series of major changes in bilateral policies, the most significant and visible of which was the normalization of diplomatic relations between the countries. This was a dramatic reversal of the longstanding enmity between the two, dating to 1961 and President John F. Kennedy’s executive order severing relations. For the first time in six decades, the United States flag was to fly at a newly reopened U.S. embassy in Havana, while the Cuban flag was to go up at Cuba’s embassy in Washington.

            Sometimes referred to as “the Cuban thaw,” the new agreement was formalized on July 20, 2015, with the implementation of the joint Castro-Obama declaration. Besides renewing diplomatic relations, most travel restrictions were lifted on U.S. citizens’ travel to Cuba, the prohibition of remittances from the U.S. to Cuban banks was suspended, and some commercial restrictions were likewise ended.

            But relations reverted to nearly-Cold War status on June 16, 2017, scarcely five months into the administration of Donald Trump, when the newly inaugurated president issued an executive order of his own reinstating most travel restrictions and suspending commercial liberalization. Most of our diplomats at the U.S. embassy in Havana were recalled, and Trump ordered the expulsion of most of the Cuban diplomatic corps in Washington. Yet Trump chose not to break off diplomatic relations outright, an omission that did not go down well with wealthy Cuban American supporters, especially in south Florida, who accused him of failing to fulfill a more dramatic course of action promised them during the 2016 election campaign.

            During my most recent trip to Cuba in January, close friends there told me bluntly they don’t know what to expect with Raul Castro’s imminent retirement. Empathizing with their plight, I told them that in a very real sense many of us U.S. citizens feel the same way about our future under a Trump administration. In a way we reflect their uncertainty, albeit with significant variations. What is indisputable is that whomever the Cuban parliament selects as Cuba’s new president following nearly six decades during which the name Castro has followed the word “President,” bilateral relations between the United States and Cuba are newly imperiled for the foreseeable future.

            Still, this new reality does not get those of us who seek a new day in U.S.-Cuba relations off the hook. Led by groups such as the Latin America Working Group in Washington, an Alliance of Baptists partner organization, we will continue to seek a more fulsome and healthy future. We’ll continue to press for the lifting of restrictions on our travel to Cuba. We’ll lobby our government to restore the U.S. embassy in Havana to a full complement of consular officers so that Cubans wishing to travel to the U.S. will have at least an even chance of doing so. We’ll continue to demand that the Trump administration allow the Cuban embassy on 16th Street in Washington to be fully staffed in order to provide the full range of services that countries with normal diplomatic relations are supposed to provide to citizens of both countries.

            Finally and hardest of all, we need to bring unrelenting pressure on members of Congress to repeal the infamous Helms-Burton Act of 1996 making our economic embargo a matter of public law – understandably labeled a “blockade” by Cuba. That law, we need to remember, was enacted in the white-heat reaction of Congress to the shooting down of two small planes over international waters just off the Cuban coast. The government of Fidel Castro had warned the U.S. repeatedly that it would take such action unless the planes, owned and operated by an incorrigible group of fiercely anti-Castro Cuban Americans in Miami called “Brothers to the Rescue,” ceased and desisted from flying over Havana and other Cuban towns and cities dropping anti-Castro leaflets upon them. In fact, shortly before they were shot down on that fateful day, one of the two apparently had wandered into Cuba’s air space.

            Both houses of Congress acted swiftly and decisively. In the Senate, the vote to formalize the embargo – until then enforced by a long succession of presidential executive orders – was 96-4. President Bill Clinton signed Helms-Burton, which now can be brought down only by congressional action and the signature of another U.S. president. This is a tall order, to be sure, especially in the Trump era, fraught as it is with foreign policy crises spanning the globe.

            Yet this is a winnable fight. Many Republican governors, especially those in states whose commerce is dominated by agriculture, long ago joined the battle to liberalize trade relations with Havana. Such interests include, for example, the US Rice Producers Association representing producers of rice in six states. For years Cuba has imported about two-thirds of the rice consumed on the island from Vietnam and China. The rice producers want in on that market. They envision shiploads of rice going from Mobile, Ala., to Havana (not coincidentally, Mobile and Havana are sister cities); from Miami to Matanzas, Cuba; from New Orleans to Santiago de Cuba. And rice is but one example, as wheat- and corn-producing states in our Midwest likewise seek access to the Cuban market.

