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Signs of the Times  •  12 January 2017  •  No. 104

Processional.Precious Lord,” performed by Sister Gertrude Morgan.

Invocation. “Most gracious God, before whose face the generations rise and fall; Thou in whom we live, and move, and have our being. We thank thee [for] all of thy good and gracious gifts, for life and for health; for food and for raiment; for the beauties of nature and human nature. We come before thee painfully aware of our inadequacies and shortcomings. We realize that we stand surrounded with the mountains of love and we deliberately dwell in the valley of hate. We stand amid the forces of truth and deliberately lie. For these sins O God forgive. Break the spell of that which blinds our minds.” —Martin Luther King Jr. See more of his prayers in “Prayers of Martin Luther King Jr.

Call to worship. “Oh, a storm is threat'ning / My very life today / If I don't get some shelter / Oh yeah, I'm gonna fade away.” —"Playing for Change" multi-artist rendition of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards’ “Gimme Shelter

Bearing witness, one house at a time. In the 9 December 2016 “Signs of the Times” column  I posted a sign that’s been popping up in neighborhoods across the country, which reads “No matter when you are from, we’re glad you’re our neighbor” written in English, Spanish and Arabic. (I’ve since learned it began with Rev. Matthew Bucher, pastor of Immanuel Mennonite Church in Harrisonburg, Pennsylvania.)

        Now one of my friends and neighbors, singer-songwriter-activist David LaMotte, has devised a creative way for households to address our post-election dystopia. He’s created a sign (3 ft x 8 ft,) for posting on your house that reads:

        “You are our neighbors. No matter who you vote for, your skin color, your faith, or who you love, we will try to be here for you. That’s what community means. Let’s be neighbors.”

        David is making the artwork available for free to anyone who wants it. You can even arrange for the printer than did his to print and ship one to you. Go to this site for details.

Hymn of praise. “For you I'll fly / through skies and seas / to your love / Opening my eyes at last / I'll live with you. [English translation]” —Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman, “Por ti volare” (“For You I’ll Fly”)

¶ “On April 4, 1968, I was spending several weeks working as a volunteer during the sugar cane harvest when I first heard the shocking news of the death of Martin Luther King, Jr.  As we sat eating our lunch, sitting on bundles of harvested cane and listening to a loud speaker providing music and occasional news, we heard the announcement that King had been assassinated.

        “I lowered my head in consternation when I heard several comments being made around me, “Look at that. They have killed him even though he is one of them.”  I took the opportunity to explain to those around me that King was a martyr, a fighter for racial justice and for the rights of the most humble of people. 

        “Quickly a circle of workers gathered around me, interested to learn of a type of Christianity which was new to them.” —continue reading Rev. Francisco Rodés’ “Martin Luther King Jr. in Cuba: A Cuban pastor’s story of King’s influence"

Left. Youth from Circle of Mercy Congregation at the Martin Luther King Center in Havana, Cuba.

Take the time in the coming days to hear  Martin Luther King Jr.’s final speech—“I’ve been to the mountain top”—on 3 April 1968, the night before his assassination. (43:14 video)

        Background. There was a terrible storm that night in Memphis. King was tired. The initial march in support of sanitation workers had attracted provocateurs who smashed windows along the march route. King was disappointed. His staff was very unhappy that he chose to be in Memphis when so much work was needed on the upcoming “Poor Peoples’ March” in Washington, DC. Memphis seemed like a distraction.

        Given the bad weather the night of the rally, given his tired and disappointed disposition, he didn’t want to go. “Ralph, you can take care of it.” But an overflow crowd showed up. And they wanted to hear King. So Abernathy called him and said “Martin, the people want to hear from you.” So he went and spoke extemporaneously, going on that famous “I’ve been to the mountaintop” riff, but then going on to say “I may not get there with you.” Almost a premonition of what happened the next day. He was 39 years old when the sniper’s bullet arrived.

Hymn of intercession.Precious Lord,”  performed by R&B singer Ledisi Anibade Young. Minutes before the assassin’s bullet found him, King called out, from the Lorraine Motel second floor balcony, to the music leader for that night’s rally, “I want us to sing ‘Precious Lord’ tonight.” This, reportedly, was his favorite hymn.

Watch this video, “Death of Martin Luther King,” background of King’s involvement in the sanitation workers’ strike. —PBS. 9:16

Watch this video (3:03) of King’s last day in Memphis. —NBC News

Confession. “A human being whose life is nurtured in an advantage which has accrued from the disadvantage of other human beings, and who prefers that this should remain as it is, is a human being by definition only, having much more in common with the bedbug, the tapeworm, the cancer, and the scavengers of the deep sea.” —James Agee

Hymn of lamentation.Precious Lord,” Mahalia Jackson (who often sang this at Dr. King’s civil rights rallies).

Among the many things to be learned from the black church is this: The articulation of lament—whether in speech or music or dance—contains in its very performance the generative power of assurance which siphons away the rule of fear.

Words of assurance.Precious Lord,” B.B. King.

Above: The Martin Luther King Memorial statue in Washington, DC.

A real-life story of the power of forgiveness. “More than three million Muslims live in the U.S., and in recent days, there has been a disturbing rise in hate crimes against them. Filmmaker Joshua Seftel, who as a child was taunted by other kids because he was Jewish, created a new documentary series, ‘The Secret Life of Muslims,’ to explore the stories of Muslims in America.” —“Secret Life of Muslims,” CBS Sunday Morning (Thanks Abigail.)

