News, views, notes, and quotes

Signs of the Times  •  10 October 2017 •  No. 139

Processional.Grace,” early American melody, performed by the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus the day after the mass shooting in Las Vegas.

Above: Centuries old juniper tree in the Canary Islands, molded by trade wind. Photo by Eckhard Pecher.

Invocation. “"Something's your vocation if it keeps making more of you." —character in Gail Godwin’s novel “Evensong”

Congratulations ICAN! “The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) for drawing attention to the “catastrophic humanitarian consequences” of using nuclear weapons and for its efforts in a nuclear treaty, the Norwegian Nobel Committee said on Friday.
        “ICAN, which was founded in Australia, is based in the offices of the World Council of Churches in Geneva, Switzerland. It acts as an umbrella organization for 468 non-governmental organizations, including peace, rights and development groups, which are all trying to push for global nuclear disarmament.” —for more see Tara John, “5 Reasons Why ICAN Won the Nobel Peace Prize," Time

Right: Beatrice Fihn, Executive Director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) receives a bottle of champagne from her husband Will Fihm Ramsay (r) next to Daniel Hogsta, coordinator, while they celebrate after ICAN won the Nobel Peace Prize 2017, in Geneva, Switzerland. Photo by Denis Balibouse/Reuters

Call to worship. “Be forewarned, you nation of frivolous piety: You who turn the Most High God into a mascot for your charade of innocence while deceitfully invoking the Sovereign’s blessings on your affairs.” —continue reading “Nation of frivolous piety,” a litany for worship inspired by Psalm 99 & Isaiah 1:15

Los Angeles is the most recent (and largest) city in the US to declare 9 October as “Indigenous People’s Day” instead of or in addition to “Columbus Day.” To date, four states and 55 cities and counties have approved such a measure. —see the list at Jennifer Calfas, Time

¶ “Columbus Day as a national, and international, phenomenon reflects a much larger dynamic that promotes myriad myths and historical lies that have been used through the ages to dehumanize Indians, justifying the theft of our lands, the attempted destruction of our nations and the genocide against our people.” —Russell Means & Glenn Morris

Hymn of praise. “Holy Spirit, / Giving life to all life, / Moving all creatures, / Root of all things, / Washing them clean, / Wiping out their mistakes, / Healing their wounds, / You are our true life, / Luminous, wonderful, / Awakening the heart from its ancient sleep.” —“Spiritus Sanctus,” Hildegard von Bingen, performed by Lumina Vocal Ensemble

¶ “Gold is a treasure, and he who possesses it does all he wishes to in this world, and succeeds in helping souls into paradise.” —Christopher Columbus

¶ Watch this video (3:38) surveying the legacy of Christopher Columbus.

¶ “If you want to read about a European pioneer on Columbus Day, learn about Bartolomé de las Casas. His story is one of unfolding repentance over the course of his life in regard to treatment of the indigenous population of the Spanish conquest of the ‘New World.’” —continue reading “Witness to villainy: An excerpt from Bartolomé de las Casas’ documentation of Spanish conquest in the Americas

Hymn of supplication.La Paz de la Tierra/The Peace of the Earth,” a traditional Guatemalan blessing arranged and performed by Marty Haugen and Marc Anderson (sung first in Spanish, then in English).

        Men: What good can come from such vile remembrance? Can we not safely and how then can we live with such terrible knowledge?
        Women: We can live because the truth unknots the cords of enmity. But first, a NO has to be spoken with clarity, a renunciation has to be made, before a YES can be asserted, before an affirmation can be announced. —continue reading “Limb by limb: Repenting and repairing a legacy of violence against women,” a litany for worship

October is “Domestic Violence Awareness Month.” An international coalition of faith based groups and non-governmental organizations are sponsoring “Speak Out Sabbath13-15 October, encouraging faith groups to give focused attention to domestic violence. Worship resources available. Watch this brief (1:09) video.

¶ “Timeline of Legal History of Women in the United States.” —National Women’s History Project

¶ Judges 19—the Bible’s most brutal chapter. “But as [Phyllis] Trible reminds us, even the best English translations cannot do justice to the original Hebrew, where all of the verbal forms and the object in this statement are written in feminine gender. Literally, if awkwardly, translated it becomes “And all who saw her said, ‘SHE was not, and SHE was not seen such as this from the day that the people came up out of the land of Egypt.’” In other words, the unnamed woman [of Judges 19], the one with no status and object of unspeakable terror, is at the center of this story demanding our attention.” —continue reading “She was not: Judges 19: The Bible’s most vividly brutal story and why we must read and remember it,” a sermon on domestic violence

Words of assurance.What a Friend We Have In Jesus,” Alabama.

The Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), approved by the United Nations in 1968 and then extended indefinitely in 1995, is a multilateral treaty aimed at limiting the spread of nuclear weapons including three elements: (1) non-proliferation, (2) disarmament, and (3) peaceful use of nuclear energy.

Above: U.S. Air Force B-52 Stratofortresses bomber

       • Nine countries possess nuclear weapons: United States, Russia, United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, North Korea, and Israel. Only the first five have signed the NPT. The US and Russia have 93% of these weapons.

        • ”Fact Sheet: Who Has Nuclear Weapons and How Many Do They Have?—Elizabeth Chuck, NBC News

        • One Ohio-class US nuclear submarine (the US has 14) carries 24 Trident II ballistic missiles, each of which splits into eight independently-targeted nuclear warheads.

        • The US is planning a $1.2 trillion upgrade of its nuclear weapons program. Doing so will likely provoke a new nuclear arms race with Russia and China.

        • Currently there are 15,000 nuclear weapons, 9,400 active in military arsenals, 4,000 in a state of constant readiness.

        • At the height of the Cold War the global stockpile of nuclear weapons was 40,000+. The negotiated reduction is good; but that’s a bit like saying you used to have 40,000 hammers in your workshop but now only 15,000.

        • The largest US weapon would kill 1.4 million within the first 24 hours; the largest Russian weapon, about half that many. Many millions would die in the weeks and months after.

        • Today’s strategic nuclear weapons are between 6 and 333 times more powerful than the bombs dropped by the US on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.

        • As few as 100 nuclear bomb explosions would create a “nuclear winter,” sending enough ash into the air to block sunlight and dramatically lower temperatures, eventually destroying most life forms.

        • The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) was adopted by the UN General Assembly in July 2017 to strengthen the Non-Proliferation Treaty by comprehensively prohibiting nuclear weapons. 122 nations voted in favor; the Netherlands voted against; Singapore abstained; and all nine nuclear powers (and many of their allies) refused to take part in the negotiations.

        • Nuclear Weapons 101.” —Physicians for Social Responsibility

        • It’s not widely known that the US has never adopted a no-first-use policy regarding nuclear weapons.

Left: Painting by Jeffrey Robin

Two overlooked premises. First, if you believe in principled ethics—that the same norms should apply consistently—then nations possessing nuclear weapons have no moral basis for denying them to others. Second, if you believe in the rule of law, then nuclear powers are bound by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to take concrete, tangible action to abolish all nuclear weapons. For that goal, the US only has thoughts and prayers.

Hymn of resolution.Nearer My God to Thee” (for 9 cellos), The Piano Guys.

¶ “10 Horrifying Facts about Nuclear Weapons.” —Citizens for Global Solutions

¶ “Surveys show that 13 of the leading nuclear weapons manufacturers combined spent $81 million per year lobbying US legislators. These same companies combined received an incredible $334 billion over two fiscal years. Every dollar invested in lobbying and campaign contributions resulted in about a $1,000 return in federal dollars.” Terry Clark, Asheville Citizen-Times

Short story. This is an extraordinarily moving story from National Public Radio about a music therapist and a dying patient. Listen (5:08) or read the transcript. —Erika Lantz

Offertory. Rodrigo’s Aranjuez Concerto” featuring Rafael Aguirre’s classical guitar.

Preach it. “I have come into this world to see this: the sword drop from men's hands even at the height of their arc of rage because we have finally realized there is just one flesh we can wound.” —Hafez

Can’t makes this sh*t up. Overheard in a cable news channel report: “We are just now finding out that Russia hacked into the National Security Agency, compromising the agency’s information gathering operations.” Russians hack. The US merely gathers information.

Call to the table. Imagine we were following Issy Emeney down the aisle, mimicking her every Appalachian flatfooting dance moves with ease, coming to the communion table.

The state of our disunion. The July issue of Ms. Magazine reports in the “No Comment” section an ad for a bowling alley in Michigan, which reads “Have some fun. Beat your wife tonight. Then celebrate with some good food and drink with your friends.”

Best one-liner. When you hear Republican politicians offering thoughts and prayers today [for the mass shooting in Las Vegas], remember they voted in February to sell guns to the mentally ill. Jessica Taylor, NPR

¶ “It is incomprehensible to us, as Australians, that a country so proud and great can allow itself to be savaged again and again by its own citizens. We cannot understand how the long years of senseless murder, the Sandy Hooks and Orlandos and Columbines, have not proved to Americans that the gun is not a precious symbol of freedom, but a deadly cancer on their society.

        “We point over and over to our own success with gun control in the wake of the Port Arthur massacre, that Australia has not seen a mass shooting since and that we are still a free and open society.” —editorial, Sydney Morning Herald, which goes on to recommend eight specific, commonsensical policy recommendations (Thanks Ivan.)

Another foreign perspective on US gun violence, this one from the Dutch, with a satirical take. NRA-Sunday with Lubach (3:14 video. Thanks Norman.)

¶ “The 12 Most Common Fallacious Gun Arguments (and How to Refute Them),” by gun owner Michael E. Sparks. —Independentthinker

For the beauty of the earth. Feather star fish in motion. (0:36 video)

Altar call. The poem about gun violence every American needs to hear.” IN-Qu, Occupy Democrats (3:14 video. Thanks Virginia.)

Benediction. “It is said that those who walk on flat ground need not hold hands. But we who climb a steep and slippery road must hold onto each other to make our way securely.” —St. Francis de Sales

Recessional.I’ll Fly Away,” Ransomed Bluegrass.

Lectionary for this Sunday. “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” —Philippians 4:8-9

Lectionary for Sunday next. “For the nations shall tremble, the earth shall quake, at the stirring of Holy Intent. For the Beloved awakes to the cries of the poor, to the mourning of land and sky.” —continue reading “Nation of frivolous piety,” a litany for worship inspired by Psalm 99 & Isaiah 1:15

Just for fun. Slow motion video (0:31) of 17-year-old pole-vaulter Mondo Duplantis setting a new prep record of 19’1”. (Thanks Anne.)