            Along with an impressive range of religious bodies, colleges and universities, and a host of other interested parties, we belong to a strong and growing lobbying effort in Washington seeking fundamental changes in U.S.-Cuba relations. Although we’ve all joined the fray from different perspectives, our mutual objective is clear. We seek a radically new approach in U.S. relations with Cuba, a small nation we have exploited in every way imaginable for far too long.

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Stan Hastey, a constitutional scholar, frequent traveler to and observer of U.S.-Cuban relations, was the first fulltime director of the Alliance of Baptists where he served for 20 years until his retirement in 2009.

Also by Stan Hastey: “Reflections on Changes in US-Cuba Relations” (Parts 1 & 2)

Other prayer&politiks articles on, about, or from Cuba:

 • “Thirty-five interesting facts about Cuba and its US relations,” by Ken Sehested

 • Special issue of “Signs of the Times” (31 January 2018) on Cuba’s electoral process

• “Bring Down the Wall in the Caribbean: A resolution in support of renewed diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba,” a United Church of Christ Synod resolution

 Martin Luther King Jr. in Cuba: A Cuban pastor's story of King's influence,” Rev. by Francisco Rodés

 • “A Cuban pastor responds to President Obama's visit,” by Rev. Eduardo Gonzalez

 • “Background to the touch down: President Barack Obama's historic visit to Cuba,” by Ken Sehested

• “Holy Obedience: One Christian’s story of civil disobedience (calling for the closure of Guantánamo Bay prison)”

• “My Sling is That of David: US-Cuba Relations as an emerging agenda,” by Ken Sehested

 • “Asheville Congregations Sends Delegation to Cuba

 • “While Washing My Daughter's Feet,” by Kiran Sigmon, following a visit to Cuba

 • “Humbling, Sacred Moments:A Report on One Congregation’s Visit to Cuba,” by Beth Maczka

Reflections on Changes in US-Cuba Relations

by Stan Hastey, guest columnist

Part One

       Growing up in Mexico as a missionary kid gave me a different perspective on my native land. Whether always welcomed or not, I could not help but filter my own early sense of patriotism through the lenses of classmates. Their take on the United States was that of the colossus to the North that had stolen a huge section of their country in an illegitimate war and given it a new name—Texas.

       When Fidel Castro and his revolutionary compatriots seized control of Cuba on January 1, 1959, I was 14. In Torreón, the city in northern Mexico where my family lived during my junior and senior high school years (except for 11th grade in 1960-1961 when I attended Polytechnic High School in Fort Worth) spontaneous street celebrations broke out. It would take me a good while longer to understand better why Mexicans took such glee in the triumph of the Castro brothers, Che Guevara and the other bearded firebrands on a Caribbean island most of them never dreamed of visiting.

       What the crowds in Torreón and countless other cities and towns throughout Latin America were cheering was that an apparently rag-tag bunch of indigenous dreamers had run off a military dictator put in power by the United States of America. (This brings to mind another bit of hubris that we U.S. citizens tend to have, that of referring to the USA as “America” as though we owned the entire continent. My school friends, by the way, liked to make the point that the formal name of their country is the “United States of Mexico.”)

       Decades later, as leader of the Alliance of Baptists, I would have the extraordinary privilege of visiting Cuba 30 times, often in the company of delegations from Alliance-affiliated churches exploring partnerships with congregations of the Fraternidad de Iglesias Bautistas de Cuba. Nothing I did during 20 years with the Alliance gave me greater satisfaction.

       Often when speaking in Alliance churches about our Cuba connections, questions would be raised about why Cubans would put up with a communist dictatorship that had resulted in frequently severe deprivations of even the most basic of commodities. Reflecting on such inquiries, it occurred to me one day that on Cuba’s historical time line, the only period during which modern Cuba has been ruled by Cubans is 1959 forward. (By “modern” I mean since Christopher Columbus’ first landing in 1492 as he sought a route to India. Truly indigenous native peoples had lived in what is now Cuba for centuries before Columbus’ two visits.)

       In other words, Cubans themselves have been in charge of their own destiny for a mere 56 years of the 522-year colonial and post-colonial history of the island. As US citizens it is simply impossible for us to understand the depth of nationalistic fervor in Cuba about this historical legacy.

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Part Two

       Long gone is the immediate euphoria many sensed last December when President Raúl Castro of Cuba and U.S. President Barack Obama announced jointly from Havana and Washington that diplomatic ties between the long-estranged nations were to be restored. Since then the two leaders have met in what was reported as a significant exchange of views during the Summit of the Americas in Panama in April. In addition to this face-to-face encounter between heads of state, diplomatic teams from both countries have met twice—first in Havana, then in Washington—in what have been described as frank and difficult discussions.

