Signs of the Times • 23 September 2016 • No. 89
¶ Processional. “Rivers of Babylon,” The Melodians.
Above: A caiman in the Amazon whose head is nearly covered in butterflies. Salt is critical to the survival of many creatures like butterflies and bees who sometimes drink tears from reptiles in regions where the mineral is scarce. Photo by Mark Cowan.
¶ Invocation. “If you want to find a spark, sift through the ashes.” —Hasidic saying
Right: Water defenders shut down construction of the Dakota Access pipeline by obstructing the equipment on 6 September 2016. Photos by Rob Wilson.
¶ "It’s being called 'the largest, most diverse tribal action in at least a century': scores of Native American tribes camped among the hills along the Cannonball River. . . And they won a partial victory on Sept. 9, when the federal government ordered a provisional halt on construction [of the Dakota Access Pipeline–DAPL] near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. What’s behind the opposition to the pipeline, and what makes it spiritual?” —Emily McFarlan Miller, Religion News Service
¶ Call to worship. “By the Waters of Babylon,” a cappella round by foxxvixx.
¶ This was a pretty stunning initiative, made more dramatic by the fact that it is a collaboration between three separate federal agencies. “Important issues raised by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and other tribal nations and their members regarding the Dakota Access pipeline specifically, and pipeline-related decision-making generally, remain. . . . The Army will not authorize constructing the Dakota Access pipeline . . . until it can determine whether it will need to reconsider any of its previous decisions regarding the Lake Oahe site under the National Environmental Policy Act or other federal laws. Therefore, construction of the pipeline on Army Corps land bordering or under Lake Oahe will not go forward at this time.” —9 September 2016 Department of Justice news release
Stay tuned; this is but a temporary measure.
¶ As of 7 September, “The broadcast news networks—ABC, CBS and NBC—have aired exactly one report on the Dakota Access Pipeline protests since the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe began an encampment against the project in April, according to a search of the Nexis news database. That report, read by Anne-Marie Green, aired on the CBS Morning News at 4 a.m. on September 5.” It was a mere 48 words long and cribbed from a National Public Radio report. —Jim Naureckas, FAIR
¶ “There is an old Lakota prophecy of a black snake, a creature that would rise from the deep, bringing with it great sorrow and great destruction. For many years, the Lakota people have wondered what the prophecy meant and when it would come to pass. When they heard news of this pipeline — this tube, immeasurably long, that would pump black oil through the heart of this country — some Lakota people began to wonder if the snake appeared at last.” —Kristen Moe, “How a ‘Black Snake’ in the Heartland Brought Spirit to American Environmentalism,” Yes!
¶ “The Great Sioux Reservation, formed in the eighteen-sixties, shrunk again and again—in 1980, a federal court said, of the whole sad story, “a more ripe and rank case of dishonorable dealings will never, in all probability, be found in our history.” In the nineteen-fifties and early sixties, the Army Corps of Engineers—the same Army Corps now approving the pipeline—built five large dams along the Missouri, forcing Indian villages to relocate. More than two hundred thousand acres disappeared beneath the water.” —Bill McKibben, “A Pipeline Fight and America’s Dark Past,” The New Yorker
¶ Hymn of praise. “Waters of Babylon,” Sweet Honey in the Rock.”
¶ In light of the civil disobedience action at Standing Rock, commentator Lawrence O’Donnell’s brief (4:34) recitation of the historical treatment of Native Americans is the most concise and blunt, not to mention truthful, chronicle I’ve heard from mainstream media.
¶ Good long read, for further background on the DAPL action. “Two of our country's biggest issues, racism and climate change, have collided on a North Dakota reservation. This week, I loaded up my station wagon with water and supplies and drove down for a look at a historic demonstration that could shape the national dialogue going forward.” —Mark Sundeen, “What’s Happening in Standing Rock" (Thanks Robin.)
