News, views, notes, and quotes

Signs of the Times  •  23 August 2019 •  No. 200

¶ Processional. "Circle Song,” Bobby McFerrin & the Kuumba Singers.

Special issue
Part one


When I prepare each issue of “Signs of the Times,” I go to the file of excerpted quotes from articles read and selected from a wide variety of media to find (1) the most timely and (2) the most relevant to a particular topic of focus for the week. I never have too little material and, given my self-imposed limit, have to make difficult decisions about what to exclude. On this topic, however, I had three times as much material as I could use.

        So for the first time I’ve decided to do consecutive columns on the same topic. This week’s edition focuses on the historic roots of racism. Next week we’ll look at the current landscape.



“No one cops to their own ingrained white supremacy, even though white supremacy
is the water and we are the fish, and it’s unlikely that we are not at least a little bit wet.”
—Timothy B. Tyson

        In recent years it feels like we have been drenched with news of a plague most thought was laid to rest with the successes of the Civil Rights Movement: festering white supremacy and white nationalism.

        An explosion of violent extremism, both here in the US and abroad. Mass shootings rooted in racial animus. A president who stirs hostility to immigrants, spews race-laced tweets, and fosters friendships with some of the world’s worst dictators (and, now, claims divine authority for trade wars).

        I’m remembering the response I got in the mid-‘80s to a grant request submitted to a faith-based foundation supporting justice, peace, and human rights advocacy. The request was for the production of material for use in local congregations on matters related to racial justice.

        I don’t recall the exact wording in their letter declining the request; but it was brief, something like “We already did that.” —continue reading “Preface to special issue on white supremacy (Part 1)”

Invocation. “Prayer infuses the air of a time yet to be into the suffocating atmosphere of the present.” —Walter Wink

Call to worship. “In my vision, Heaven’s Voice made the mountains shake and the meadows rumble. And I said, ‘I am not worthy to see such things! My lips cannot speak such wonder. My hands cannot hold it. I am only a little girl.’ But the One who breathes every breath said to me: Do not say ‘I am only a little girl.’” —continue reading “Send me,” a litany for worship inspired by Jeremiah 1:7-9 and Isaiah 6:1-8

Good news.  Justin Normand (below), who identifies himself as a Presbyterian, recently stood vigil for several hours outside a mosque in Irving, Texas, in a show of support to his Muslim neighbors. Read why he did this, posted at .

Hymn of praise. “Alleluia,” Alejandro Consolacion II, performed by the Ansan City Choir at St. Olaf College, Minnesota. (Thanks Wade.)

In the 1850s the US threatened war against Japan unless they opened its ports to US commerce. “The missionary Samuel Wells Williams wrote, ‘I have a full conviction that the seclusion policy of the nations of Eastern Asia is not according to God’s plan of mercy to these peoples, and their government must change them through fear or force.

      “In 1852, the secretary of the Navy, John Kennedy wrote that Japan must recognize ‘its Christian obligation to join the family of Christendom.’

      Echoing similar arguments made early about Native American gold mines, the secretary of state, Daniel Webster, argued that Japan had ‘no right’ to refuse the US Navy’s ‘reasonable’ request to commandeer Japanese sovereign soil for its coaling stations because the coal at issue was ‘but a gift from Providence, deposited, by the Creator of all things . . . for the benefit of the human family.’

      “Commodore Matthew Perry, whose gunboats forcibly opened the Japanese market, said in a speech, ‘The people of America will extend their dominion and their power, until they shall have brought with their mighty embrace the island of the great Pacific, and placed the Saxon race upon the eastern shores of Asia.’” —quotes from James Bradley, “The Imperial Cruise: A Secret History of Empire and War”

Professing our faith.