        No one should be surprised, let alone dismayed, that the negotiations have been tense. After all, 50-plus years of outright hostilities cannot be undone in the course of a few meetings. Both governments are under pressure from factions within their own countries to preserve the status quo.

        Specifically on the U.S. side, the pieces of the proposed new relationship requiring congressional approval face determined opposition within key committees on both sides of Capitol Hill. In the Senate, Committee on Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker of Tennessee must deal with fierce opposition from two Cuban Americans on his panel—fellow Republican and announced presidential candidate Marco Rubio of Florida and the ranking Democrat, Robert Menendez of New Jersey. The latter was Corker’s predecessor as committee chairman before Republicans gained control of the Senate last year. For his part, Corker is one of only a handful of Republican senators whose inclinations are to bridge differences and produce results.

        Should Corker be inclined to move legislation dealing with U.S.-Cuba relations, he can count on the unabashed support of fellow Republican Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, who for years has advocated the normalization of diplomatic and economic ties with Cuba. Flake is not the only Republican senator who wants to see an end to antiquated policies that hurt both countries. Numerous others are from states where farmers are hurting for overseas markets to sell their produce. Virtually every national association of farmers long has lobbied hard for the restoration of economic ties. Some of the most intense pressure has been directed at senators from southern states that comprise the rice belt.

        For years, Republican governors of some of these states likewise have themselves lobbied Washington to remove trade barriers that hurt their economies. Among these is Alabama, whose port city of Mobile is the sister city to Havana, Cuba’s capital. Cuba imports 70 percent of the rice consumed by the island’s 11 million people, most of it from China and Vietnam. Common sense has it that Cuba would pay a lot less to have rice shipped from Mobile to Havana, thus benefiting both the island’s economy and that of rice farmers in Alabama.

        Another clear example of the same economic incentive for restored trade is Louisiana. Now that the shipping industry in and around New Orleans is flourishing following years of slow recovery from Hurricane Katrina’s devastation, ships moving goods from the Crescent City to Havana would amount to a boon to Louisiana’s economy, as well as that of several Midwestern states that ship corn, wheat and other agricultural produce down the Mississippi to the Port of New Orleans. Governors of both parties from these states long have pressured Washington to restore relations, knowing that trade with Cuba would provide relief to their beleaguered farm industries.

        Unfortunately, prospects for favorable action in the House of Representatives are more troublesome, particularly within the lower chamber’s Committee on Foreign Affairs. Panel Chairman Edward R. Royce of California repeatedly has scolded President Obama since the announcement last December that the administration would seek to renew diplomatic relations with Havana. Besides Royce, the House panel includes Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Cuban American whose opposition to the Castro regime is legendary. A former chairwoman of the committee, Royce refers to her as “Chairman Emeritus.”

        Further, Ros-Lehtinen sits on the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, whose ranking minority member is Rep. Albio Sires of New Jersey, another Cuban American long opposed to changes in U.S. policy toward Cuba. The subcommittee chairman, Rep. Jeff Duncan of South Carolina, also is fiercely opposed to normalizing relations with Havana.

        In addition, the House Committee on Appropriations will have to approve funds in President Obama’s budget to reopen a U.S. embassy in Cuba as well as any other changes in policy requiring tax dollars. Although Chairman Hal Rogers of Kentucky takes a measured approach toward renewed relations with Cuba, he must deal with and somehow accommodate another Cuban American member, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Miami, a determined foe of any liberalization in U.S.-Cuba policy. Further, Diaz-Balart is a key player on the Appropriations subcommittee that would first approve funds needed for liberalizing relations. That panel’s chairwoman, Rep. Kay Granger of Texas, is yet another outspoken Republican opposing changes in Cuba policy.

        Despite all these challenges, the conventional wisdom in Washington is that the new policies now in process of implementation will take hold and carry the day in the end. One reason for such hope is the key role being played by Pope Francis, who personally met with and helped persuade Raúl Castro and Barack Obama to seek to normalize diplomatic and economic ties. By now it is clear that when this pope speaks even heads of state listen.

        Another reason for hope is the skill of Cuba specialists in Washington who long have lobbied for significant changes in U.S. policy with our Caribbean neighbor. One of the best of these is Mavis Anderson of the Latin America Working Group, a partner organization with the Alliance of Baptists. For the past two decades, the Alliance has depended on and supported the LAWG in its tireless efforts lobbying Congress and a succession of administrations of both parties to normalize relations with Havana.

