​News, views, notes, and quotes

18 June 2015  •  No. 26

Invocation. “The Lord’s my shepherd, I’ll not want / Green pastures rise and from the font / Flow waters, ever gentle, to surround me / My soul restored, my heart aflame / My feet will walk and for that Name / My lungs will lift to sing, Hallelujah. —Ken Sehested, first verse of new lyrics (adapted from from Psalm 23) to Leonard Cohen’s song, “Hallelujah.” 

Left: Banner hanging in the Park Road Baptist Church, Charlotte, North Carolina.

Graduation season. The recent vicarious experience of friends’ delight (and a wee bit of anxiety) at their children’s graduation pivots make me recall my own emotions in that season from some years ago, including a poem, “On the flow of tears.” 

Hymn of assurance.All My Tears,” by Emmy Lou Harris with Julie Miller

¶ Sweetitious (sweet + righteous). Courtney Vashaw, a Bethlehem, New Hampshire, school principal, got a surprise gift last week when her high school senior class voted to donate the $8,000 they raised (over the past 4 years) for their senior class trip to help with her medical expenses stemming from a rare cancer.

Newly-announced GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump. In a 2010 interview with Christian Broadcasting Network, Trump said he went to church “when I can. . . . Always on Christmas. Always on Easter. Always when there’s a major occasion. I’m a Sunday church person.” —Religion News Service

The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart, who leaves the show in August, is already regretting he won’t be around to cover Trump’s presidential run. Tuesday night’s Daily Show opening (10+ minutes—the Trump spotlight starts at about 4 minutes in) featured its reporters going orgasmic at Trump’s announcement. Should be a good fall for comedy.

¶ “An active-duty Army chaplain with the elite 75th Ranger Regiment has published a book titled, Jesus Was an Airborne Ranger, and appeared in uniform to promote it, raising questions about the service endorsing Christianity as the Pentagon wages wars in Muslim countries.” —Tom Vanden Brook, “Ranger chaplain causes friction with book," USA Today

Call to confession. "How can you say 'Our Father' if you plunge steel into the guts of your brother? Christ compared himself to a hen: Christians behave like hawks. Christ was a shepherd of the sheep: Christians tear each other like wolves. —15th century Dutch priest and theologian Desiderius Erasmus, “War Is Sweet to Those Who Have Not Tried It”

Ramadan Mubarak! (Have a blessed Ramadan!) Some 1.5 billion Muslims began observing Ramadan today, beginning a month of dawn-to-dusk fasting and deepened attention to spiritual formation in commemoration of the first revelation of the Qur’an to Muhammad according to Islamic belief. This annual observance is regarded as one of the Five Pillars of Islam.  Because the cycle of the lunar calendar does not match the solar calendar, the dates of Ramadan shift by approximately 11 days each year. The ending of Ramadan is marked by the holiday of Eid ul-Fitr, which takes place either 29 or 30 days after the beginning of the month. Here’s a brief, helpful introduction to the season, “Ramadan 2015: Facts, History, Dates, Greeting and Rules About the Muslim Fast.” 

Given the world in which we live, among our most urgent tasks involves interfaith conversation, particularly to delegitimize violence done in the name of religion. On this topic, see “Speak out clearly, pay up personally: The purpose, promise, and peril of interfaith engagement”  by Ken Sehested, Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb, and Muslim chaplain Rabia Terri Harris. Also see “Building a Culture of Peace: An Interfaith Agenda.” 

Painting in the design at right: "Farm Worker" by Vincent van Gogh.

Several high-profile stories involving religious leaders that do not include public embarrassment seem to suggest a hopeful trend. A little light bulb in my head came on when word arrived (thanks, Abigail) that New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the creation of a Clergy Advisory Council, comprised of faith leaders from across the city, “to maintain a direct line of communication” between faith communities and City Hall. —NYC, Official Website of the City of New York,
        Then I recalled the high visibility of faith leaders working at mediation and violence reduction efforts following racial unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore, Maryland.
        And now, on the brink of his much-anticipated encyclical on climate change, Pope Francis’ influence on public opinion and policy debates is being heralded from unlikely sources.
        “The encyclical is going to over one billion Catholics,” reaching an audience “that the scientific community could never do,” says Jeff Kiehl of the National Center for Atmospheric Research. “I mean, it’s just unbelievable.”
        “I’m not a religious person at all,” said Gavin Schmidt, a NASA climatologist. But the Pope’s statement “is probably going to have a bigger impact than the Paris negotiations” [the United Nation’s December conference on climate change]. —Gregg Zoroya, “In pen stroke, pope may alter climate debate,” USA Today