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Featured this week on prayer&politiks

• "Witness to villainy: An excerpt from Bartolomé de las Casas’ documentation of Spanish conquest in the Americas

• “Limb by limb: Repenting and repairing a legacy of violence against women,” a litany for worship

• “She was not: Judges 19: The Bible’s most vividly brutal story and why we must read and remember it,” a sermon on domestic violence

• “Nation of frivolous piety,” a litany for worship inspired by Psalm 99 & Isaiah 1:15

Witness to villainy: An excerpt from Bartolomé de las Casas’ documentation of Spanish conquest in the Americas

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She was not

Judges 19: The Bible’s most vividly brutal story and why we must read and remember it

Ken Sehested
Circle of Mercy Congregation
19 September 2005
Text: Judges 19:1-30

      There have been two special occasions in my life when I have become agonizingly aware of the special fear women feel over the threat of sexual assault.

      The first happened when Nancy and I were counting the days before our wedding. Every couple weeks she came in from where she went to school in New Jersey to meet me in a chaplain’s office in New York City. We were doing a series of premarital counseling sessions.

      She was late that evening, and I was feeling a mixture of irritation and concern. When she finally arrived, her face—paler than ever—still bore the marks of terror. She had stopped along the highway to check what she thought might be a bad tire. And a stranger had assaulted her.

      She was lucky to get away without physical harm. But the psychic wound was deep. It’s hard—maybe impossible—for us men to fully appreciate this kind of trauma unless it happens up close and personal, to someone you love as much as life itself.

      To get inside such an experience, we men have to have our hearts directed in intimate ways.

      My second such experience was more public than personal. In 1992 I was part of a group of Jews, Christians and

Muslims visiting the war-torn Balkan region of southeast Europe, to the country formally known as Yugoslavia. War had previously broken out in the Slovenian and Croatian regions which were now declaring independence from Yugoslavia’s federated republic.

Right: "Death recognized as a friend" drawing by Käthe Kollwitz

      Most of the shooting war now centered in Bosnia and Herzegovina, an ancient culture whose lands once formed the western boundary of the former Turkish Empire. Because of this, many Bosnians were Muslims. But many others were of Serbian ancestry, a culture dominated by one of the eastern Orthodox traditions of Christianity. Although their cultures had lived in relative harmony for many years, deep rivalries stretched back to the history of the Crusades a full millennium ago.

      The Franciscan Abbott of Croatia had invited the Fellowship of Reconciliation to bring a group to his cathedral church in Zagreb to lead an interfaith service dedicated to affirming that God was neither a sponsor of nor a partisan for any side in this war.

      During my visit, I was ill prepared for the testimonies of numerous Bosnian Muslim refugees and countless aid and human rights workers. Time after time we heard the confirmed stories of Serbian militias raping Bosnian women and then putting them on a bus for transport to Croatia, each with a hand-painted sign reading, “Here comes another busload of little Chetniks,” the colloquialism used to indicate Bosnian militias.

      Rape has always been part of the culture of warfare—by every side and in the service to every cause. (And I don’t mean to imply that Serbs committed all the atrocities of that conflict.) Apparently, though, this was the first time in modern history when rape of women by men became a conscious and intentional strategic tactic.

      I came home from that trip very nearly stunned into speechlessness. Who can fathom such brutality?

      This same question comes to mind after hearing the earlier story from the book of Judges. I suspect many of you are hearing it for the first time. It is a horrifically gruesome story.

      We could easily spend a week with this one chapter. Though it’s not easy to pick up in a first reading, the characters, plots and subplots, coded language and highly dramatized narratives are as elaborate as they are concise. You have to know some history and other biblical literature to catch all the nuances. The original author, the later editor, and the even-later compiler of this material all had interpretive points to make.

      And that doesn’t even get us to the question of why this violent and obscene material is in our Holy Book in the first place. To that question I will simply say: The Bible may be the original reality show. The mess we now get on TV is there in this ancient literature. If you happen to think the Bible is loaded with uniformly nice, sweet, “godly” characters, you haven’t done much reading. Misogyny, among other morally-debased activities, is all over the place.

      We’ll have to leave such dilemmas to a later time. Suffice it to say, I happen to think just such a body of literature is what helps us see and resist the violent and profligate culture in which we now live. Of course there are differences between now and then. Which is why this material requires some work if we are to comprehend and learn from it. But there are also profound points of convergence between this text and our context.

      Oddly enough, the central character in this story is one that remains nameless and one who never speaks. Her identity is always subsumed in collective references that include the accompanying servant and two donkeys. She is a concubine, something like we would think of as a mistress; only she is not “kept” in luxury. Her social status is actually less than that of the servant. Her owner is a Levite, a member of the professional religious class in ancient Israel. And there is no scandalous inference to his ownership of her. Just as today, generally speaking, there is no special significance assigned the scandalous rate of domestic abuse against women in our supposedly “enlightened and advanced” culture.

      Let me point out just a few of the points to consider.

      The first significant clue comes in the very first line of the story, where it says, “In those days, there was no king in Israel.” Calling attention to this fact is not so much an argument for a return to monarchy, but simply an indication that the structures of public justice had collapsed. The text is implicitly tied to a related fact mentioned in the chapters surrounding this story, where this line is repeated: “every man did what was right in his own eyes.” This opening line is a clue about how we are to interpret what comes next.

      The second line of the narrative mentions what for the original audience was a startling turn of events. It’s something we pass over without noticing. The story says the unnamed woman fled her master’s house. A desperate flight is underway, and it is centered around a nameless nobody.

      Of course, the revolt is quickly quashed. Everyone in this Circle knows what it’s like to be involved in quashed revolts—revolts in our everyday lives against dehumanizing behavior in our neighborhoods and workplaces, in the formation of local economic policies, state and national funding priorities, political corruption creeping in, even within the institutions we love and support . . . sometimes even into the church itself. People who are still grasped by a different vision—of affordable health care, of educational institutions devoted to genuine learning rather than propaganda and cultural assimilation, of genuinely equal opportunities for both women and men—we get beat down and quashed so often that we begin to think we’re crazy.

      One of the reasons worship is so central to our lives is because this is the place and time we get together to remind ourselves that we’re not crazy. That a different world is not only possible but is promised. Which is why one of the Bible’s most persistent themes is: don’t give up, stand firm, persevere, don’t be afraid. Part of our calling involves a kind of revolutionary patience (Dorothee Sölle).

      I don’t need to repeat the callously brutal facts of the rest of the story: of whole communities committed to rape; of men protecting their own status and safety by sacrificing the lives of women. In her book, Texts of Terror, Phyllis Trible offers this commentary:

      “Of all the characters in Scripture, she is the least. Appearing at the beginning and close of a story that rapes her, she is alone in a world of men. Neither the other characters nor the narrator recognizes her humanity. She is property, object, tool, and literary device. Without name, speech, or power, she has no friends to aid her in life or mourn her in

death. Passing her back and forth among themselves, the men of Israel have obliterated her totally. Captured, betrayed, raped, tortured, murdered, dismembered and scattered—this woman is the most sinned against.” (pp. 80-81)

Left: Sculpture by Käthe Kollwitz

      The story closes, with the woman’s dismemberment and the scattering of her body parts to the far reaches of the land, the text’s final words are instruction for the whole population to hear and heed: “Has such a thing ever happened since the day that the Israelites came up from the land of Egypt? Consider it, take counsel, and speak out.”

      But as Trible reminds us, even the best English translations cannot do justice to the original Hebrew, where all of the verbal forms and the object in this statement are written in feminine gender. Literally, if awkwardly, translated it becomes “And all who saw her said, ‘SHE was not, and SHE was not seen such as this from the day that the people came up out of the land of Egypt.’” In other words, the unnamed woman, the one with no status and object of unspeakable terror, is at the center of this story demanding our attention.

      The narrative closes with three imperatives: “Consider this, take counsel, and speak.” But again, the original is so much stronger: The first comment is not a suggestion; it is an imperative. And it’s not just “think about this.” It’s more like: “Direct your heart.” It is a NOW HEAR THIS! And not just in general, but “to her,” to this abused woman. God’s interest is tied up in, is synonymous with, the interests of this woman.

      Then, “take counsel,” immerse yourself in this deforming tale and let it inform and reform you.

      And finally, “speak.” Declare. Advocate. Demand a listening attention. Be a nuisance if you have to.

      The silence must end, sisters and brothers—but here especially I am speaking to my brothers. To find the wherewithal to do this, our hearts must be directed to the stories of forgotten and unnamed sisters. They have names, and we must learn them. They have histories and we must tell them. In the end, we must nurture a vision where our security and theirs are bound up together.

      Lord, hear our prayer. May it be so.

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©ken sehested @

News, views, notes, and quotes

Signs of the Times  •  3 October 2017 •  No. 138

Processional.Never Turning Back,” Street Choir Festival at Jubilee Square in Leicester, made up of 30 choirs across the UK.

Above: Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, just west of Las Vegas. Photo by Terry Tyson.

Invocation. “Throw off the covers of earth’s darkened slumber! Unplug your ears, you creatures of flesh! From deepest sigh of tear-stained eye, set your sight on Heaven’s resolve. For the sky’s bright luster, alive with motion, shows the wonder of Blessed intention. The Word—shorn of words—springs from every nick and cranny. By night and by day the silent sound of Wonder drenches every listening ear.” —“Blessed intention," a litany for worship inspired by Psalm 19

Call to worship—A litany for Puerto Rico. “Loving Almighty One, we claim your promises of wholeness and provision when we pray for one another.
        “God, as we join in prayer and in spirit for your people, our brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico. We celebrate that You are our comfort and strength in times of disaster, crisis and pain.
        “Today Puerto Rico faces a great challenge and has chosen to shout Puerto Rico se levantaPuerto Rico rises up. Surround them with your Grace and peace.” —continue reading Xiomara Reyboras Ortiz’s “Litany for Puerto Rico” (Thanks Suzi.)

Hymn of praise. “Woah I, know I've been changed / And I know I've been changed / I know I've been changed / Angels in heaven done sign my name / Angels in heaven done sign my name.” —“Angels in Heaven,” performed by two of Asheville’s finest buskers, Abby the Spoon Lady and Chris Rodriguez

Seven days after Hurricane Maria devastated the island, half its 3.5 million citizens lack potable water. Restoring the island’s power grid could take months.