Rev. Dr. Stan Hastey, a veteran Cuba traveler and US-Cuba policy analyst, is the interim preaching minister at First Baptist Church, Washington, DC. He served for 20 years as director of the Alliance of Baptists.

Cuba’s historic electoral process November 2017 – April 2018

For the first time since its revolution, Cuba will not have a president named Castro

by Ken Sehested

        You will be excused for not knowing that Cuba is in the midst of a historic electoral process which, when completed, will feature a Cuban president not named Castro. (It’s quite possible you didn’t even know Cuba had elections.)

        The process began on 26 November 2017 when citizens went to polling stations in every district across the country to select leaders to serve on ward [precinct] and municipal governing bodies as “delegates.” On 11 March, candidates for provincial and national legislatures will be chosen. The National Assembly will then chose a new president to succeed Raúl Castro, who retires on 19 April.

        For the first time since the country’s 1959 revolution, Cuba will not have a president named Castro.

Right: Precinct voting in Cuba. Older children (under age 16) serve as poll monitors.

¶ What follows is a bit more background on Cuba’s electoral process.

            • Cuba’s recent election is the first of three stages in choosing their provincial and national assemblies. A field of 27,000 candidates were on the ballot in 12,515 wards, with 11,415 members of Municipal legislators elected. Of those, 35.4% were women and 14.3% were “youth” (up to age 29). —for more see Telesur

        • All citizens older than 16, who not suffering from mental illness or are in prison, are eligible to vote. Neither voters nor candidates are required to be members of the Communist Party. Campaigning is illegal. Voters learn of the candidates in their districts by reading short biographical sketches (with photos) posted on store windows and, of course, in conversation with neighbors.

        • The Miami Herald, one of the few publications in the US covering the election, ran the headline, “Cuba had the lowest election turnout in four decades. Is the government losing its grip?

        • In fact, 85.9% of eligible voters in Cuba cast ballots—7.6 million of the country’s 8.8 million eligible voters. In US presidential elections, average turnout over the last 50 years is less than 55%. In mid-term elections that number goes down to 34.4. In most major cities, fewer than 15% of eligible voters participate. —for more see Drew DeSilver, “US trails most developed countries in voter turnout,” Pew Research Center; PBS News Hour; Kriston Capps, CityLab)

        • The ban on election campaigning is justified as a sanction against “million–dollar election campaigns where resorting to insults, slander and manipulation are the norm.” (“Elections in Cuba,” Wikipedia) That “million-dollar” statement is badly out of date. Cost of the 2016 US election was $6,444,253,265. —“Cost of election,” Center for Responsive Politics

        • Provincial and national assembly members will be selected from those “nominated by the municipal assemblies from lists compiled by national, provincial and municipal candidacy commissions. The final list of candidates for the National Assembly, one for each district, is drawn up by the National Candidacy Commission; however, voters can veto a candidate because if a candidate fails to gain 50% of the vote, a new candidate must be chosen.” —for more see “Elections in Cuba,” Wikipedia

        • Cuba’s “Council of State” is a 31-member body elected by the National Assembly. It exercises legislative power between the biannual meetings of the National Assembly and can also call for special sessions of the Assembly. —Wikipedia, “Council of State (Cuba)

¶ Here’s what I’ve learned about the electoral process from a group of pastors in Cuba:

        • At the precinct (also called “ward”) candidates are nominated and elected by popular vote. Elected representatives at the precinct and municipal levels are called “delegates.” At they provincial and national levels, they are called “deputies.”

        • The Council of State appoints the electoral commission for National Assembly elections, which must be composed of at least 50% of local district (ward) delegates. The electoral commission for the National Assembly selects the provincial commission members, which then selects the municipal commission. Only at the precinct level do voters nominate or vote for candidates.

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News, views, notes, and quotes

Signs of the Times  •  31 March 2018 •  No. 157

Processional.The Angel Cried, Christ Has Risen,” Russian Orthodox Chant for Easter.

Above: Memphis, Tennessee sanitation workers on strike, 1968.

