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Signs of the Times  •  9 December 2016  •  No. 99

Processional. “If your world has only done you wrong / And all you find yourself is all alone / And if there's no one there to see you through / I'll be there for you.” —The Mavericks, “Come Unto Me

 Above: "Frog Tree," photo by Harfian Herdi.


The renewing significance of Mary’s Magnificat

        At first glance, through modernity’s eyes, Mary’s encounter with the angel’s natal announcement—and her annunciating response—appears to be a form of self-subjugation.

        Is Luke’s story a case of a colonized mind? Did she actively concede to her own binding and bonding? Should we insist on a more assertive, individuated figure to front the Christmas story?

        I, for one, think not.

        Does the manger’s straw have a ghost of a chance against sharpened steel? Can there be any lingering question about the dominance of shock and awe’s rule?

        I, for one, think so. . . .

        Indeed, our deepest social need involves restoring a spiritual vision powerful enough to dispel the deception that we are on our own, that might makes right, that independence (freedom) involves no interdependence. . . .

        To highlight Mary’s subversive song of faith in Luke 1, the major theme of this issue of Signs of the Times records many small acts of resistance and rebuilding in public life. . . . And to support Luke’s tale we’ve enlisted another text (outside Advent’s lectionary guidance), from Matthew 11:28, where Jesus urged, “Come unto me all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest”—rest being anything but passivity. . . .

        There is an amazing array of songs that utilize the “Come Unto Me” refrain. . . . All of this issue’s musical recommendations come from that collection.

        In no way was Mary “meek and mild,” as Christmas hymnody would have us believe. What we urgently need to remember is that all the characteristics Gospel writers assigned to Jesus—savior, prince of peace, incarnate god, ruler of the world—were titles ascribed to Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus.

        The struggle over legitimate claim to that throne continues still. —read all of Ken Sehested’s “The renewing significance of Mary’s Magnificant

Invocation. Listen to a reading (2:11) of Evelyn Underhill’s poem, “Immanence.”

Creative acts of resistance in everyday clothes. Singer/songwriter David LaMotte’s children’s book, White Flour, isn’t about tinseled holiday trees, but it is about the power unleashed in the Nativity. (5:42 video. You can also buy the book.)

¶ “Meet the Texas man who went viral after standing outside a mosque with a sign reading ‘You Belong.’" (0:38 video. Thanks Bill.)

First urban “agrihood.” “This week, the Michigan Urban Farming Initiative (see photo at left by Michelle & Chris Gerard ) revealed its plans for the first Sustainable Urban Agrihood in the North End [of Detroit]. Wait, an agrihood? It’s an alternative neighborhood growth model, positioning agriculture as the centerpiece of a mixed-use development. There are some agrihoods around the country, but in rural areas. This is the first within a city.” Robin Runyan, Curbed Detroit

Call to worship. “Fretfully does my heart drag its heels into the sanctuary of delight. For my wanton days and weary praise reveal the toll taken by life’s relentless demands. / To where shall I appeal for release from such encumbrance? To whom shall I entreat to lay these burdens down? —continued reading Ken Sehested’s “Come Unto Me,” a litany for worship inspired by Matthew 11:28-30

 ¶ “All geography is local, and the salvation of that grand generality, “the environment,” often comes down to a fight on the part of local citizens to defend a particular river, forest, or at-risk species. . . .
        “As important as resistance efforts will be, pouring all our energy into opposition may be poor strategy. Just as important will be building local alternatives—cooperative institutions and enterprises, including community land trusts, city-owned public banks, credit unions, and publicly owned utilities investing in renewables. . . .”
        “Localism is a long, slow, patient path that requires trust, patience, and hard work. Such mundane work may sound boring in a time of political crisis and turmoil. But it may soon get a lot more interesting.” —Richard Heinberg, “Localism in the Age of Trump," commondreams

For an extended personal mediation or group discussion. “Walking with Oak Creek” is a very moving 33-minute documentary about the attack against a Sikh place of worship in Wisconsin and the community’s response. Available on-line or order a free DVD. (Thanks Dan.)

Hymn of praise.Come Unto Me,” Little Lucy Smith Singers (gospel).