Researching quotes about Father’s Day (and, previously, Mother’s Day) is not unlike being a tasting judge in a county fair cotton candy making contest. By the fourth bite, the stomach is rumbling; another four and the taste buds themselves are suing for relief. Words like maudlin and mawkish and schmaltzy and mushy come to mind.
        •As with so many things: Sentiment often outweighs substance when it comes to “family values.” For instance, the US is the only developed country that does not guarantee paid paternal leave to workers.
        •Early in our congregation’s life: Believing that parenting is still among the most common faith-forming experiences, we organized moms and dads to speak about faith and parenting. We discovered, though, that a number of folk have volatile emotions on the topic. So we stopped such observances.
        •Gender gap: The amount of money spent per person on Mother’s Day gifts in 2015 was $173 ($21.2 billion total). Anticipated spending per person on Father’s Day is $116 ($12.7 billion total).
        •Parenting dreams, economic nightmare: “Before the recession, 12 out of every 100 American children got food stamps. After the recession, 20 out of every 100 American children got food stamps. That's nearly a 70% increase, from 9.5 million kids in 2007 to 16 million kids in 2014, at the same time that US wealth was growing by over $30 trillion.”  —Paul Buchheit, “Four Numbers That Show the Beating Down of Middle America” 

¶ “My father used to play with my brother and me in the yard. Mother would come out and say, ‘You’re tearing up the grass.’ ‘We’re not raising grass,’ Dad would reply. ‘We’re raising boys.’ —baseball Hall-of-Famer Harmon Killebrew

Words of assurance. My nominee for a Father’s Day hymn is Eric Clapton’s “My Father’s Eyes,” for the guitar work as well as the tune and lyrics.

Right: Dad and me, circa 1952.

Lectionary for Sunday next: 2 Corinthians 8:7-15. In his work to gather donations for the destitute church in Jerusalem, Paul makes references a God-Occupying axiom: “The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little.” But this is no first century United Way appeal. This instruction goes to the heart of Exodus-rooted covenant theology, given by the very Shining Presence of God to the Egypt-émigré Hebrews during their long walk to freedom, announcing daily manna: Each was to gather only enough for the number in their tents. The result: Those who gathered much had nothing left over; those who gathered little had no lack. Any surplus gathered “bred worms and became foul” (Exodus 16:9-21).
        Also: Two litanies for worship based on next Sunday's lectionary Psalm 130: “Amnesty” and “Draw Near.” 

Last week’s Senate approval of the USA Freedom Act did not include renewal of the National Security Agency’s electronic surveillance program—a program which two federal courts have previously struck down and a White House-appointed review report revealed in 2014 “had no discernible impact on preventing acts of terrorism.”
       One of my Senators, Richard Burr, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, complained that “We have a program that has never had one breach of personal privacy, and there’s really no compelling reason to change the structure of the program other than that the public is uncomfortable with it.”
       To which my hometown paper responded in an editorial: “The logic is fascinating. Burr seems to be saying unconstitutional laws are all right as long as you can’t prove rights have been violated, and it doesn’t matter what the people think.” —“In Congress, a win for the Bill of Rights,” Asheville Citizen-Times

“Enhanced interrogation” torture techniques have long been part of US military tactics. Pictured at left: Marines waterboarding a prisoner of war in the 1899-1902 war in the Philippines. An illustration similar to this appeared on the 22 May 1902 issue of Life magazine. 

In other, more significant Senate news, on Tuesday the chamber resoundingly (78-21) approved a measure forbidding the use of torture by any agent of the US government. The norm replacing current “enhanced interrogation” will be the Army’s Field Manual, which allows sleep and sensory deprivation, measures condemned by the UN Committee Against Torture. Nor does the Field Manual prohibit “extraordinary rendition,” shipping prisoners to other countries to be tortured.
       Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Senate Intelligence Committee vice-chair, has championed this legislation—against enormous odds—for six years. Significantly, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-AZ), who endured torture while a prison in the Vietnam War, was a key cross-aisle ally on this bill.

Out of sight, out of mind. In April 2014 the US Senate quietly stripped a provision in the intelligence operations bill requiring the President to publicly disclose information about drone strike casualties. Public attention may now be catching up. A May 2015 Pew Research survey found that the public has “become much more likely to voice their disapproval over the US drone assassination program.” —Buddy Bell, Voices for Creative Nonviolence

Preach it. “Americans’ right to free speech should not be proportionate to their bank accounts. —US Senator and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (I-VT)

Call to the table. “Any Christians who take for themselves any more than the plain necessaries of life, live in an open habitual denial of the Lord. They have gained riches and hell-fire.” —John Wesley, whose birth anniversary is 17 June.

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

AS THIS ISSUE WAS IN PRODUCTION, the bloodied news arrived that nine people have died in a shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, a historic African-American church in Charleston, S.C. I caught a short news clip from Attorney General Loretta Lynch saying this kind of crime "has no place in a civilized society."
        But let's get real: It does have a place. The legacy of our racial history, the outrageously easy access to guns, a nation in a seemingly perpetual state of war—these are among the key components that fuel our volatile culture of violence. 
        Vigorous hand-wringing has not helped.

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Featured this week on prayer&politiks:

• “Draw Near,” a litany for worship inspired by Psalm 130

• “Amnesty,” a litany for worship inspired by Psalm 130 

• “Turn Strong to Meet the Day: A Son’s Tribute to His Dad” 

• “On the flow of tears,” a graduation poem for my daughters

• “Speak up clearly, pay up personally: The purpose, promise, and peril of interfaith engagement

• “Building a Culture of Peace: An Interfaith Agenda” 

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

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