Invocation. “Shake out your qualms. / Shake up your dreams. / Deepen your roots. / Extend your branches. / Trust deep water / and head for the open, / even if your vision / shipwrecks you. / Quit your addiction / to sneer and complain. / Open a lookout. / Dance on a brink. / Run with your wildfire. / You are closer to glory / leaping an abyss / than upholstering a rut.” —excerpt from James Broughton’s “Easter Exultet”

Call to worship. “We could be free / If we only knew we were slaves to the pains of each other / One thing I believe I can learn / To see my enemy as my brother / Then we could be free, truly / Then love could wash away all the sorrows / I'm not afraid to bleed / If it means, we'll make a better today not tomorrow.” —rapper Vic Mensa, “We Could Be Free

Why Easter is called Easter, and other little-known facts about the holiday

Hymn of praise.Good News From the Graveyard,” Southern Raised.

Confession. Nine-year-old Yolanda Renee King, Martin Luther King Jr.’s granddaughter, leading the crowd in a chant, “spread the word” at the “March For Our Lives” rally. (1:57 video)

Key to Easter chic is palette. “Fuzzy chicks and cut bunnies are part of the pastel pantheon of Easter décor, and their charm helps define the look of the season. . . . The key to a modern Easter look is simple, according to Kevin Sharkey, executive creative director for Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia: 'It’s about a controlled color palette.'
            “At, find instructions for turning eggshells into tiny votive holders, nestled in silver egg cups—an elegant Easter dinner idea. Spring hues and simple style elements will take your Easter décor from sweet to sublime.” Kim Cook, Associated Press

¶ “I am here today to acknowledge and represent the African America girls whose stories don’t make the front page of every national newspaper.” —11-year-old Naomi Wadler (pictured at right), speaking (4:03 video) at the March For Our Lives rally, 24 March, Washington, DC 

Words of assurance. “The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me; I suffered distress and anguish. Then I called on the name of the Lord, ‘Save my life!’ Return, O my soul, to your rest.—“Psalm 16,” Father Serafim, Assyrian Eastern Orthodox chant.

Professing our faith. The “March For Our Lives” commentary (7:01) by Emma González, the stunningly articulate Douglas High School shooting survivor, may go down in our nation’s history as among the greatest examples of public rhetoric. (When she stops and stands motionless and silent, stay with it—what the silence means will be revealed.)

¶ “I am not ashamed to admit it. They made me do it. Cry. More than once. ‘They’ being the uncommonly common students who led the March For Our Lives rally—three-quarters of a million strong—in Washington, DC. The day may well be accounted as among the most significant in our nation’s history.” —continue reading “Whisper words of wisdom, let it be Commentary on the March For Our Lives rally in Washington, DC

Hymn of resolution. “Come senators, congressmen / Please heed the call / Don't stand in the doorway / Don't block up the hall / For he that gets hurt / Will be he who has stalled / There's a battle outside ragin' / It'll soon shake your windows / And rattle your walls / For the times they are a-changin'.” —Jennifer Hudson, “For the Times They Are A-Changin,” at the March For Our Lives rally in Washington, DC

¶ “Six victors for the gun control movement since the Parkland massacre.” Amanda Holpuch, The Guardian

Another significant student-organized march. Starkville, Mississippi, is not among the list of cities that spring immediately to mind for having LGBTQ Pride parades. But that changed last Saturday, when some 3,000 marched through downtown for what Starkville Mayor Lynn Spruill called “the biggest parade we’ve ever had in Starkville, absolute biggest.” City permit for the march was originally denied by the town’s aldermen but later reversed. March organizer Bailey McDaniel, along with her partner, Emily Turner (see photo at left), “I’m thankful for Starkville Police, they were amazing,” McDaniel said. “We took a huge group photo after. Chief (Frank Nichols) was on our side.” Ryan Phillips, Starkville Daily News

Short story. “As the E.B. White watched his wife Katherine planning the planting of bulbs in her garden in the last autumn of her life, he wrote,
         "‘There was some thing comical yet touching in her bedraggled appearance . . . the small hunched-over figure, her studied absorption in the implausible notion that there would be yet another spring, oblivious to the ending of her own days, which she knew perfectly well was near at hand, sitting there with her detailed chart under those dark skies in dying October, calmly plotting the resurrection.’
            "Katherine was a member of the resurrection conspiracy, the company of those who plant seeds of hope under dark skies of grief or oppression, going about their living and dying until, no one knows how, when or where, the tender Easter shoots appear, and a piece of creation is healed." —Robert Raines

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

¶ “I have the clear sense that, despite your tender age, you intuitively understand the curious relation between suffering and joy, between despair and hopefulness. My reason for writing this letter to you is so that you may more fully comprehend this confusing, seemingly contradictory reality. For though we celebrate Easter's resurrection announcement, the stench of death is still in the air.” —continue reading “Open Letter to My Daughter: Easter morning, with the stench of death still in the air” written in the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War

¶ “We’re going to be the generation that takes down the gun lobby.” So said Marisa Pyle, 20, to a group of several hundred people gathered in the North Georgia mountain town of Dahlonega, in one of over 800 parallel March For Our Lives rallies around the nation (and in several other countries).