        I almost didn’t use the Judson Memorial Church sign (left below), since most of the people I know in Puerto Rico don’t want to be US citizens.

        Nearly half of US citizens don’t know that Puerto Ricans are US citizens.

        Puerto Rico, presently a “possession” of the US, is the world’s oldest colony, having first been colonized by Spain in the 15th century and then ceded to the US after the 1898 Spanish American War, a war the US had been planning for at least eight years. Puerto Ricans were not allowed to vote on whether to become an independent country until 1967. By then the island’s economy was so intertwined with that of the US that the majority favored remaining as a territory, though support to become the US’s 51st state has been growing—something Congress is highly unlikely to approve.

        It’s true, as President Trump famously complained, that Puerto Rico is facing a massive debt problem. They cannot declare bankruptcy, as businessman Trump has done six times.

        For an explanation of the island’s debt crisis, see Dara Lind, “Puerto Rico’s debt crisis, explained in 11 basic facts,” Vox

        In case you missed it, listen to San Juan, Puerto Rico Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz issue an agonizing call for help. NBC Nightly News (2:07 video)

        Watch President Trump help distribute emergency aid in Puerto Rico—by tossing roles of paper towels to the crowd.CNN (1:06 video)

        For more background on the status of Puerto Rico, see Frances Robles, New York Times, and Katy Collin, “Puerto Rico votes on statehood on Sunday—for the fifth time. Here’s what’s at stake,” Chicago Tribune

Confession. "This is an island surrounded by water, big water, ocean water." —President Trump, speaking 29 September, about the hurricane devastation of Puerto Rico

Blistering commentary. Lt. General (ret.) Russel Honoré had some blunt things to say about the Trump Administration’s response to the humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico, in an interview on Erin Burnett’s OutFront program. Honoré is best known for cleaning up the Bush administration’s Federal Emergency Management Agency mess after the 2005 Hurricane Katrina devastation of the Gulf Coast. CNN (1:07 video)

The controversy NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick (unintentionally) created in 2016 by refusing to stand for the national anthem prior to the game has escalated significantly this year. Remember: His refusal to stand was related to the killing of unarmed black men by law enforcement officials, though with President Trump’s attention, the debate has broadened to include patriotism in general. (For more see “Colin Kaepernick, national anthems, and flag-flown piety: Commentary on what is and is not sacred.”)

Why do whites oppose the NFL protests? “In a poll, whites were asked whether the NFL players kneeling in protest during the national anthem are helping or hurting the cause of racial justice. No fewer than 85 percent said they are hurting it.

        “Oh, wait. I’ve got that wrong. Those figures don’t come from a new poll. They come from a survey taken in 1966 asking whites whether ‘the demonstrations by Negroes on civil rights have helped more or hurt more in the advancement of Negro rights.’

        “Only 15% of whites surveyed thought those peaceful protests would advance the cause of integration and equality. Martin Luther King Jr. and his nonviolent methods are honored even by conservatives today, but in 1967, half of whites said he was harming blacks, with only 36 disagreeing.” Steve Chapman, Chicago Tribune

Words of assurance.Weep No More,” the Esh family.

As it turns out, violation of the US Code governing flag use is quite common. A few for-instances:

• “The flag should never be carried flat or horizontally, but always aloft and free” (§176c). Which means displays like the one pictured above prior to a National Football League game are actually illegal.

• “The flag should never be used for any advertising purpose(§176i). Why is it that car dealerships fly the biggest (or most) flags in town?

• “When on display [as in a church sanctuary], the flag is accorded the place of honor, always positioned to its own right. Other flags should be to the speaker's left” (§175k). Which means if you’re properly displaying the US and Christian flags in your sanctuary (with the US flag to the pulpit’s right as facing the congregation—to the left as seen from the pews), the symbolism is that the Caesar’s billing overshadows Christ’s.

• “The flag should not be embroidered on such articles as cushions or handkerchiefs and the like, printed or otherwise impressed on paper napkins or boxes or anything that is designed for temporary use and discard” (§176i). Careful about those July 4th cookout napkins!

• “The flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery” (§176d). Do a web search for “US flag apparel images” to see your choices for civil disobedience.

The earliest “flag desecration” laws (every state had one by 1932) were not enacted to squelch political dissent but to prohibit use of the flag for political or commercial ends—something that now happens all the time. The only attempt at federal law criminalizing flag desecration (in 1968, specifically aimed at repressing flag burning) was overturned by the Supreme Court in 1989.

Hymn of prophecy. “But your flag decal won't get you / Into Heaven any more. / They're already overcrowded / From your dirty little war. / Now Jesus don't like killin' / No matter what the reason's for, / And your flag decal won't get you / Into Heaven any more.” —John Prine, “Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Any More

For more information on how the flag has been used, see Marc Leepson, "Capturing the Flag,” Washington Post

Watch this brief (2:00) video on what Colin Kaepernick’s been up to since being snubbed by the NFL. (Thanks Edward.)

Until the Civil War, the US flag was only used on government buildings and military installations. "For the first two thirds of our nation’s history, it was almost unheard of for individual Americans to fly the flag or display the flag," according to Marc Leepson, author of Flag: An American Biography. That changed when the Confederates attacked the Union outpost Fort Sumter in Charleston, S.C., in April of 1861, in what would be the start of the Civil War. "It has been said that when the flag came down in Fort Sumter, it went up everywhere in the North," Leepson added. —Olivia B. Waxman, “How the American Flag Pattern God So Popular,” Time

Hymn of intercession.African Prayer" (Trad. Zulu), Stellenbosch University Choir.

Listen to The Daily Show’s Noah Trevor opening monologue on the mass shooting in Las Vegas. (3:56 video)

¶ “1,516 mass shootings in 1,735 days: America's gun crisis—in one chart.” —The Guardian

Testify. “You should be outraged not only as an airman, but as a human being.” —Lt. General Jay Silveria, superintendent of the Air Force Academy, in a blistering five-minute speech to 4,000 cadets and 1,500 staff following an incident where racial slurs were written on the dormitory boards of five black students. A video of Silveria’s speech is here.

¶ Offertory. “Occhi chorni” (“Очи Чёрные”), Russian gypsy accordion music.

¶ “We have been taught that ignorance and hate lead to racist ideas, lead to racist policies,” Kendi said. “If the fundamental problem is ignorance and hate, then your solutions are going to be focused on education, and love and persuasion. But of course [Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America] shows that the actual foundation of racism is not ignorance and hate, but self-interest, particularly economic and political and cultural.” Self-interest drives racist policies that benefit that self-interest. When the policies are challenged because they produce inequalities, racist ideas spring up to justify those policies. Hate flows freely from there.” —Ibram Kendi, director of a new anti-racism center at Ameican University, in Lonnae O’Neal, "The Undefeated" (Thanks Paul.)

Preach it. “Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.” —St. Francis of Assisi, on the eve of his 4 October feast day

Can’t makes this sh*t up. “Gun stocks rose Monday following the deadliest mass shooting in American history late Sunday night [in Las Vegas]. . . . The stocks have tended to rally in the immediate aftermath of mass killings.” Paul R. La Monica, CNN Money

Good news. “More than 40 Catholic institutions are to announce the largest ever faith-based divestment from fossil fuels, on the anniversary of the death of St Francis of Assisi. The sum involved has not been disclosed but the volume of divesting groups is four times higher than a previous church record, and adds to a global divestment movement, led by investors worth $5.5tn.” Arthur Nelsen, The Guardian

The state of our disunion. "Now I hate to tell you, Puerto Rico, but you’ve thrown our budget a little out of whack because we’ve spent a lot of money on Puerto Rico." Jill Colvin & Calvin Woodward, Associated Press

Best one-liner. "I am unable to commit to any messiah who doesn't knock over tables." —Garret Keizer

For the beauty of the earth. Scrap metal sculpture artist John Lopez. (2:57 video. Thanks Amanda.)

Altar call. Here’s my new mental metaphor of the Holy Spirit’s work in coaxing wannabe-believers into an actual life of faith. (2:16 video)

Benediction.Prayer of St. Francis” by Sarah McLachlan.

Recessional. Frédéric Chopin’s “Prelude No. 4 in E minor, Op 28,” performed by Jimmy Page.

Lectionary for this Sunday. “Steer clear of the barking dogs, those religious busybodies, all bark and no bite. All they’re interested in is appearances—knife-happy circumcisers, I call them.” —Philippians 3:4b-6, The Message

Lectionary for Sunday next. “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” —Philippians 4:8-9

Just for fun. Seal gets a belly rub from a diver. (Thanks David.)

#  #  #

I'M DELIGHTED TO ANNOUNCE that Peace Primer II: Quotes from Jewish, Christian and Islamic Scripture & Tradition which I edited with my friends and colleagues Rabbi Lyn Gottlieb and Muslim chaplain Rabia Terri Harris, has been reprinted by Wipf & Stock Publishers. It’s an excellent tool for interfaith dialogue or for personal devotional reading.

#  #  #

Featured this week on prayer&politiks

• “Blessed intention,” a litany for worship inspired by Psalm 19

• “Colin Kaepernick, national anthems, and flag-flown piety,” commentary on what is and is not sacred

Other features
• “Another Word is in the wind: A psalm of complaint and avowal,” a new poem

©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


Go out in joy

A litany for worship adapted from St. Francis' "Canticle of the Sun" and related Scripture texts

by Ken Sehested

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;

Or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish of the sea inform you.

Who does not know that the Gracious Host has done this?

In the Blessed One’s reach is the heart of every creature, the breath of every living thing.

Brother Sun declares the Beloved’s glory. His voice goes out o’er all the earth, his words to every inhabited place.

Sister Moon and stars pour forth speech to brighten the night in splendor and counsel.

Now hear the blessed promise of old, made new in your hearing:

May you go out in joy and be led back in peace, the hills bursting in song, the trees in applause!˙


©ken sehested @, adapted from Job 12:7-10, Psalm 19:1-4, Psalm 97:6, Isaiah 55:12 and St. Francis of Assisi’s “Canticle of the Sun”



News, views, notes, and quotes

Signs of the Times  •  20 September 2017 •  No. 137

Processional.Chaiyalim Adonai dances at Rosh Hashanah.”

Invocation. “Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the ground.” —Rumi

Shana Tova! Happy New Year (5778 on the Jewish calendar).