• “[W]e are concerned about a persistent threat to both our religious communities and our democracy—Christian nationalism. Christian nationalism seeks to merge Christian and American identities, distorting both the Christian faith and America’s constitutional democracy. Christian nationalism demands Christianity be privileged by the State and implies that to be a good American, one must be Christian. It often overlaps with and provides cover for white supremacy and racial subjugation. We reject this damaging political ideology and invite our Christian brothers and sisters to join us in opposing this threat to our faith and to our nation.” —"Christians Against Christian Nationalism

Again we watch as fellow Christians weigh whether to fuse their faith with nationalist and ethno-nationalist politics in order to strengthen their cultural footing. Again ethnic majorities confuse their political bloc with Christianity itself. In this chaotic time Christian leaders of all stripes must help the church discern the boundaries of legitimate political alliances. This is especially true in the face of a rising racism in America, where non-whites are the targets of abominable acts of violence like the mass shooting in El Paso.” —read the full statement, "Open Letter: Against the New Nationalism: An Appeal to Our Fellow Christians," at Commonweal magazine

Confession. “History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.” —Maya Angelou

The mention of “papal bulls” would cause most Americans to think about Pamplona and the annual running of the bulls. Not quite. A papal “bull” is essentially a Pope’s official acknowledgement of a land grant. Several in the late 15th century together framed a church “doctrine of discovery” to Spain’s and Portugal’s respective conquests, conveying the Pope’s blessing “to capture, vanquish, and subdue the Saracens, pagans, and other enemies of Christ and put them into perpetual slavery and to take all their possession and their property.” —Vinnie Rotondaro, “Doctrine of Discovery: A scandal in plain sight

        Several court cases in the US have cited this “doctrine of discovery” in justifying land grabs from indigenous peoples, mostly recently in a 2005 Supreme Court case: City of Sherrill, NY vs. Oneida Nation, which reads in part:

        “Under the ‘doctrine of discovery. . .” fee title (ownership) to the lands occupied by Indians when the colonists arrived became vested in the sovereign—first the discovering European nation and later the original states and the United States.” —For more see Katerina Friesen, “The Doctrine of Discovery and Watershed Conquest,” Radical Discipleship (Thanks Rose.) and “Discovery Doctrine,” Wikipedia  To read a primary source, see “The Doctrine of Discovery, 1493, issued by Pope Alexander VI.”

Hymn of supplication. "Manufactured truth is easy to sell / When you own the factory / And you own the hearts of the clientele / Can you really blame me? / Built on a system where some must fail / So that you can break through if you've got the right skin or you're born in the right country." —River Whyless, “” (Thanks Jayme.)

¶ “A year before the arrival of the celebrated Mayflower, 113 years before the birth of George Washington, 244 years before the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, this ship sailed into the harbor at Jamestown, Virginia, and dropped anchor into the muddy waters of history.  It was clear to the men who received this ‘Dutch man of War’ that she was no ordinary vessel.  What seems unusual today is that no one sensed how extraordinary she really was.  For few ships, before or since, have unloaded a more momentous cargo. The history of Black America began.”  —scholar and social historian Lerone Bennett, in his 1962 book, “Before Mayflower,” quoted in Nibs Stroupe, “Remembering 400 Years

¶ “In order to achieve and sustain union among the 13 jealous colonies after the shooting started [US Revolutionary War], patriot leaders elaborated upon the ‘common cause’ argument: all Americans should resist British tyranny because imperial officials were inciting the enslaved, Indians, and foreign mercenaries to destroy them. Spreading these ideas through weekly newspaper articles, patriot leaders (especially Jefferson, Adams, Franklin, and Washington) made the “common cause” about racial exclusion.” —Robert Parkinson, author of “The Common Cause: Creating Race and Nation in the American Revolution, in an interview with John Fea

Words of assurance. "You cannot swim for new horizons until you have the courage to lose sight of the shore." —William Faulkner (Thanks Joe.)

Hymn of resolution. “Think I want to cry a little bit longer. / Think I want to pray a little bit deeper. / I want to break down from the fever. / But I can’t give up, and I won’t get back. / I’m not giving up the fight.” —Ruthie Foster, “The Fight” (Thanks Mike.)

Short story. “I used to teach an introduction to Afro-American history every semester to 200 or so undergraduates at the University of Wisconsin. One thing that was standard issue among a huge swath of the students was they could not believe they had not learned any of this in high school. Just jawdropping astonishment at the facts of the matter, at our actual history. I also noticed a kind of cycle: There’s this astonishment and confusion, and then there's guilt. White students feel guilty, as if this somehow could possibly be their fault. But guilt very quickly sours into resentment.” Timothy B. Tyson, quoted in an interview with Will Jarvis, Chronicle of Higher Education

¶ On 5 May a group of white supremacists (photo at left) interrupted a Holocaust memorial event in Russellville, Arkansas, chanting “six million more,” a reference to the number of Jews who died during the Holocaust. —photo by Jasmin Joy Elma Lyon,