Preach it. “Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with. It was in an uproar because it is mocked. It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed. It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated. It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive. Hell took a body, and discovered God. It took earth, and encountered Heaven. It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see. O death, where is thy sting? O Hades, where is thy victory?
         “Christ is Risen, and you, O death, are annihilated! Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down! Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!” —excerpt from The Easter Sermon of John Chrysostom, pastor of Constantinople (c. 400 CE)

"Last Friday several of the youth in our congregation joined several others from another congregation in our city, making the long drive to Washington, DC, to take part in Saturday’s “March For Our Lives” rally against gun violence.
        "My wife Nancy, Circle of Mercy’s co-pastor, met them at the rendezvous point to offer a blessing on their journey. She said two things." —continue reading “Blessed are you if you do them: Maundy Thursday’s mandate” 

Can’t makes this sh*t up. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (which coordinates response to natural disasters) recently issued a new “strategic plan” for the coming four years, failed to mention climate change, global warming, sea-level rises, extreme weather, or any other terminology associated with scientific predictions of rising temperatures and their effects. —see Jessica Corbett, CommonDreams

Left: “Resurrection,” ©Julie Lonneman

Call to the table. “Bind up these broken bones / Mercy bend and bring me back to life / But not before You show me how to die / No, not before You show me how to die.” —Audrey Assad, “Show Me

¶ “To preach to the powerful without denouncing oppression is to promise Easter without Calvary, forgiveness without conversion, and healing without cleansing the wound." —excerpt from “What We Have Seen and Heard: A Pastoral Letter on Evangelization From the Black Bishops of the United States,” 1984

The state of our disunion. Remember the stories of Wells Fargo bank last year, when harried employees, desperate to make productivity quotas, open fraudulent accounts in customers’ names; and then charged customers for auto insurance which they didn’t request or need? Well, the company then gave Tim Sloan, their CEO, a 35% pay raise. —see Julia Conley, CommonDreams

Best one-liner. “Argue like you’re right; listen as if you’re wrong.” —author unknown (Thanks Amelia)

This coming week, Wednesday 4 April, is the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., while he was in Memphis, Tennessee, supporting the sanitation workers’ strike. Below are a few resources to prepare for this historic occasion:

        • “I Have Been to the Mountaintop,” —address (43:14 audio) at Mason Temple in Memphis, Tenn., the night of 3 April 1968, the night before his assassination.

        • Excerpts (22:14) of the "I Have Been to the Mountaintop" speech along with photos, video clips and commentary from some of his colleagues.

Left: Portrait of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by Bruni Sablan.

        • Brief excerpt of the speech’s key lines. (2:37 video)

        • Images from the 1968 Memphis sanitation worker strike. (3:30 video)

        • “Memphis sanitation workers remember the 1968 strike, 40 years later.” —Commercial Appeal (3:59 video) 

For the beauty of the earth. Having been reared (mostly) in West Texas, this video (4:43) of the region, using stunning photos by Wyman Meinzer, music by Doug Smith, takes me back.

Altar call. “One empty tomb poses no threat / to present entanglements, / any more than annual and / specially-adorned sanctuary / crowds encroach on Easter morn. / It’s Easter’s aftermath / resurrectus contagio, / contagious resurrection / that threatens entombing empires / with breached sovereignty.” —continue reading “Easter’s aftermath

Benediction. “May Easter’s affection / spawn many children / who know / despite the trouble / the toil / the rubble strewn soil / the way of the cross leads home.” —“Easter’s affection

Recessional. Someday our Easter recessional will be this: “Boogie Contest at Rock That Swing 2016

Lectionary for this Sunday. “With glad songs of vict’ry, from the formerly vanquished, / let the festal procession loot the treasury of fear.” —continue reading “Mutinous lips,” a litany for worship inspired by Psalm 118

Lectionary for Sunday next. “We come to confession fearfully, for the god of Maximum Return has confused and confounded us. / So we denounce this god, in the name of the God Without Price. / In the Name of the One Who established the earth’s bounty and purse as available to all.” —continue reading “The God Without Price,” a litany for worship inspired by Isaiah 55 and Acts 4:32-35

Right: photo by Wes Granberg-Michaelson.