Professing our faith. “Precious Lord.” The song and its title have become so pedestrian as to be disdained. I know I have been so inclined, for the nearly six decades since I was able to understand the words to a hymn so frequently sung in my formative years as to appear visually in my dreams.

        Think about it: this daring juxtaposition of two words that typically mix no better than water and fire.

        As commonly used, precious is a distinctively feminine, fluid term, suggesting familiarity, intimacy, caressing, lenience, vicarious, unself-possessed.

        In contrast to lord, a rigorously masculine word, demanding, formative, scrupulous, stringent, directive, jealous.

        Bound together, they create an anomaly—“take my hand,” a precious request; “lead me on,” a lordly admission— as if to deny the laws of physics and metaphysics alike. There is a mystery here to be explored, well beyond our gendering, constricting prejudices.

        I wish I knew how to explain it better; suffice it to say, birthing by water and by fire belong together.

¶ “While I certainly empathize with the emotions driving [the urge for more militant oppositional tactics], we also have to remember that it is violence that got us here. It is hatred, ignorance, division, intimidation—all manifestations of violence—that brought us Trump. If we choose to be motivated by anger and hatred, if we choose to divide our communities even more, all we do is continue to feed the exact energy that got us Trump. Even if the anger is towards Trump and his supporters, we are empowering the forces that allowed him to rise to power. We need to be angry, but at the forces of injustice, not its human participants.” Kazu Haga, Waging Nonviolence

This is without a doubt the best 6+ minutes of political commentary I have heard in the electoral season just behind us—and, of all things, from Hollywood: Meryl Streep, speaking at the Golden Globe Awards. (Thanks Jon.)

¶ “She makes the most heroic characters vulnerable; the little known, familiar; the most despised, relatable. . . . Her artistry reminds us of the impact of what it means to be an artist, which is to make us feel less alone.” —Viola Davis, introducing Meryl Streep at the Gold Globe Award ceremony—a remarkable speech in its own right (12:23 video).

Preach it. “What is to be done? First we must try to tell the truth and a condition of truth is to allow suffering to speak. For 40 years, neoliberals lived in a world of denial and indifference to the suffering of poor and working people and obsessed with the spectacle of success. Second we must bear witness to justice. We must ground our truth-telling in a willingness to suffer and sacrifice as we resist domination. Third we must remember courageous exemplars like Martin Luther King Jr, who provide moral and spiritual inspiration as we build multiracial alliances to combat poverty and xenophobia, Wall Street crimes and war crimes, global warming and police.” —Cornel West, “Goodbye, American neoliberalism. A new era is here,” The Guardian

Call to the table.Precious Lord,” performed by 12 year-old Joshua King at a New York State tribute event for Dr. King.

In light of current political circumstances, a group of Christian leaders have penned “A Public Call to Protect All People” saying “. . . we feel led by God’s Spirit to call upon congregations and other assemblies to make the following public commitments in their communities: We will protect and support the worth and rights of all people, including marginalized persons who are targeted, discriminated against or singled out by hate crimes or state-sponsored/sanctioned violence. . . ." —continue reading “A Public Call to Protect All People
        See an accompanying article, “Implementation Guide for local congregations and assemblies,” for ideas to use the “Public Call.”

For the beauty of the earth. Real-time display of wind, weather, and ocean currents across the globe in motion.

Altar call. My favorite short story is the one Martin Luther King Jr. tells about his “kitchen table conversion” in his book, Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story. I’ve posted it at bottom.

¶ [Dr. King’s speech] “I Have a Dream” has become a bit dreamy, the sentiment injected with high fructose corn syrup, deep fried with a heavy batter, and rolled in sprinkles. Less than three weeks after the soaring prose at the Lincoln Memorial, King had to do the funerals of slaughtered Sunday school children in Birmingham. The Riverside oration [“Beyond Vietnam,” where he spoke out against the Vietnam War] puts the “dream” back into perspective in terms of the challenges still before us.” —continue reading Ken Sehested’s “When the dream gets dreamy: On the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s ‘Beyond Vietnam’ speech

Benediction. “Ignite in us again the Word that stirs insurrection against every imperial reign, against every forecloser’s claim, against every slaver’s chain, until the Faith which death could not contain, the Hope which doubt could not constrain, and the Love which fear could not arraign lifts every voice to sing ’til earth and heaven ring!” —continue reading Ken Sehested’s "Martin Luther King’s birthday commemoration: A litany for worship

Recessional. Steel drum rendition of “Precious Lord,” Neal & Massy Trinidad Allstars.

Just for fun.The Bubble,” video skit (2:20) by Saturday Night Live.

Left: Portrait by Bruni Sablan.

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Featured this week on prayer&politiks

• “When the dream gets a bit dreamy,” on the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s ‘Beyond Vietnam’ speech

• “Martin Luther King’s birthday commemoration,” a litany for worship

• “Faithful Witness: The testimony of Scripture and of Martin Luther King Jr,” a litany for worship

• “Prayers of Martin Luther King Jr.,” a brief collection

• “Dr. King didn’t do everything.” We miss the significance of the Civil Rights Movement if we attribute everything to Dr. King.

Other features

• “Martin Luther King Jr. in Cuba,” by Rev. Francisco Rodés

• “Hear this, O People of the Dream,” a litany for worship commemorating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

• “Write the vision, make it plain,” a sermon on Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday

• “Hold Fast to Dreams: Defaulting on the Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,” a theological conference lecture

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