        The Jewish new year, Rosh Hashanah (have “a sweet new year”), which began at sundown yesterday, literally means “the head of the year.” The date is variable on the Gregorian calendar, since, like Easter in the Christian tradition, it is based on a lunar calendar. Rosh Hashanah marks the first day of the “10 Days of Repentance” (or “Awe”) where Jewish people acknowledge their sins of the previous year, culminating in Yom Kippur, the day of atonement, marked by fasting to symbolize the longing for forgiveness. All together this season represents the “High Holy Days” of Judaism.

        In Hebrew rosh has many meanings, including “head” or “first” or “start,” and shanah means “year,” with ha simply meaning “the.” In combination, the name of the holiday translates as “head of the year.”

Call to worship.Rosh Hashanah Rock Anthem,”

¶ “4 Things Jews Do on Rosh Hashanah,” Mayim Bialik. (Thanks Ivan.)

How to say “happy New Year” in Hebrew. Menachem Posner,

¶ “Though it depends on which Jewish tradition is being followed, much time is spent at a synagogue. During services, a hollowed-out ram's horn, known as a shofar, is blown, symbolizing a call to repentance. Many Jews also observe a tradition called tashlich, meaning "casting off" in Hebrew, in which they go to a nearby river or lake and throw pieces of bread, which signifies the washing away of sin.” —for more see Matthew Diebel, USAToday

        Apples dipped in honey, challah (round sweet bread), and/or pomegranates are consumed to symbolize the sweetness of the new year, the circle of life and/or the many seeds yet to be sown (and even fish heads, representing the “head” of the new year). —for more see Carol Kuruvilla, “The Spiritual Meaning Of The Food On Your Rosh Hashanah Table,” HuffPost

Hymn of praise.Psalm 104” (in Hebrew). Yamma Ensemble .

Confession. "Days pass, and the years vanish and we walk sightless among miracles." —Jewish Sabbath Prayer

Words of assurance.Ya Rab” (“My Lord God” in Arabic), Yuval Ron Ensemble featuring Sukhawat Ali Khan & Najwa Gibran.

While researching art for this issue, I found one image with the jar of honey and traditional blessing in Hebrew. But underneath, printed in the product’s distinctive typeface, is the wording “Say it with Coca-Cola.” The fruitful delight of creation transposed by the well-documented corporate marketing of sugar, which is at the root of our nation’s obesity health crisis. Then again, given the sugary, insubstantial character of much that passes for spirituality, maybe this is appropriate.

I’ve long been taken with juxtaposing the Jewish “Days of Awe” beginning with Rosh Hashanah and ending with Yom Kippur with the “Shock and Awe” military doctrine that launched the 2003 US attack on Iraq.

        The “fear of the Lord” in Scripture, the basis for awe, is not a form of heavenly terrorism designed to keep humans in line. Rather, as Walter Brueggemann writes, to “fear God” is to take God and God’s intention with utmost seriousness, to be honored above all other demands for devotion and obedience.

        “Shock and awe,” on the other hand, is a military doctrine entailing deployment of "instant, nearly incomprehensible levels of massive destruction directed at influencing society writ large, meaning its leadership and public, rather than targeting directly against military or strategic objectives even with relatively few numbers or systems." (With this background, can you see the brutal rationality of attacks by terrorists on crowded urban streets?) "Shock and Awe" language meets every definition of “terrorism.” —for more see Harlan K. Ullman and James P. Wade, "Shock and Awe: Achieving Rapid Dominance,” National Defense University Institute for National Strategic Study

Hymn of supplication.Avinu Malkeinu” (“Our Father, Our King”), Barbara Streisand. The song is a Jewish song of supplication, sung from Rosh Hashanah until, 10 days later, Yom Kippur. The Talmud (T.B. Ta'anith 25b) records Rabbi Akiva (died 135 CE) reciting two verses each beginning "Our Father, Our King" in a prayer to end a drought.

Good news. “Meet the 14-year-old girl (left) from Odisha, India, who has invented a fuel-free bike. With the increasing levels of carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide in the air, big cities in India have been suffocating with harmful pollutants. In these times, 14-year-old Tejaswini Priyadarshini has invented an ‘air bike’ which runs at up to 60 km per hour.” Your Story

Short story. “There's a lovely Hasidic story of a rabbi who always told his people that if they studied the Torah, it would put Scripture on their hearts. One of them asked, ‘Why on our hearts, and not in them?’ The rabbi answered, ‘Only God can put Scripture inside. But reading sacred text can put it on your heart, and then when your hearts break, the holy words will fall inside.’” ―Anne Lamott, “Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith”

Testify. “The apple symbolizes Gan Eden (the Garden of Eden), which according to the Midrash has the scent of an apple orchard, and in Kabbalah is called ‘the holy apple orchard’. . . . When Solomon depicts the love G‑d harbors for His nation, he writes (Song of Songs 8:5): ‘Beneath the apple tree I aroused you[r love].’ Eating an apple on Rosh Hashanah is an attempt to remind G‑d of our age-old love.” Rabbi Baruch S. Davidson,

Hymn of intercession. Julie Geller, “Sheya'alu שיעלו” (“They Will Ascend”).

The largely-unknown international hero of the 20th century. The world has only recently learned of the death of a Soviet soldier (pictured at right) credited with saving the world from nuclear holocaust, during a time of high tension between the US and the Soviet Union, 6 years before the Berlin War came down.

        “Stanislav Petrov (Станислав Евграфович Петров), born in 1939, was the duty officer monitoring an early warning system from a bunker outside Moscow on September 26, 1983, when the radar screen suddenly appeared to depict a missile inbound from the United States.

        “The Soviet Molnyia, vast elliptical orbiting satellites, were supposed to decrease the likelihood of natural phenomena being mistaken for a launch. However during that midnight Autumn Equinox in 1983, the sun’s reflection on high altitude clouds against the darkness of space mimicked the launch of first one, then later several, U.S. missiles on a trajectory toward the Soviet Union. It was a particularly volatile time because just three weeks before this incident, the Soviet Air Force had shot down Korean Air Flight 007 with 269 people on board, including US Congressman Larry McDonald and several other Americans.

        “‘All my subordinates were confused, so I started shouting orders at them to avoid panic,’ Petrov told the Russian news agency RT in 2010. ‘I knew my decision would have a lot of consequences.’

        “The alert siren wailed. A message on the bunker's main screen reported that four more missiles had been launched, he said. Petrov had 15 minutes to determine whether the threat was real and report to his commanders.

        “Petrov, thinking that any U.S. attack should have involved even more missiles to limit the chance of Soviet retaliation, told his Kremlin bosses the alert must have been caused by a malfunction. He persuaded Moscow not to shoot back.” —watch a brief (0:53) news video about Stanislav Petrov and read John Bacon’s “Stanislav Petrov, Soviet soldier credited with saving world from nuclear war, dies at 77,” USAToday , and Barbara Kaufman, “Stanislav Yevgrafovich Petrov: Not On My Watch: The Enemy Who Saved the World

Call to the table. “A New Year: Communities around the world celebrate the new year…in song,” 92nd Street Y.

Pictured at left is a stained glass window in the sanctuary of Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. The bombing decapitated Jesus. Indeed, every bombing, anywhere, does the same.

Last week marked the 54th anniversary of the 15 September 1963 bombing of Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, which killed four children, Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley, ages 11 to 14.

        It would be another 14 years before a determined Alabama attorney general reopened the case and secured the conviction of the first of four suspects, Ku Klux Klan member Robert Chambliss.

        During his trial, a witness said Chambliss told her that that he had "enough stuff put away to flatten half of Birmingham." A second suspect died before his trial. It would take another 13 years before the remaining two suspects were convicted. All together, it took 27 years, a shifting public consensus, and an attorney general with a conscience to meet the bare minimum of "justice."

¶ Watch this brief (3:24) video, “Birmingham Bombing 1963.”

Between 1947 and 1965, there were 41 bombings (and one attempted bombing that we know of) in Birmingham, a city nicknamed “Bombingham.” Back then, such acts—and similar ones across the US—were not widely considered as terrorism, and no trillion-dollar war was launched.

What is especially important to remember is the fact that this horrific bombing came just 18 days after the historic March on Washington which included Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

        I have no doubt that the march’s success played some role in galvanizing the resolve of the Birmingham bombers’ resolve for vengeance, since Sixteenth Street Baptist Church was a frequent gathering place to launch the civil rights marches now remembered by TV footage of police attack dogs and fire hoses being unleashed on the marchers.

        Which is to say: Dreams that matter will provoke resistance. We should not be surprised at—and should be prepared for—the terms of death-defying endurance.

News about the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church so moved Welsh artist John Petts that he volunteered to create a replacement stained glass window for the one depicting Jesus that was destroyed. The editor of his hometown newspaper in Llansteffan, Wales, launched a front page appeal to cover the cost. Petts’ “Wales Window for Alabama(left) depicts a black Christ, chest thrust out and arms outstretched as though on a crucifix, the right one pushing away hatred and injustice, the left offering forgiveness. —for more info see BBC News

The state of our disunion. In his speech at the United Nations, President Trump threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea, home to 25 million citizens. At the outbreak of such an attack, North Korea's 10,000 artillery pieces (and maybe their thermonuclear warheads) aimed at the 25 million South Koreans in the metropolitan Seoul area would commence firing. Think about that for a minute. Then begin pondering what you can do about it.

How does climate change make hurricanes worse? Here’s a brief (0:49) summary.

Best one-liner. “They tried to defeat us. We survived. Now let’s eat.” —summary of Jewish theology by Jonathan Sacks, former Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations, UK

For the beauty of the earth.What A Wonderful World With David Attenborough,” BBC (2:00 video).

Altar call. “Prayer is meaningless unless it is subversive, unless it seeks to overthrow and to ruin the pyramids of callousness, hatred, opportunism and falsehood. The liturgical movement must become a revolutionary movement, seeking to overthrow the forces that continue to destroy the promise, the hope, the vision.” —Abraham Joshua Heschel

Benediction. “I want to be written again / in the Book of Life / to be written every single day / till the writing hand hurts.” —Jehuda Amicha, The Poetry of Yehuda Amichai

Recessional. Cantor Avraham Feintuch, “Yom kippur Kol nidre prayer.” 