Just for fun. Watch this Italian grandmother learning how to use a Google Home device! (2:23 video. Thanks Linda.)

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Featured this week on prayer&politiks

• “Mutinous lips,” a litany for worship inspired by Psalm 118

• “Whisper words of wisdom, let it be," commentary on the March For Our Lives rally in Washington, DC

• “Who gonna’ roll that stone?an Easter sermon, Marion Correctional Institution, based on John 20:1-18

• “Easter’s aftermath,” a poem for Eastertide

• “The God Without Price,” a litany for worship inspired by Isaiah 55 and Acts 4:32-35

Other features

• “Open Letter to My Daughter: Easter morning, with the stench of death still in the airwritten in the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War

• “Blessed are you if you do them: Maundy Thursday’s mandate,” an essay on why understanding Maundy Thursday's significance is key to understanding not only Good Friday but also Easter

Above: Sculpted relief by Margaret Beaudette of Mary Magdalene proclaiming "The First Easter Homily"

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Open Letter to My Daughter

Easter morning, with the stench of death still in the air

by Ken Sehested
Eastertide 1991

Background. In 1991, after hearing that the bombing had begun in Iraq, I knew I had to respond—respond in a way like never before. After discussing it with my family and then with a clearness committee of trusted friends, I began a bread-and-water fast. It started on Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, and lasted until Easter morning.

To prepare for the breaking of the fast I invited friends in Memphis to join me in a sunrise eucharistic service at the “Yellow Fever Martyrs Memorial and Mass Grave” park (right) on the banks of the Mississippi River, honoring those who died while tending the sick during several yellow fever epidemics that swept through the city in the 1870s. I asked my oldest daughter, 14 years old at the time, to preside at the meal. During the following week I wrote her the following open letter to further interpret the season just past.


Dear Jessica,

      Never before have you seen your father weep so bitterly, so publicly, with so much pain, as I did six-and-a-half weeks ago on Wednesday evening, January 16, upon hearing the news that the U.S. had begun bombing Iraq. But neither have you seen me standing, looking at you this Easter morning, with so much pride, with so much joy, with so much hope.

      No doubt my earlier tears frightened you at first. And you were probably unsure of what I was doing when I first talked with you in early February about my desire to begin the bread-and-water fast for Lent. But now, with this morning's Eucharist, you are ministering to me as I break this fast of repentance to proclaim Easter's promise that death does not have the last word in creation.

      I have the clear sense that, despite your tender age, you intuitively understand the curious relation between suffering and joy, between despair and hopefulness. My reason for writing this letter to you is so that you may more fully comprehend this confusing, seemingly contradictory reality. For though we celebrate Easter's resurrection announcement, the stench of death is still in the air.

      Even before our resurrection flowers have wilted, we will be confronted again with the presence of evil. Since Easter falls early in the calendar this year, in the coming resurrection week we will be forced to remember the enduring power of death. In 1945, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor, was executed two days after Easter Sunday by the Nazis for resisting their authority. This next Thursday, April 4, we will remember the 1968 assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. right here in Memphis. And right now, half a world away, the terror of our country's military power is manifest in unspeakable devastation.

      God may be in the heavens, but all is surely not right with the world. Jesus' defeat of the world's power of crucifixion didn't make things all right. You may ask, How honest is it for us to celebrate Easter's resurrection when so much blood continues to be shed? How can we proclaim Easter's promise in an increasingly violent world? Doesn't the world snicker at resurrection claims? In fact, doesn't most of the church secretly ignore this promise? These questions must be faced.

      In our sunrise service this morning, many shared stories of our baptism. We've done so because the tradition in the early church was to baptize new believers on Easter morning, just as you yourself were plunged beneath the water—lowered by your mother and me into that healing flood—on Easter morning five years ago. . . .

      As you know, early on the church's observance of the Lord's Supper was linked to the renewal of baptismal vows, as a time to recall that old ways are past and new ways have come, that the old order of domination and violence has ended and that the new order of justice, mercy and peace has begun. As the Scriptures say, whenever one is in Christ—baptized into Jesus' life, death and resurrection—there is a new creation. The joy meal is our foretaste—our aperitif—that a new reality has been made manifest, been made flesh; and it is the announcement that a rupture has occurred—that, as Jesus said, "Behold I make all things new."