Word. “The question, ‘Why do children suffer?’ has no answer, unless it’s simply, ‘To break our hearts.’ Once our hearts get broken, they never fully heal. They always ache. But perhaps a broken heart is a more loving instrument. Perhaps only after our hearts have cracked wide open, have finally and totally unclenched, can we truly know love without boundaries.” —Fred Epstein, “If I Get to Five”

Preach it. “Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere. If babies / are not starving someplace, they are starving / somewhere else. With flies in their nostrils. / But we enjoy our lives because that's what God wants. / We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure, / but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have / the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless / furnace of this world. To make injustice the only / measure of our attention is to praise the Devil. . . . / We stand at the prow again of a small ship / anchored late at night in the tiny port. . . . / To hear the faint sound of oars in the silence as a rowboat / comes slowly out and then goes back is truly worth / all the years of sorrow that are to come.” —read the entire poem by Jack Gilbert, “A Brief for the Defense” 

Can’t makes this sh*t up. In his Wednesday morning tweets, Trump quoted [conservative radio host Allyn] Root saying, “President Trump is the King of Israel. . . . he is the second coming of God.” Later, in responding to reporters’ questions, Trump turned his head to the sky while saying “I am the chosen one” to handle trade relations with China.

Call to the table. “‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty,'—that is all / Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know / That is all.” —John Keats, “Ode on a Grecian Urn”

The state of our disunion. “New Trump Policy Would Permit Indefinite Detention Of Migrant Families, Children.” Brian Naylor, NPR

Best one-liner. “Forgive yourself for not knowing what you didn’t know before you learned it.” —Maya Angelou

Useful tools. Teaching Tolerance has developed a series of short videos devoted to Teaching Hard History” on “slavery’s impact on the lives of enslaved people in what is now the United States and the nation’s development around the institution” and “how enslaved people influenced the nation, its culture and its history.”

For the beauty of the earth. Time-lapse video (2:50) of saguaro cactus blooming.  Saguaros are native to the Sonoran Desert in Arizona, the Mexican State of Sonora, and the Whipple Mountains and Imperial County areas of California. These plants can live up to 150 years.

Altar call. "The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate for the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty and we must rise to the occasion. As our case is new, we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country." —Abraham Lincoln

Benediction. “Therefore, let us continue to praise God, to heed the Spirit’s call to playful embrace of Creation’s goodness. For by so doing, the impulse to hoarding and holding will be exhausted, and our capacity for hoping and healing will ever be renewed.” —continue reading “Let mutual love continue,” a litany for worship inspired by Hebrews 13

Recessional. “Adigio (Albinoni),” Hauser (cello) and the Zagreb Philharmonic Orchestra.

Lectionary for this Sunday. “Mercy’s requite,” a litany for worship inspired by Jeremiah 1:7-9 and Psalm 71

Lectionary for Sunday next. “Just got back from speaking to the Baptist Student Union. They wanted me to talk about ‘seeking God.’ As one student told me, ‘We just want to seek God's face and worship him.’

      “So I spoke from Hebrews 12 [vv. 18-29], where it recounts that Moses sought God on the mountain and the mountain shook. There was darkness and gloom, fire and smoke, and Moses said, ‘I tremble with fear.’ The text ends with, ‘for our God is a consuming fire.’

        “I told the students if they seek God, great; but they had better be careful. I've seen this God make sophomores sick, cause otherwise subdued English majors to lose control. I've seen senior marketing majors all set to graduate and pull down some big bucks meet this God and end up going to work the homeless and hungry. I've seen ROTC members meet this God and begin to question whether you can follow Jesus and be prepared to use violence at the same time. I've seen it!" —Kyle Childress

Just for fun. “Bye, Bye, Bye,” a back-to-school parody—which parents will understand. (3:25. Thanks Erica.)

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Featured this week on prayer&politiks

"Labor in the shadow of sabbath," a Labor Day sermon

• “Send me,a litany for worship inspired by Jeremiah 1:7-9 and Isaiah 6:1-8

• “Mercy’s requite,” a litany for worship inspired by Jeremiah 1:7-9 and Psalm 71

• “Let mutual love continue,” a litany for worship inspired by Hebrews 13

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