Lectionary for Sunday next (World Communion Sunday). “Our Presbyterian friends get credit for initiating [World Communion Sunday], back in the mid-1930s, then adopted in 1940—at the brink of world war—by the Federal Council of Churches (now National Council of Churches). I’m not sure if it’s celebrated much outside the US. And that may be because much of the world suspects that ‘world communion’ holds the same promise of what we call ‘globalization.’ A globalized economy is supposed to work for everyone. ‘Everyone has an even chance,’ so we’re told. But casino owners say the same thing, knowing the process is heavily tilted toward the house.” —continue reading “Remembering the Future: Bright with Eden’s dawn: A World Communion Sunday sermon

Just for fun. Comedic outbreak for train riders in Europe. Performers along a 30 killometer stretch perform theatre for train passengers. (0:58 video. Thanks Judy.)

Featured this week on prayer&politiks
• “Remembering the Future: Bright with Eden’s dawn," a World Communion Sunday sermon
If justice and only justice: Lamech's threat of escalating violence,” a new poem

#  #  #

©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


Remembering the Future: Bright with Eden’s dawn

A World Communion Sunday sermon

Ken Sehested,
Text: Hebrews 2:5-12 (The Message)

      The main title of this sermon, “remembering the future,” is a nonsensical notion. How can you remember the future since it hasn’t happened yet? Maybe if you love science fiction, or if you’re a fan of the actor Michael J. Fox, you can imagine going “back to the future.” But remembering the future?

      How silly is that, in a grown-up world?

      Maybe, in our growing up, we have actually grown in, grown in on ourselves, grown sour on the world, grown weary of illusions, grown cynical about pious propaganda, pious politics, as well as pious religion.

      I believe, however, that remembering the future is at the heart of our redemptive calling. Remembering the future is what we ritually practice each and every week in the celebration of the Eucharist, communion, the Lord’s Supper. It’s a ritual to remind us to remember the future each and every day. People on the Way of Jesus are by definition an unreasonable people—if, by reason, you mean the economic reasoning which generates extremes of wealth and poverty. If, by reason, you mean defense strategies that generate instability and terror. If, by reason, you mean the certainties which proclaim that you get is what you earn, that you are what you can buy, and that respect comes at the price of threat.

      We are, by definition, an unreasonable people, because we believe that another world is possible. We believe that one day mercy will trump vengeance. We believe we’re headed for a party, not a purge. We believe the meek will inherit the earth. We believe that what the poor and the abandoned need is not money but friendship. If we are to be co-inheritors with the meek, we’d best spend some time with them. For we have much to learn—much to learn about the faith we profess.

            Today is world communion Sunday. Our Presbyterian friends get credit for initiating this annual observance, back in the mid-1930s, then adopted in 1940—at the brink of world war—by the Federal Council of Churches (now National Council of Churches). I’m not sure if it’s celebrated much outside the US. And that may be because much of the world suspects that “world communion” holds the same promise of what we call “globalization.” A globalized economy is supposed to work for everyone. “Everyone has an even chance,” so we’re told. But casino owners say the same thing, knowing the process is heavily tilted toward the house.

      Having said that, however, I’ve always thought one of the strengths of this congregation is its global vision. We have consistently made connections with people and events at a distance from our own neighborhoods.

      Early this past summer I rediscovered a small 4” x 6” notebook I used to record the offerings we received in the first year after our founding in 2001. In fact, the very first offering we took as a congregation was not for our own support. Our very first offering was a mission grant to Rabbis for Human Rights, an Israeli organization which was replanting olive trees destroyed by the Israeli army on the West Bank in Palestine. The total was $305.

      In case you didn’t know this, the Circle of Mercy budget process requires that our annual mission grants line item be equal to 10% of everything else in the budget. And that line item is the only one that does not zero out at the end of the year. Meaning: if we don’t spend the allotted amount, we carry that surplus over to the next year. We don’t do that with any other line item. We maintain this commitment because when finances get tight, most congregations end up cutting the missions budget. This commitment involves a spiritual discipline as well as a budgetary practice: Relinquishing control over some portion of our assets reflects our convictions about God’s alternative economy. It is a counter-cultural habit that testifies against the rule of hoarding.

§  §  §

      There are a lot of courageous people in this small Circle. . . . (listing numerous examples)

      Truth is, the majority of our acts of healing, our stands for justice, our pursuit of peace are anonymous, attracting no applause, no news reporters, rarely acknowledgment of any kind. Except in the heart of God. (Ethics is, as they say, what you do when no one is looking.)

§  §  §

      Many of you have seen the bumper sticker: The first line boldly proclaims, “Jesus is coming back soon!”

      The second line adds: “Look busy!!”

      Going and serving and telling the goodness of the news of grace and mercy we have come to experience in our own lives is surely part of our mission. But part of our mission is also learning to not be so busy, to be still and know, to opt out of the rat race, to come to experience the sheer relief of knowing the world’s healing is not finally up to us. Being exhausted in the world of nonprofit work can be as deafening as exhaustion in the for-profit world.

      As believers we have parallel callings, distinct in their performance but woven together in their origins and growth. There is the call to sacrificial engagement with the world’s pain; and there is the call to relaxing into the confident quiet and stillness of the abiding presence of God. Their rhythm has its own ecology, its own alternating impulses, its own distinctive and mutually-reinforcing requirements and disciplines. The deeper we dig into our own souls, discovering the DNA of God’s love, the more loving, and forgiving, we will be in the world. And the more loving and forgiving we are in the world helps us dig deeper into the love of God. Neither precedes the other. Neither is more important than the other. The joining of these two are linked as much as breathing in and breathing out.

      And the only way we can get it right is to remember the future, a future that in the book of Hebrews is referred to as “bright with Eden’s dawn light.” (The Message)

      The secret to our sacramental vision, the secret that inspires our conviction that heaven’s regard has not abandoned earth’s remorse, is that the future is not determined by the past. If that were true, surely we all would burn in hell.

      The Greek word that describes the early church’s practice of the Lord’s Supper is anamnesis. If you look it up in the dictionary, it means “a recollection of past events” or a “reminiscence.”  It’s true that when we gather for communion we always tell a particular story, of Jesus’ final meal with his disciples. This is not a generic religious ritual. We are people of a particular story, though we believe the story to have global and even cosmic significance.

      But we don’t simply reminiscence: yeah, so-and-so did such-and-such around some Palestinian dinner table back in the day. Anamnesis is more that historical accounting. Anamnesis means to re-member, to put the pieces back together, to be animated with the same Spirit which drove Jesus to his confrontation with the authorities. It was not a confrontation he desired. The next to last prayer he said before his death was “let this cup pass from me,” which is fancy way of saying: Get me outta’ here!

      Elsewhere in the Book of Hebrews the text returns to the image of Jesus as the “pioneer” of our faith, and goes on to say that “for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God” (12:2). It is this “joy” that here in chapter 2 is referred to with the image of the coming day that is “bright with Eden’s dawn light.”

            The thing that drives us in our engagement with a world shaped by despair and driven by violence is the promise that another world is waiting, another world is coming, another world is groaning, waiting to be born, as a mother in childbirth. And we are among its midwives. Likewise, the thing that protects us from despair and exhaustion is this secret whisper we manage to hear when we quiet our souls: Be not afraid! God is not yet done. The night of travail will surely give way to the morning, a morning “bright with Eden’s dawn light.” Be of good cheer. For “we are people on a journey, pain is with us all the way. Joyfully we come together at the holy feast of God”: From distant places to the streets in our own neighborhoods. “Then people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God” (Luke 13:29). That’s a world communion Sunday worth working and waiting for.

            Sisters and brothers, the meek are getting ready. They invite us to join them in that risky vigil.

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Circle of Mercy Congregation
Asheville, NC
7 October 2012

©ken sehested @

News, views, notes, and quotes

Signs of the Times  •  13 September 2017 •  No. 136

Above: Satellite image from NASA's Earth Observatory of (l-r) Hurricanes Katia, Irma, and Jose

Processional. “She's a rounder I can tell you that  / She can sing 'em all night, too  / She'll raise hell about the sleep she lost  / But even cowgirls get the blues.” —Emmylou Harris, “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues

Commentary in small bytes


On the one hand.
“I praise you [O God], because I am awesomely and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). “You have
made mortals a little lower than angels, and crowned them with glory and honor” (Psalm 8:5).

On the other hand.
“The heart is devious above all else; it is perverse—who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)

§  §  §

Call to worship. “O, night thou was my guide! / O, night more loving than the rising sun! / O, night that joined the Lover to the beloved one! / Transforming each of them into the other.” —English translation of one stanza from St. John of the Cross’ “La noche oscura,” artist unknown (Thanks Kenny.)

§  §  §

Right: This photo was posted to the Beacon Rock Golf Course (North Bonneville, Washington) Facebook page on 6 September 2017 with the caption “Our golfers are committed to finishing the round! Photo by Kristi McCluer.

        I confess I’m presently more impressed with life’s perverse character, given the recent howling winds of rains and fires and human mischief near and far.

        When I got my flu shot this week, I asked my doctor if I could also get an inoculation for the blues. She just smiled.

        Devious-hearted theology, with duplicity and bluster coming from so many sources, from so many directions, by so many accomplices in human and climate tragedies.

        I’ve caught the devious-generated blues. These days my conscious discipline is to take Mr. Roger’s advice from his mother to “look for the helpers” in times when life seems to be unraveling.

§  §  §

 “If justice, and only justice, is / all we ask, none will / escape the hangman’s / ugly work. . . . East of Eden, our fated home, / marked children that we are, / Abel seeding Lamech’s threat, compounded / epoch after aeon after era, bloodied soil wailing still.”  —continue reading “If justice and only justice: Lamech's threat of escalating violence,” a new poem

§  §  §

Even cowgirls get the blues. (“Cowwomen” just gets crossways in the throat.) I’ve seen them do so with my own eyes, despite their rugged strength and sun-chiseled faces. I once checked the herd, starting just before sunup one frigid morning, with a real live cowgirl. It was birthing season and the cold was dangerous for newborns. Had to pick one up out of the snow, body still steaming in the frost, to get it into the pickup’s heat and hope it would recover.

        It didn’t.

        It’s not all sunshine and twinkling stars with Mother Nature. She can be cruel.

        As we’ve vividly seen in recent weeks, she can also be goaded into hot-breathed temper tantrums due to the earth-blistering, air-choking habits of human beings.

        Pope Francis didn’t mince words this week after viewing the devastation in the Caribbean caused by Hurricane Irma. No one who’s taken pastoral counseling would dare his bluntness in describing human behavior: Stupid! was the pontiff’s chosen descriptor.

        This is what happens, he continued, angry at the climate change deniers, “When you don’t want to see, you don’t see.

