News, views, notes, and quotes

Signs of the Times  •  16 February 2017  •  No. 109

Processional.What a Wonderful World,” Playing for Change.

Above: Grey seal, photographed by Ellen Cuylaerts. For more marvelous photos, see Alan Taylor, “The 2017 Underwater Photographer of the Year Contest,” The Atlantic

Invocation. “I am waiting for you / For only to adore you / My heart is for you / My love / My love / My love.” —Sinead O’Connor “In This Heart

Good news. More than 800 congregations have declared themselves sanctuaries for undocumented immigrants, a number that’s nearly doubled in the three weeks. Also, Omar Suleiman, professor of Islamic Studies at Southern Methodist University, is organizing an effort calling on mosques to serve as sanctuaries. Laren Markoe, Religion News Service

Short (and amazing) story. “The children were going to die. Mohamed Bzeek (below) knew that. But in his more than two decades as a foster father, he took them in anyway—the sickest of the sick in Los Angeles County’s sprawling foster care system. He has buried about 10 children. Some died in his arms.” Hailey Branson-Potts, LA Times

Not so good news. “. . . the powers of the president to protect our country will not be questioned.” —Senior White House policy adviser Stephen Miller, Washington Post

Call to worship. “People killin', people dyin' / Children hurt and you hear them cryin' / Can you practice what you preach / And would you turn the other cheek.” Black Eyed Peas, “#WHEREISTHELOVE” (Thanks Anne.)

¶ Theologian and biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann shines a light on nationalism and idolatry in the American church. (3:45 video)

USA! We’re #1! In prison population (and incarceration rates); energy use per person; small arms exports; per capita health expenditures; credit card, student loan and mortgage debt.
        In oil consumption; breast augmentation; death by violence; anxiety disorders; illegal drug use; teen pregnancy; school shootings; child abuse rates; election campaign spending.
        In military spending; foreign military bases (by a whole-whole lot); gun ownership; car thefts; fast food and soft-drink consumption; eating disorders; obesity.
        In divorce rate; child abuse death rate; lawyers per capita; prescription drugs (and drug advertising); mental illness diagnoses; and TV watching (though we’re tied with the UK on that last one). —see Michael Snyder, "USA #1? 40 Embarrassing Things That America Is The Best In The World At

A Gallup International poll of citizens in 68 countries “found the US as the greatest threat to peace in the world, voted three times more dangerous to world peace than the next country. Carl Herman, Washington Post

Hymn of praise. “Sweet Is the Melody,” Iris Dement.

Confession. “The crisis in the US church has almost nothing to do with being liberal or conservative; it has everything to do with giving up on the faith and discipline of our Christian baptism and settling for a common, generic US identity that is part patriotism, part consumerism, part violence, and part affluence.” —Walter Brueggemann

¶ “All around America, I have met amazing people whose words of worship and encouragement have been a constant source of strength [saying] ‘I am praying for you.’” —Donald Trump, National Prayer Breakfast, full text is available at Time magazine

In 1973 a very different National Prayer Breakfast message was spoken by Republican Senator Mark O. Hatfield.
        “If we as leaders appeal to the god of civil religion, our faith is in a small and exclusive deity, a loyal spiritual Advisor to power and prestige, a Defender of only the American nation, the object of a national folk religion devoid of moral content. . . .
        “We need a ‘confessing church’—a body of people who confess Jesus as Lord and are prepared to live by their confession. Lives lived under the Lordship of Jesus Christ at this point in our history may well put us at odds with values of our society, abuses of political power.” —see more at Wes Granberg-Michaelson, SojoNet

¶ "In the formation of the American ideal and principles of what we consider to be exceptional American values, Muslims were, at the beginning, the litmus test for whether the reach of American constitutional principles would include every believer, every kind, or not." Denise Spellberg, author of Thomas Jefferson's Qur'an: Islam and the Founders, cited in Elahe Izadi, The Washington Post

The wording of this art (at right) is a play on what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in silencing Sen. Elizabeth Warren, during Sen. Jeff Session’s confirmation hearing as Trump’s new attorney general, as she read a letter from Coretta Scott King first submitted to the Senate in 1986 in opposition to Jeff Session’s nomination as a federal judge. —see more at Wesley Lowery, Washington Post

¶ See this nine-second video of McConnell silencing Warren.