Between the 8 November election through 29 November, the Southern Poverty Law Center tallied 867 cases of hateful harassment and intimidation in the US. Holly Yan, Kristina & Kylie Walker, CNN

Hate crimes in New York City more than doubled (compared to the same period last year) since Donald J. Trump won the presidential election. Sarah Maslin Nir, New York Times

Hymn of consolation.Come Unto Me,” The Chuck Wagon Gang (country).

¶ “On Monday, Native Americans conducted a forgiveness ceremony with U.S. veterans at the Standing Rock casino, giving the veterans an opportunity to atone for military actions conducted against Natives throughout history.” Jenna Amatuill, Huffington Post

Left: Native American elders led a ritual of forgiveness for US military veterans. Photo by Josh Morgan for Huffington Post.

Confession. “O God, I am frightened. Anxious are my waking hours and fretful is my sleep. Even as I pray I sense that desert sands in remote places are readied, eager, to bleach the bones of mothers’ sons, fathers’ daughters, children of us all. The corrupt, lustful glory of vain rulers now erupts across parched land. Hear our prayer, O Lord.” —continue reading Ken Sehested’s “Spirits collide: A conversation with Isaiah 35

Hymn of confirmation.Come Unto Me,” The Bishops (bluegrass).

“Twenty kids marched around a multipurpose room at Duke Memorial United Methodist Church on a recent Thursday, following the path of a cardboard highway that a day earlier they discovered had divided the city’s neighborhoods and altered their vision for the community.

Right: Children sing at the community organizing camp in Durham, N.C. Photo via Franklin Golden/RNS.]

        “‘Ain’t gonna let the freeway turn me around,’ they sang, hearkening back to the civil rights activism of the 1960s.
        “Instead of the traditional Vacation Bible School, this downtown church partnered with seven other congregations—black, white, Baptist, Jewish, Episcopal, Pentecostal, and nondenominational—to put on a community-organizing camp for kids aged 4 to 12.” —Jesse James DeCanto, “Forget VBS. These Summer Camps Teach Kids to Be Community Activists,”

Words of assurance. “Come unto me, all ye that labor / And are heavy laden, I will give you rest / Take my yoke upon you and learn from me / For I am meek and lowly in heart.” —Elvis Presley, “Come Unto Me” (rockabilly)

¶ “Muslim, Christian, Jewish and Buddhist faith leaders gathered at Masjid Muhammad, the oldest mosque in our nation’s capital, to express solidarity with the Muslim community through a press conference and by joining in Friday prayers at the mosque.” Drew Gibson, Shoulder to Shoulder

Signs like the one at left have appeared in numerous neighborhoods across the US.

Professing our faith. From Rob Brezsny book, Pronoia Is the Antidote for Paranoia. “‘Pronoia’ is fueled by a drive to cultivate happiness and a determination to practice an aggressive form of gratitude that systematically identifies the things that are working well. But it is not a soothing diversion meant for timid Pollyannas strung out on optimistic delusions. . . . On the contrary, we build our optimism not through a repression of difficulty, but rather a vigorous engagement with it. We understand that the best way to attract blessings is to grapple with the knottiest enigmas." (Thanks Abigail.)

Hymn of intercession. “Are you looking for someone to be gentle / With your broken heart your shattered dreams / And are you searching for someone who'll be faithful / To you no matter what life brings.” —Nicole C. Mullen, “Come Unto Me

When only the blues will do. “Come Unto Me,” Dawkins and Dawkins (rhythm & blues).

By far my favorite Presidential Medal of Freedom award was to Ellen DeGeneres. (2:17 video)

Preach it. “It’s time to put Herod back in Christmas. Not because we need any more Herods, but because it reveals that the sweet manger was placed in the midst of grave danger.” —continue reading Nancy Hastings Sehested’s sermon, “All’s wild with the world

¶ “It is hard to know specifically how to position yourself in a country that can elect a man with such staggering ineptitude and open animus. It makes you doubt whatever faith you had in the country itself. . . . When I think of all these people [who will suffer under a Trump presidency] and then think of all the people who voted to make this man president—and those who didn’t vote, thereby easing the way for his ascension—I cannot help but feel some measure of anger. I must deal with that anger. I don’t want to wrestle it to the ground; I want to harness it.” —Charles M. Blow, “America Elects a Bigot,” The New York Times

Hymn of decision.Come Unto Me,” West Coast Mennonite Chamber Choir.