        He may have had in mind Jeremiah’s complaint. “The heart is devious above all else; it is perverse—who can understand it?” (17:9)

§  §  §

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

§  §  §

Right: A Rohingya man passes a child though a barbed wire border fence on the border with Bangladesh.

Hymn of praise. “I got me a fearless heart / Strong enough to get you through the scary part / It's been broken many times before / A fearless heart just comes back for more.” —Stevie Earl, “Fearless Heart

§  §  §

In addition to all the obvious examples of deviation that crowds the minds of even the most casual observer, one of my heroes recently got called out for her duplicity of silence over horrid repression of some of her country’s citizens.

        Aung San Suu Kyi, the de facto leader of Myanmar (Burma), was for decades kept under house arrest by the former ruling junta of generals and became the symbol of human rights advocacy after the student riots of 1988. In 2015 her National League for Democracy party won the election, though she is not permitted to formally serve as Myanmar’s president because she married a Brit and both her sons have British citizenship (forbidden by the country’s constitution). Myanmar’s military maintains a controlling share of political authority.

        The government, which is officially Buddhist, has for decades waged low-intensity warfare against the so-called “hilltribe” peoples, indigenous groups with distinct cultures, some of which have majority-Christian populations, who live mostly in the horseshoe-shaped mountain ranges at the country’s borders.

        Among those minorities, though, are the Rohingya, a Muslim population in the Rakhine State on the country’s eastern border with Bangladesh and the Bay of Bengal, who have lived in that region since the 12th century. The Rohingya have not been given even the minimal status as a “minority” group, have been stripped of their citizenship, not counted in the census, and have been subject to Buddhist mob and military violence for the past half-century. The United Nations described them as among the most persecuted religious minorities in the world. (See Linday Murdock, “What is going on with Aung San Suu Kyi,” Sydney Morning Herald)

        In recent weeks the Myanmar military has engaged in systematic killings and Rohingya village burnings, driving more than 370,000 of them into Bangladesh in an indisputable act of ethnic cleansing.

§  §  §

I have long cherished this quote from Suu Kyi: "A revolution which aims merely at changing official policies and institutions with a view to an improvement in material conditions has little chance of genuine success. Without a revolution of the spirit, the forces which produced the iniquities of the old order would continue to be operative, posing a constant threat to the process of reform and regeneration."

§  §  §

        This past week, Suu Kyi’s long time friend and fellow Nobel Peace Laureate Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu called her out in an open letter, which begins:

        “I am now elderly, decrepit and formally retired, but breaking my vow to remain silent on public affairs out of profound sadness about the plight of the Muslim minority in your country, the Rohingya. . . . My dear sister: If the political price of your ascension to the highest office in Myanmar is your silence, the price is surely too steep.” —see Naaman Zhou and Michael Safi, The Guardian

Right: Desmond Tutu with Aung San Suu Kyi in Yangon in 2013. Photo by Soe Than Win-AFP-Getty Images

§  §  §

Myanmar Leader Cancels U.N. Trip Amid Outcry Over Rohingya Slaughter,” Rick Gladstone & Somini Sengupta, New York Times

§  §  §

Hymn of lamentation.Many Rivers to Cross,” Joe Cocker.

Words of assurance. Watch this brief video (0:58) of Mr. Rogers telling the story of his mother’s advice, in the midst of catastrophe, to “look for the helpers.”

§  §  §

Short story. Among the helpers to whom I look for courage is my friend and fellow church member Greg Yost, a high school math teacher who resigned his job to work full time resisting the catastrophic effects of climate change enablers.

        Greg is in his second week of a water-only fast, sitting in front of the NC Department of Environmental Quality office calling attention to their power to grant water quality permits that would allow construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a 600-mile natural gas pipeline running from West Virginia to Eastern North Carolina, with opposition organized by “The Alliance To Protect People and the Places We Live. (You can view the pipeline’s map here.)

        Greg (at left, photo by Sue Sturgis, Facing South), one of the founders of “Beyond Extreme Energy,”  focuses on opposition to fossil fuel extraction, transport and storage. We know for certain that if earth’s ecosphere is to survive, most of the fossil fuel now sequestered in the ground must remain there—which means the race for renewal energy is escalating dramatically.

        In an open letter to NC Governor Roy Cooper, asking him to reject the 401 water permits needed to construct the pipeline, Greg writes:

        “My young students will not have time to recover from the mistakes that you and I will make today if we build the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, thereby making a one time, generational investment in dirty, outmoded energy technology. Pipelines and gas plants, once built, will shackle us to this expensive and life threatening fuel for decades to come. . . .” —read the entire letter at the letter here

§  §  §

Germany, France, Britain, Norway, India, and China either have in place or are working on a timetable to ban vehicles powered by internal combustion. Austria, Denmark, Ireland, Japan, the Netherlands, Portugal, Korea and Spain have set official targets for electric car sales. —see Alanna Petroff, CNN Money

§  § §

If you don’t live [the blues], it won’t come out your horn.—jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker

§  §  §

Other stories from our past. If we are to grow roots deep enough to withstand the devastation of history’s fire and rain storms, escalating the church’s memory of its saints is important.

        One of those is St. Peter Claver, patron saint of slaves, whose official saint day is 9 September. Claver, a Spanish Jesuit born in Catalonia, was posted to the city of Cartegna in what is now Colombia. A port city, Cartegna was a significant market for the transatlantic slave trade from Africa to the “new world.” Despite his own poor health, Claver devoted his entire life to caring for the enslaved in that region. In 1985 the government of Colombia declared 9 September as its Human Rights Day in honor of Claver’s memory.

        There is no evidence that St. Claver advocated for the abolishment of slavery, like his predecessors Antonio de Montesinos and Bartolomé de las Casas. Roman Catholic church teachings condemned slavery as an “enormous crime” as early as 1462, though the right of enslavement remained for those who “refused” conversion.

        Then again, St. Claver’s extraordinary life of service among the enslaved rings more true than that of some today who speak, often and loudly, about structural justice but do so at little personal cost.

§  §  §

Best one-liner. “We must speak to [the dispossessed] with our hands before we speak to them with our lips.” —St. Peter Claver, patron saint of slaves

Can’t makes this sh*t up. This new word—terracide, meaning "the destruction of a planet or of natural ecosystems"—has not yet been inserted in many dictionaries.

Altar call. “Blessed are those who trust in the Blessed One, whose trust is the Lord [instead of muscular force]. They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit.” —Jeremiah 17:7-8

Benediction. “Though the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit is on the vines; though the produce of the olive fails, and the fields yield no food; though the flock is cut off from the fold, and there is no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will exult in the God of my salvation.” —Habakkuk 3:17-18

Recessional. “How many times / Have I stood / By the river / And could not see / To the other side / Hoping like Moses / The clouds / Would be lifted / Stretch out my hand / The waters divide / Lay back the darkness / Let in the light / Take all the wrongs / Make them all right / And if I could / Lay down these blues / For good.” —Kate Campbell, “Lay Back the Darkness” (Thanks Mike.)

Lectionary for this Sunday, answering Lamech;s escalating threat (Genesis 4;24). “Then Peter came and said to [Jesus], ‘Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’
        “Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.’” —Matthew 18:21-22

Lectionary for Sunday next. “For [your children] are living messages to a lineage you will not see; to a future beyond your horizon. Devote yourself to the generations to come, so that each newborn ear will attend the decree of deliverance.” —continue reading “Teach Your Children Well,” a litany for worship inspired by Psalm 78 

Just for fun. 4-month-old otter has a bath for the first time. (Thanks David.)

#  #  #

Featured this week on prayer&politiks

• “Teach Your Children Well,” a litany for worship inspired by Psalm 78

• “If justice and only justice: Lamech's threat of escalating violence,” a new poem

©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


News, views, notes, and quotes

Signs of the Times  •  6 September 2017 •  No. 135

Special issue
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)

Above: Display of backpacks left by migrants attempting to cross the Sonoran Desert in Arizona, displayed at the Parson School of Design. The backpacks were exhibited in the show “State of Exception/Estado de Excepción.” Photo by Richard Barnes

Processional.Ice El Hielo,” La Santa Cecilia [Lyrics in English translation: “ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] is loose over those streets. / We never know when it will be our turn. / They cry, the children cry at the doorway, / They cry when they see that their mother will not come back.”]

Invocation. Clandestino,” Manu Ahao, [English translation: “I come only with my punishment / There comes only my conviction / Running is my fate / In order to deceive the law / Lost in the heart / Of the great Babylon / They call me the Clandestine / 'cause I don't carry any identity papers.”

Call to worship. “Gracious One, who jealously guards the lives of those at every edge, we lift our heavy hearts to your Mercy. / We live in a fretful land, anxious over the ebbing away of privilege, fearful that strangers are stealing our birthright. / Aliens breaching our borders. / Refugees threatening our security. / Loud, insistent voices demand a return to ‘the rule of law.’ / Speak to us of the Rule of your law, the terms of your Reign. Incline our hearts to your command.” —continue reading “You shall also love the stranger: A litany for worship, using texts on immigration

Hymn of praise. “Livin' in a city where the dreams of men / Reach up to touch the sky and then / Tumble back down to earth again / Livin' in a city that never quits / Livin' in a city where the streets are paved / With good intentions and a people's faith / In the sacred promise a statue made / Livin' in a city of immigrants.” —Steve Earle, “City of Immigrants

And a child shall lead. “At least two high schools in Denver, Colo., allowed students to collectively walk out of class Tuesday (see photo at right) to protest the Trump administration’s termination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Students at North High School and West High School walked out of school mid-morning to ‘protest’ in support of DACA, an Obama-era program that unilaterally granted temporary amnesty to hundreds of thousands” of children brought to the US by their parents.  Watch this video of the march. (1:07)

Confession. “Groaning with sighs too deep for words, singing our woebegone songs for the world that is promised from beyond every prediction, / beyond every market forecast, beyond every rule of engagement, beyond—at times—even our own faltering faith. / It is for that Bright Land that we intercede! / Its merciful manna is ours to neither hoard nor dispense. We are not its border guards. / All are immigrants to that Beloved Community into whose citizenship we are invited, for whose establishment we are committed, by whose joyful refrain our tongues cannot be restrained.” —continue reading “For that Bright Land: A litany for worship inspired by Romans 8:18-27

Take this brief (2:18) animated video tour with Robert Reich on the topic “The Facts About Immigration.”