Dozens of “Nevertheless, she persisted” designs can be seen at Society6.

Words of assurance.The Unclouded Day,” Don Henley.

¶ “If America's No. 1, Who's No. 2? European Nations Compete For The, Uh, Honor.” Camila Domonoske, NPR

Testify. “I don’t want to see religious bigotry in any form. It would disturb me if there was a wedding between the religious fundamentalists and the political right. The hard right has no interest in religion except to manipulate it.” —Billy Graham, 1981

Hymn of resolution.Freedom,” Pharrell Williams.

¶ “Concealed within that oft-cited ‘freedom’—the all-purpose justification for deploying American power—were several shades of meaning. The term, in fact, requires decoding. Yet within the upper reaches of the American national security apparatus, one definition takes precedence over all others. In Washington, freedom has become a euphemism for dominion.” —historian and retired Army Colonel Andrew Bacevich, “Iraq and Afghanistan Have Officially Become Vietnam 2.0

 ¶ “The United States, as a great power, has essentially taken on the task of sustaining the international order.” —former U.S. Secretary of Defense James R. Schlesinger, 1985 testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on American

There’s us, and there’s them. Admonishment from our Danish friends, on so many things that aggrieve us here. (3:00 video)

Hymn of intercession.Abide,” Carrie Newcomer and Parker Palmer.

Our down-the-rabbit-hole political environment has led to exposing some of our nation’s dirty laundry—oddly, from America-first advocates.

        • In his recent interview, news commentator Bill O’Reilly’s questioned Trump’s cozy relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, calling Putin a “killer,” Trump said “We’ve got a lot of killers. Boy, you think our country’s so innocent? You think our country’s so innocent?”

        • Downplaying Russian hacking the US election, Columnist Cal Thomas recited numerous occasions when the US has overthrown foreign governments, rhetorically asking “Is any of this morally different from what Putin allegedly orchestrated to influence the American election?”

        • Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) pushed Thomas’ comparisons even further, citing a Carnegie Mellon University study “that estimates the US has been involved in 81 elections [in other countries] in one way or another since World War II.” Joel Burgess & Mark Barrett, Asheville Citizen-Times

¶ “The question of who constitutes ‘we the people’ is one of the fundamental questions of American history. All the facts point to one answer. The makeup of ‘we’ is determined by power, not by inalienable rights. The ones with the guns, with the money, with the land, with the weight of policy to control bodies of others, those are the ones to whom the possessive pronouns of America are available. Such possession is determined in many ways, but we always return to melanin and the concentration of it as reason for dispossession.” Greg Jarrell, Baptist News Global

Offertory.Your Eyes,” Anoushka Shankar.

Preach it. “The ultimate instrument of our unity is the patient grace of God, not the greatness of the nation state.” —20 January 2017 editorial, America: The Jesuit Review

Can’t makes this sh*t up.

        • “House Republicans Just Voted to Eliminate the Only Federal Agency That Makes Sure Voting Machines Can’t Be Hacked.” —Ari Berman, The Nation

      • “House Votes To Overturn Obama Rule Restricting Gun Sales To The Severely Mentally Ill,” Jessica Taylor, NPR.

      • Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) led the charge in overturning a regulation preventing coal mining companies from dumping their waste in nearby streams, bringing to the floor an unemployed coal miner so he could “see the person who put him out of work. Yet two weeks earlier McConnell’s office “blocked efforts to rescue the health and pension funds on which thousands of retired and disabled miners rely.” —Joby Warrick & Lydia DePillis, Washington Post

        • The US Airline Pilots Association, backed by dozens of members of congress, want the Trump administration to block access to US airports by Norwegian Air Shuttle (NAS). Why? Because NAS is actually based in Ireland where they pay lower wages. Outrageous! —see Bill Carey, AINonline