      By asking you to lead in our communion meal this morning, I am trying to tell you something very important, something which most of the Christian community in our culture has forgotten, something which many Christian leaders work hard to suppress. The disturbing message of the eucharistic meal is this:

      There is no resurrection by proxy. {Vincent Harding}

      You may know that when shareholders of a large company have a business meeting, any of them can vote by proxy, which means they can authorize someone else to stand in for them, to vote in their place. They don't have to be personally present.

      But there is no resurrection by proxy. No one can stand in for you. You have to be personally present. One of my favorite spirituals says: "Take me to the water, to be baptized. My mother cannot carry me. . . . My father cannot carry me. . . . The preacher cannot carry me, to be baptized." But the last verse says, "My Jesus, he will carry me, to be baptized." As much as I, as you father, would like to spare you the pain of discipleship, I nor anyone else can do that. We can't send a substitute to take your place. You have to be there in person.

      There's an old French proverb that says: To love is to suffer. That's a good way to sum up the meaning of the Christian season of Lent. Most of our culture prefers to celebrate Valentine's Day [February 14 that year] rather than Ash Wednesday [February 13 that year]. Most people are repulsed by the thought of smudging ashes on the forehead in the shape of a cross. Most, even in the church, shy away from the mark of crucifixion. Instead of the body-broken, blood-spilt meal which Jesus offered, most prefer the empty calories of candy. Valentine candy is the Gospel of our culture.

      But there is no resurrection by proxy. To love as God loves results in suffering as God suffers. Jesus—whom we speak of as "God's only begotten"—represents that painful affirmation.

      As you know, President Bush, in referring to the military victory in the Middle East, has talked a lot recently about a "new world order." But there is absolutely nothing new about the world order he envisions. It is an order built on the power of violence, on the rule of the gun barrel. In George Bush's order, in Saddam Hussein's order, only the strong survive. And their survival comes at the cost of much blood.

      Certainly there is a similarity between Bush's "new world order" and the new order which Jesus proclaimed. For your survival as a believer also comes at the cost of blood. But the difference is that those who live according to the old world order are required to shed the blood of others in order to maintain their power. Your power—the power of the believing community—comes in your ability to voluntarily give your own blood, to absorb violence rather than to retaliate, to suffer rather than to inflict suffering.

      In the end, only bloody timbers make for lasting peace. Only suffering love can bring reconciliation. Martin Luther King Jr. said it well, speaking out of the context of painful personal experiences in the Civil Rights Movement: "To our most bitter opponents we say: 'We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We shall meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will, and we shall continue to love you. . . . But be ye assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we shall win freedom, but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.'"

      In the end, only bloody timbers make for peace. Only suffering love can bring reconciliation. The power of God to bring salvation comes only by relinquishing the very things which the world thinks are essential to being safe. Thus, as the Scriptures say, Jesus did not count himself equal with God, but relinquished that privilege so that the gulf of violence and enmity might finally be bridged. Rather, "he emptied himself, taking the form of a servant" and "humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross" (Philippians 2: 8, 9).

      I realize that all this talk about suffering sounds so harsh, so frightening, so morbid. The irony is that the opposite is true. The truth of the matter is that, as the old hymn says, "the way of the cross leads home." In the suffering we find our highest calling, because the suffering leads to healing and wholeness, leads to redemption. The voluntary shedding of our own blood washes clean the bitterness which infects the world. As Jesus said, only when we lose our lives will we find them. Only as we humble ourselves—associate with and tend to the needs of the lowly, the despised, the poor—only then will we be raised to the joy of living.

      Your life in God's Spirit is actually the very reason you will know suffering, the reason you will know sadness and disappointment. Not that suffering is good! It most certainly is not, and you should never, ever seek it. But it will find you, simply because God is looking, through the eyes of your soul, at creation as it was intended from the beginning. And when you see what God intended, what is now visible brings great sadness. And this sadness will cause you to be near those who suffer, to experience their pain, to attempt to bring healing and hope. You can't bring healing and hope from a safe distance. You have to get up close, which inevitably will mean you will feel the pain yourself.

      Nevertheless, rejoice! Rejoice, even in your suffering, for God is at work redeeming creation. Rejoice, even in your suffering, for you are one of God's instruments of redemption. Rejoice, even in your suffering, for redemption is not simply your personal possession, but is being extended—through you and other believers—across the whole world.

      At Easter we remember the announcement of this resurrection moment. But there is no resurrection by proxy. We must personally enter into God's drama of redemption. We must, as Jesus commanded, pick up our own cross and follow.

      May you and I both continue to learn these things—and continue to teach these things to each other—all the days of our lives.

      Love, Dad.

©Ken Sehested @