¶ “Before we go into hard core resistance mode, we should listen carefully to the fear and sense of loss that was strong enough to overlook the obvious lack of decency. While it is hard to overlook the hot froth whipped up around race and gender we just don’t know how much was also about the loss of moral credibility of the privileged. We just elected one of the most weirdly privileged insiders of them all, but I know that’s most of his supporters were certainly not. We won’t get anywhere if we don’t listen.” —Gary Gunderson, “apart

Call to the table. “It is impossible, in the long run, to cleave the desire to help people from the duty to respect them. The smug style, at bottom, is a failure of empathy. Further: It is a failure to believe that empathy has any value at all. It is the notion that anybody worthy of liberal time and attention and respect must capitulate, immediately, to the Good Facts.
        “This is not a call for civility. Manners are not enough. The smug style did not arise by accident, and it cannot be abolished with a little self-reproach. So long as liberals cannot find common cause with the larger section of the American working class, they will search for reasons to justify that failure. They will resent them. They will find, over and over, how easy it is to justify abandoning them further. They will choose the smug style.” —Emmett Rensin, “The smug style in American liberalism,” Vox

¶ “Speaking to MSNBC on Saturday morning, Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings was asked to discuss the growing anxiety over Syrian refugees entering the United States, purportedly due to concerns they could be potential agents for militant groups such as ISIS. . . . He responded, ‘I am more fearful of large gatherings of white men that come into schools, theaters and shoot people up, but we don’t isolate young white men on this issue.’” Jack Jenkins, ThinkProgress

The state of our disunion. “It’s about the spirit of Christmas, you know, being out shopping with your family and all.  —man interviewed on “Black Friday,” the day after Thanksgiving

Can’t makes this sh*t up. This “Hipster Nativity Set” (pictured at right) can be yours for only $129.99. See more photos at Tara McGinley, “Sweet Jesus.” (Thanks Susan.)

Best one-liner. “I don’t think God really cares about who wins football games.” —last year’s Super Bowl-winning Denver Broncos quarterback (and future hall-of-famer) Peyton Manning

For the beauty of the earth. Watch this National Geographic video (1:51) of the world’s second-largest tree, the “President” in Sequoia National Park, photographed during a snow storm. The 3,200-year-old giant sequoia rises to a height of 247 feet and carries an estimated two billion needles. 

Altar call.Come Unto Me,” Take 6 (jazz).

Benediction. “The Christmas story is not about how blessed it is to be givers but about how essential it is to see ourselves as receivers. We prefer to think of ourselves as givers—powerful, competent, self-sufficient, capable people whose goodness motivates us to employ some of our power, competence and gifts to benefit the less fortunate. Which is a direct contradiction of the biblical account of the first Christmas. There we are portrayed not as the givers we wish we were but as the receivers we are.” —William Willimon

Recessional. Come Unto Me,” Metropolitan Tabernacle, London (traditional hymn).

Lectionary for Sunday next. “Joseph: Obscured brother / consigned to the margins / of Incarnation narrative. / Carpentry-calloused hands / now shield the shame / of sagging face, drooping, disgraced. / Chiseled lines prematurely sculpting / age in youthful countenance. / Thoughts of Mary smudge the heart / as tears smear the face.” —continue reading Ken Sehested’s poem, “Joseph,” inspired by Matthew 1:18-25

Just for fun. Mr. Bean directs the Christmas orchestra (2:22 video).

More than just for fun—this is PRICELESS. “Christmas According to Kids, Southland Christian Church.” (3:15 video. Thanks Abigail.)

#  #  #

Featured this week on prayer&politiks

• “All’s wild with the world,” a sermon on Mary’s “Magnificat” by Nancy Hastings Sehested

• “Spirits collide: A conversation with Isaiah 35

• “Come Unto Me,” a litany for worship inspired by Matthew 11:28-30

• “Joseph,” a poem inspired by Matthew 1:18-25

Other featured

• “Advent & Christmas resources for worship,” litanies, poems, sermons and new lyrics to old hymns
• “Prince of Peace: The birth of Jesus and the purposes of God,” a collection of texts
• “New secrets, waiting to be found,” a post-election sermon.  Or view a video of the sermon.

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