Religious liberty for Muslims was championed by Roger Williams in colonial America, and specifically mentioned in early US constitutional wording. Thomas Jefferson, who 1786 penned Virginia’s Statue for Religious Freedom—which became the model for the religious liberty amendment to the US Constitution—which extended explicit protection to “the Jew and the gentile, the Christian and the Mohametan” [Muslim]. And, in fact, the Virginia legislature explicitly rejected inclusion of language recognizing “Jesus Christ” in the bill. —see Elahe Izadi, “Obama, Thomas Jefferson and the history of the fascinating history of Founding Fathers defending Muslim rights

Right: “Transfiguration” by Socrates Magno Torres

Call to the table. “The goal of any true resistance is to affect outcomes, not just to vent. And the only way to affect outcomes and thrive in our lives, is to find the eye in the hurricane, and act from that place of inner strength.” —Arianna Huggington, “How to Get Out of the Cyle of Outrage in a Trump World” (Thanks Abigail.)

“Americans aren’t as attached to democracy as you might think.” A recent survey documents troubling trends. Only 53% said they “trust judges more than President Trump,” and among Trump supporters, 51% said the president should be allowed to overrule court decisions. In another study, less than 1 in 3 of millennials believe it “essential to live in a democracy.” Austin Sarat, The Guardian

As part of its coverage of Black History Month, last year The New York Times printed a series of previously unpublished archival photos of African Americans, including one of a 17-year-old Lew Alcindor, Jr., who changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

The state of our disunion. “On Nov 9, when New York’s Muslim Community Network posted a notice on Facebook about a self-defense workshop [for women], leaders expected 50 to 60 women would respond. Within hours, 2,700 women had signed up.” Yonat Shimron, Religion News Service

Best one-liner. “To paraphrase Rodney Dangerfield, when we try to look out for number one, we’re likely to step in number two.” —Stan Dotson, “In Our Elements”

For the beauty of the earth universe. “Laniakea: Our home supercluster” (4:10 video) visualizes a breakthrough by astronomers to “map” earth’s location in the universe. It’s pretty amazing. (Thanks Hope.)

Altar call. "The failure to love enemies is to hedge on Jesus.” —read “Circle of Mercy Is a Peace Church,” Circle of Mercy Congregation, Asheville, NC

Benediction. “The nonviolent war cry of the people of God inaugurates our proper evangelistic vocation: that another world is not only possible but is actively moving in our direction.” —continue reading Ken Sehested’s “We’ve a story to tell to the nations: The nonviolent war cry of the people of God

Right: “Transfiguration” fresco, St. Constantine and Helena Orthodox Church, Bruges, Belgium

Recessional. Preobrazhenie” (Transfiguration), Isihia.

Lectionary for Sunday next. Commenting on Luke 9:28-43, the juxtaposed stories of Jesus' "transfiguration" on the mountain when he walked with Moses and Elijah and then going down the mountain immediately healing an convulsing child, Robert McAfee Brown writes: "It is all of a piece—ecstasy and epilepsy. This is what Messiahship is all about: being in the midst of the poor, the sick, the helpless, those with frothing mouths. Messiahship—like Christian living—is not just 'mountaintop experiences" or "acts of concern for human welfare;' it is a necessary combination of the two.”

Just for fun. Fans of The Simpsons may remember the episode where Bart and the Flanders kids play a video game called "Billy Graham's Bible Blasters"
        Rod: "Convert the heathen!"
        Bart: "Got 'em!"
        Rod: "No, you just winged him and made him a Unitarian."

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Featured this week on prayer&politiks

• “Circle of Mercy Is a Peace Church,Circle of Mercy Congregation, Asheville, NC

• “We’ve a story to tell to the nations: The nonviolent war cry of the people of God

• "Songs about immigrants and refugees." I pulled together my list of favorite songs about immigrants and refugees, shared it with some friends, got additional titles, for this chart of 26 songs (in no particular order). —kls

 Other features

• “Fasting: Ancient practice, modern relevance

• “Wilderness: Lenten preparation," a collection of biblical texts that speak of wilderness

• “Create in me a clean heart,” a litany for worship inspired by Psalm 51

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

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