Hymn of assurance. “And I’ll rise up / I'll rise like the day / I’ll rise up / I'll rise unafraid / I'll rise up / And I’ll do it a thousand times again / And I’ll rise up / High like the waves / I’ll rise up / In spite of the ache / I'll rise up / And I’ll do it a thousands times again / For you.” —Andra Day, “Rise Up

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) background. “In the 1990s to mid-2000s, the US started building up enforcement on the US-Mexico border, with a huge unintended consequence: Many unauthorized immigrants avoided repeated risky border crossings by settling in the US with their families. (Previously, unauthorized immigrants had mostly been working-age men who crossed back and forth to the US for work while their families stayed in their home countries.)
      “Around the same time, changes to US law made it nearly impossible for an immigrant to get legal status if they’d lived in the country illegally. So the children who crossed illegally into the US with their parents were growing up in a country where they could never become legal residents or citizens.

        “These children became known as DREAMers, after the DREAM [Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors] Act, a piece of legislation meant to give them a path to citizenship first introduced in 2001. But with that legislation stalled in Congress, President Barack Obama in 2012 created the DACA program. While it didn’t give them a path to citizenship, DACA offered DREAMers a temporary grant of protection from deportation and a permit to work legally in the US.” —Dana Lind, “9 facts that explain DACA, the immigration program Trump is threatening to end: How DACA works, who it protects, and what will happen to immigrants if Trump shuts it down”  Also see Julia Glum, “DACA by the Numbers: 15 Facts About the Youth Immigration Program Trump Could Soon Shut Down,” Newsweek

        • Some 800,000 people, average age of 25, are now registered in the DACA program, though 1.3 million are eligible.

        • On average, these children were 6.5 year old when they arrived.

        • They must have come to the U.S. before turning 16. They must have lived in the U.S. since June 15, 2007.

        • Their average hourly wage is $17.46 an hour, up from $10.29 before receiving DACA. About 72% of respondents were in higher education.

        • More than 1,800 governors, attorneys general, mayors, state representatives, judges, police chiefs and other leaders signed onto a letter supporting Dreamers and DACA recipients.

        • Nearly 80% said they got driver's licenses. About half became organ donors.

        • Because DACA recipients gave extensive personal information to the government when they applied, many of them could easily be tracked down.

        • The cost to apply for DACA status is $495. Once granted, it must be renewed every two years costing another $495 each time.

        • More than 97% are in school or in the workforce, 5% started their own business, 65% have purchased a vehicle, and 16% have purchased their first home. At least 72% of the top 25 Fortune 500 companies count DACA recipients among their employees.

Hymn of intercession. “Save me from this prison / Lord, help me get away / Cause only you can save me now from this misery / I've been lost in my own place, and I'm gettin' weary / How far is heaven?—Los Lonely Boys, “Heaven” (Thanks Randy.)

¶ “[Attorney General] Jeff Sessions is wrong. These kids are not taking jobs from American citizens. . . . The compassionate thing to do is to give these kids legal status, let them become citizens, they are all non-felons, they have no other country to go to.” Republican Senator Lindsay Graham (SC), on NBC’s “Today” show

¶ “A Moody’s Analytics analysis of Trump's proposed economic policies last year showed that removing all undocumented immigrants from the labor force would trigger an economic recession within one year.” —Tracy Jan, “White House claims ‘dreamers’ take jobs away from blacks and Hispanics. Here’s the truth,” Washington Post

Undocumented immigrants paid $13 billion into the retirement trust fund [Social Security] in 2010, and only got about $1 billion in benefits. Also, they paid about $10.6 billion in state and local taxes. —Alexia Fernandez Campbell, “The Truth About Undocumented Immigrants and Taxes

¶ At last count, more than 400 business executives had signed a letter supporting the DACA program, saying “Our economy would lose $460.3 billion from the national GDP and $24.6 billion in Social Security and Medicare tax contributions.” —Open Letter From Leaders of American Industry

¶ “Rescinding DACA Would Impose Massive Costs on Employers,” David Bier, Newsweek.

Only 15% of Americans believe those in the DACA program should be deported. 58% believe the immigrants should be allowed a path to citizenship; 18% believe they should be allowed to become legal residents. —Politico

¶ “The Hamilton Mixtape: Immigrants (We Get The Job Done),” K'naan featuring Residente, Riz MC & Snow Tha Product.

Only Mass Deportation Can Save America

        “In the matter of immigration, mark this conservative columnist down as strongly pro-deportation. The United States has too many people who don’t work hard, don’t believe in God, don’t contribute much to society and don’t appreciate the greatness of the American system. They need to return whence they came."


        • “Nonimmigrants are incarcerated at nearly twice the rate of illegal immigrants, and at more than three times the rate of legal ones.”

        • “Just 17 % of the finalists in the 2016 Intel Science Talent Search—often called the ‘Junior Nobel Prize’—were the children of United States-born parents.”

        • “More illegal immigrants identify as Christian (83%) than do Americans (70.6%).”

        • “The rate of out-of-wedlock births for United States-born mothers exceeds the rate for foreign-born moms, 42% to 33%.”

Right: Rosaries confiscated by US border patrol agents.

        • “The rate of delinquency and criminality among nonimmigrant teens considerably exceeds that of their immigrant peers.”

        “So how does America become great again by berating and evicting its most energetic, enterprising, law-abiding, job-creating, idea-generating, self-multiplying and God-fearing people?” Bret Stephens, New York Times

¶ “What makes a gringo your smart aleck lingo / When he stole this land from the Indian way back when / Don't he remember the big money lender / That put him a lincoln parked where his pinto had been / The almighty peso that gives him the say so / To dry up the river whenever there's crops to bring in / Such a good neighbor to take all his labor / Chase him back over the border till he's needed again.” —Merle Haggard, “The Immigrant

Listen to a reading of biblical texts on immigrants, read from The Riverside Church in New York City (1:02 video).

¶ Read “Strangers and Aliens: A collection of biblical texts regarding the fate of immigrants

¶ “The Prayer of the Refugee,” Rise Against.

Analogy. Suppose you are one among the many who lost your home and possessions to Hurricane Harvey. (Some of you many not have to “suppose.”) But now, instead of the awful labor of rebuilding, you are actually deported for something your parents did. That’s the fate Dreamers are currently facing.

Left: Migrants ride on top of a northern bound train in Mexico toward the US-Mexico border.

Between October 2000 to September 2016, the US Border Patrol has documented 6,023 deaths of immigrants attempting to cross into the US from Mexico. “I would say for every one we find, we’re probably missing five,” said Sheriff Urbino Martinez of Brooks County, Texas.
        “If this were any other context, if these were deaths as a result of a mass flood or an earthquake or a major plane crash, people would be talking about this as being a mass disaster,” said Daniel E. Martinez, an assistant professor of sociology at George Washington University. —Manny Fernandez, “A Path to America: Marked by More and More Bodies,” New York Times

Can’t make this sh*t up. The New York Times reported Tuesday that administration officials privately raised concerns as late as one hour before the announcement about Trump's understanding of the effects of rescinding DACA. Rebecca Savransky, The Hill

¶ “If You’re Outraged By Trump’s DACA Decision, Here’s How You Can Help Recipients Like Me.” Pierre R. Berastain, HuffPost

Preach it. “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” —South African Bishop Desmond Tutu

Call to the table.This Land is Your Land,” Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings.

Altar call.Todos Somos Ilegales” (“We Are All Illegals”), Residente, Tom Morello & Chad Smith.

The Hymn Society in the United States and Canada is pleased to announce the release of Singing Welcome: Hymns and Songs of Hospitality to Refugees and Immigrants, a collection of 46 hymns and songs available for free download from The Hymn Society’s website.

Benediction. “Love does no wrong to a neighbor.” —Romans 13:10

Recessional. “To dance the Bamba / one needs a bit of grace. / A bit of grace for me, for you, / now come on, come on, / for you I'll be, for you I'll be, for you I'll be. “ —Los Lobos & Gipsy Queens, “La Bamba

Just for fun. A drone’s-eye-view of a fireworks show. (4:07 video. Thanks Donna.)

#  #  #

Featured this week on prayer&politiks

• “Out of the house of slavery,” a Bible study on immigration

• “You shall also love the stranger,” a litany for worship, using texts on immigration

• “Strangers and Aliens,” a collection of biblical texts regarding the fate of immigrants
Other features

• “Tired of being mean,” a response to the “Nashville Statement” by Nancy Hastings Sehested

• “For that Bright Land,” a litany for worship inspired by Romans 8:18-27

©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



Tired of Being Mean

A response to the "Nashville Statement"

by Nancy Hastings Sehested

It was the last night of Vacation Bible School at the Sweet Fellowship Baptist Church. All week our five year olds rehearsed the story of Pharaoh and Moses to dramatize for their parents. All four boys wanted to be mean ‘ole Pharaoh.

With the church pews filled with family, the performance commenced. Our wee Pharaoh sat on his throne holding his plastic sword. Then little Moses walked up to him with his shepherd’s crook and said, “Pharaoh, stop hurting my people. Let my people go.”

Our Pharaoh wielded his sword in the air and said, “Never, never, never!”

Moses walked away and then returned with the same words. “Pharaoh, stop hurting my people. Let my people go!”

Pharaoh said nothing. I thought he’d forgotten his lines. I scooted toward him and whispered, “Say ‘Never, Never, Never’.”

Nothing. Then our little Pharaoh jumped down from his throne, threw down his sword and said, “I’m tired of being mean. I don’t want to be mean anymore!”

Imagine meanness in the world ending due to fatigue.

It seems that we are simply not tired enough. But surely we are close to exhaustion sorting out who needs our meanness now. Just flipping through the Bible to find which people to hate is draining. These days it’s hard to find a Midianite to kill. Stoning incorrigible teenagers to death in the town square could leave few maturing into adulthood. Abominating people who are “sowers of discord” or have “haughty eyes” could unleash a bloodbath in our churches.

Aren’t we worn out yet from using the Bible as a bully stick for meanness?

The "Nashville Statement" is a clear indication that some religious Pharaohs are not tired of wielding their sword of hatred. But the rest of us are tired of one more abusive word against gay, lesbian and transgendered people in the name of religion. Who’s next? Women ministers? Oh, wait. That’s a mean streak that started decades ago. (The 30th anniversary of my expulsion from the Southern Baptist Convention comes in October. My, how the time flies when you're having fun.)

Signers of the statement, here is a word to you: Don’t you have something better to do? Feed the hungry? Visit the prisoners? Shelter the homeless from the hurricane? Give the thirsty some clean drinking water? Stop mad men from starting a nuclear war? If you are afraid of the world changing too fast or becoming too complex for you, then say, “I’m afraid.” Then be assured that God is with you in this changing world. But don’t use your own selective Bible verses to hurt beloved people of God. We’re tired of your meanness. God is too.

#  #  #

P.S. For a more detailed bit of satire along these lines, I commend for your reading “Dear Dr. Laura, Why Can’t I Own Canadians As Slaves?” an open letter to Dr. Laura Schlessinger (a once-popular radio talk show host infamous for her "abomination" comments on same-sex relations), by James M. Kauffman.

Rev. Nancy Hastings Sehested
Co-Pastor, Circle of Mercy Congregation
Asheville, NC
August 31, 2017



News, views, notes, and quotes

Signs of the Times  •  29 August 2017 •  No. 134

Processional.The Flood Blues,” Louis Armstrong & Hot Seven Band featuring Bertha “Chippie” Hill.

Above: Rescue boats fill a flooded street as people are evacuated as floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey rise on Aug. 28, 2017, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Invocation. “I was hollerin' for mercy, and it weren't no boats around / Hey I was hollerin' for mercy, and it weren't no boats around / Hey that looks like people, I've gotta stay right here and drown.” —Big Bill Broonzy, “Southern Flood Blues

Call to worship. “Listen, all you who stagger in desert waste, / disgraced by gloom’s unremitting groan, dragged / daily to death’s gate and the sea’s drowning flood. / The Blessed One stands at the gate of plenty. / The Beloved waits by the well of refreshment. / Abandon your beggarly quest for breath beyond / the pale of praise, for sustenance beyond the tie / that binds all hearts as one.” —continue reading “Let gladness swell your heart,” a litany for worship inspired by Psalm 107

Hymn of praise.Wade in the Water,” Blind Boys of Alabama.

§  §  §

Houston, we have a problem: Hurricanes and nature's disdain

        Currently, “Harvey” ranks at 97 on the top 100 most popular boys’ names in the US for 2017. I doubt it will still be on the list at year’s end.

        Monday morning I heard from two good friends in Houston. Turns out they were safely away during Hurricane Harvey’s crawl across the region. Good neighbors braved flooded streets to get to my friends’ home to check on damage. Flood waters were lapping at the porch but had not yet crossed the threshold. Just in case, the neighbors went in and carted some valuable items upstairs.

        Investing neighbors with a key to your house is testimony to actual neighborliness.

        I was glad for this small bit of news; but the gladness was no match for the sadness of knowing what was occurring on a larger scale throughout much of the Southeast Texas (and, increasingly, in Louisiana, where Harvey seems to be headed next).

        So I spent the morning listening to bluesy music about floods. I’ve noted some of those above and below.

Right: Shardea Harrison looks on at her 3 week old baby Sarai Harrison being held by Dean Mize as he and Jason Legnon used his airboat to rescue them from their home after the area was inundated with flooding from Hurricane Harvey on August 28, 2017 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

        The extent of this deluge is hard to fathom. It may prove to be the largest flood event in US history. Some 30,000 are homeless and will be for weeks, months, “even years” ahead, according to one emergency response manager. Some 35% of the metropolitan Houston area, home to six million, is totally uninhabitable.

        There already are stories of heroism from both official responders and ordinary citizens who’ve pitched in to help, risking their own convenience and safety. And we will celebrate those stories, like the one below of the owner of a giant mattress and furniture store opening his doors to take in the displaced.

        In one news conference, Texas Senator John Cornyn offered a powerful metaphor, saying the community was “lashed together” in facing this crisis. We should all be encouraging that such traditional—I dare say conservative—cultural values are still available to call on: of people prioritizing the community’s health over personal circumstances. The older name for this is covenant life. As far back as Sinai, standing before God was organically connected to, and reflective of, our standing with each other. Neighborliness and Godliness were irrevocably entwined. Failing either put the other in jeopardy.

        But of course Sen. Cornyn, along with his fellow Texas Senator Ted Cruz, both voted against the federal aid requested by New Jersey and New York after Hurricane Sandy’s devastation in 2012. There’s nothing especially honorable to the idea of being “lashed together” if it only includes me and mine. Such convictions are disturbingly modernist.

        Being lashed together means allocating preventative measures at least as much value as responsive ones. Houston has some of the weakest building codes in the nation; and earlier this month President Trump rolled back provisions that would strengthen those standards in flood-prone areas.

        Hailing acts of personal valor while ignoring, or denigrating, policies supporting the commonweal is among the worst forms of deceit.

        We know that powerful economic forces are arrayed against the truth when it comes to climate issues. For instance, for the second time in as many years—this time, one week prior to Harvey’s mauling—researchers definitively documented the fact that ExxonMobil has known for at least four decades that burning fossil fuels was devastating to the ecosphere, yet they spent googobs of money hiding the facts.

        Market-based truth, like market-based health care, may be profitable in the short run but ruinous in the long.

        We also recently learned, the Trump Administration’s claim notwithstanding, that the federal government’s own “Climate Science Special Report” asserts it is “extremely likely” that more than half the rise in climate temperatures of recent decades is caused by human activity, specifically by greenhouse gas emissions. The report has yet to be formally released by the Trump administration—we only know about because someone among the researchers’ staff leaked it to the press.

        Finally, while it is right and proper that we, here, give devoted attention to Hurricane Harvey’s impact, we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that at about the same time catastrophic flooding ravaged parts of South Asia and West Africa. In both cases, the death toll is nearly 100 times higher than produced by Harvey.

        At the very least, through one of the several larger networks to which we are connected, we must draw into our attention span and response-ability what is happening in the larger world. Even the Pentagon knows that climate change is a threat to global security. We should be at least as aware. —Ken Sehested

§  §  §

“When covenant life is eclipsed and no scale of
justice endures save that which we enforce,
might makes right and every moral compass
is reduced to the self’s enthroned appetite
. The
commonweal is commandeered by shrewd
maneuvering, willful disinformation,
calculating propaganda, legislative malfeasance,
judicial folly, and political intrigue.”
—continue reading “Another Word is in the wind: A psalm of complaint and avowal

Good news. “If you live in Houston, you know Jim McIngvale—or rather, "Mattress Mack." As local businessmen go, he's among the most recognizable thanks to the local TV ads for his Gallery Furniture stores. Those stores are now serving a new role—emergency shelters for families in Houston (photo at right) driven from their homes by flood waters. McIngvale's stores are particularly well suited to the situation. They're massive warehouses filled with beds and furniture, the kind that can only exist in a place like Houston, where space is plentiful to the point of excess.” — Jason Abbruzzese, “Mashable”

Hymn of lamentation. “When it thunders and lightnin' and when the wind begins to blow / There's thousands of people ain't got no place to go.” —Bessie Smith, “Back Water Blues

Stay tuned to this. How flooding in southeast Texas will create additional environmental pollution due to damaged oil refineries and petrochemical plants is uncertain. ExxonMobil has admitted its plant in Baytown has been affected “and said it was taking action to ‘minimize emissions.’”
        “Earlier this year, a Texas court ordered Exxon to pay $20 million in fines for "serious" violations at Baytown that caused the release of about 10 million pounds of pollutants into the atmosphere. A judge ruled that Exxon violated the Clean Air Act 16,386 times between October 2005 and September 2013. Exxon said at the time that it disagreed with the finding.” Matt Egan, CNN

Hymn of assurance. “On Jordan’s Stormy Banks I Stand,” Pastor Danny R. Hollins & the Greater Fairview Sanctuary Choir. 

Word of warning. “You who live by mighty waters, rich in treasures, your end has come, the thread of your life is cut. “ —Jeremiah 51:13

They knew. “A new study shows how ExxonMobil downplayed climate change when it knew the problem was real.” Michael Hiltzik, LATimes

¶ In Scripture, water can symbolize deliverance or death, salvation or destruction, healing or harm, prosperity or peril, blessing or curse, assurance or threat. What follows is a selection of such texts. —continue reading “Water texts

Left: Victims of flooding in Bangladesh, where last week high waters claimed the lives of more than 1200 people. (Photo: Kamrul Hassan / Bangladesh Red Crescent)

At last count, the death toll in Texas from Hurricane Harvey’s wind and flood stands at 14. The day before Harvey’s landfall, monsoon rains in India, Bangladesh and Nepal has killed more than 1,200, as rescue workers scramble to provide aid to millions of people stranded by the worst such disaster in years. And on the same day, floods in Sierra Leone, on Africa’s west coast, created mudslides that have killed “more than 1,000.” Another 600 are missing, which means the death toll will likely climb.

¶ “Climate change did not produce Harvey the Hurricane, but climate change made Harvey worse than it would otherwise be.” —Jean Cole, “Top 5 Ways Man-Made Climate Change Made Hurricane Harvey Much Worse,” CommonDreams

¶ “An executive order issued by Trump earlier this month revoked an Obama-era directive that had established flood-risk standards for federally funded infrastructure projects built in areas prone to flooding or subject to the effects of sea-level rise—like many of those now sinking in Texas. Houston already has some of the laxest building regulations for structures in potential flood zones and the president wants to spread that policy across the US.” Benjamin Preston, The Guardian

Hymn of intercession. “Well dark clouds are rollin' in / Man I'm standin' out in the rain / Well dark clouds are rollin' in / Man I'm standin' out in the rain / Yeah flood water keep a rollin' / Man it's about to drive poor me insane.” —Stevie Ray Vaughan, “Texas Flood

Best one-liner. “If you defile the land, it will vomit you out.” —Leviticus 18:28

The state of our disunion. “The wicked are like the tossing sea that cannot keep still; its waters toss up mire and mud.” —Isaiah 57:20

Altar call. “Still I catch myself thinking / One day I'll find my way back here / You'll save me from drowning / Drowning in a river / Feels like I'm drowning / Drowning in the river.” —Eric Clapton, “River of Tears

Benediction. “The river is waiting, come rise up / A new day is coming, come rise up / They'll be sailing at first light, come gather / Said I force for the crossing, together. . . . / The river is waiting, I'm ready / To step from this island, I'm ready / Gonna leave all my sorrows, behind me / Lift my face to a new day, I'm rising.” —Irma Thomas, “River is Waiting

Recessional. “Lord, here comes the flood / We'll say goodbye to flesh and blood / If again the seas are silent / in any still alive / It'll be those who gave their island to survive / Drink up, dreamers, you're running dry.” —Peter Gabriel, “Here Comes the Flood

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