¶ Another child leading. “This 8-Year-Old Boy Spent 2 Years Growing His Hair To Make Wigs For Kids With Cancer.” When Thomas Moore saw his mom watching a video on Facebook about a girl who had lost her hair to cancer, he had an idea. He decided to start growing his hair out for kids who had lost theirs to chemotherapy, and so that's what he did. For the next two years. —James Gould-Bourn, boredpanda (Thanks Jo.)
¶ A testimony from Charlotte. “But then an officer walks onto our porch. I greet him at the door, cautious and respectful, and note that there are three others running down our driveway. There are two more in the front yard to the left. Three near the pecan tree by the street. Two cruisers parked on the side street. At this point it becomes clear that the helicopter is not just close by, it is hovering above our house. We are surrounded.” —continue reading Greg Jarrell’s “Standing as loving accomplices on a front porch surrounded by police”
¶ Good news from afar. In the Uttar Pradesh region of India, Sunni and Shiite Muslims make a point of joint worship during special observances, defying the typical narrative of conflict. —Akhtar Ali, Religion News Service
¶ Words of thanksgiving. “We give thanks for curious stories that nudge us to act with cleverness, creativity and compassion within such agonizingly unjust systems. May we be found as your church that has some tricks up the old sleeve for the common good.” —continue reading Nancy Hastings Sehested’s prayer, “Companions of comfort”
¶ The truth stings. “You know whose to blame for the problem of the abuse of women and girls? Men who don't give a damn. You know whose to blame for the problems of discrimination? The supposed superior class who does not give a damn.” —former President Jimmy Carter, address at the recent New Baptist Covenant conference
¶ Confession. “By the Waters of Babylon,” traditional Kievan chant, St. Symeon Orthodox Church.
¶ My vote for the most significant-but-unheralded news of the year comes from Michelle Alexander. You may know her ground-breaking book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. Alexander has just announced that she is leaving her law professorship at Ohio State University to join the faculty at my alma mater, Union Theological Seminary in New York City.
It is an unusual move, since Alexander admits she “was not raised in a church.” But she goes on to say “But I know there is something much greater at stake in justice work. . . . I no longer believe we can ‘win’ justice simply by filing lawsuits, flexing our political muscles or boosting voter turnout. . . . At its core, America’s journey from slavery to Jim Crow to mass incarceration raises profound moral and spiritual questions. . . .” —read Alexander’s entire statement at Faithfully Magazine
¶ Words of assurance. “The fullness of life is in the hazards of life.” —Edith Hamilton
¶ Professing our faith. “Ideas that matter will almost certainly cause calluses, maybe blisters, likely emotional turmoil and spiritual vexation of every sort. Tired bodies, cluttered minds, lagging spirits—all these and other impairments will have to be endured. A true and worthy hope, as Barbara Kingsolver wrote, requires more than admiration from a distance. You to take up residence under its roof.” —continue reading Ken Sehested’s “Having a dream is not the same as being had by a dream”
¶ Hymn of intercession. “By the Waters of Babylon,” Choir of King’s College, Cambridge.
¶ Short take: On the salvific function of R-rated violence. The pervasiveness of gratuitous violence in popular media is rightfully a matter of judgment, calling for cultural resistance, public complaint and outright boycotting. But in order to see the world rightly we dare not close our eyes to the surrounding, actual bloodbath that marks our day, whether near or far away. If there is any hope of healing, people of faith and conscience must—must—be willing to risk the traumatizing effect of visual exposure to actual bloody history. Damien Cave and Rochelle Oliver have gathered “The Raw Videos That Have Sparked Outrage Over Police Treatment of Blacks” at one New York Times site.
¶ Preach it. “The facts of this world seen clearly / Are seen through tears / Why tell me then / there is something wrong with my eyes?” —Margaret Atwood
¶ Can’t makes this sh*t up. Michigan Officials Strip [the city of] Flint of Right to Sue Over Water Crisis.” —Imani Gandy, Rewire (Thanks Lenora.)
To add insult to injury, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, and Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette want taxpayers to cover the cost of using private law firms representing the state in civil litigation over the Flint water crisis ($1.2 million) and investigating the matter ($1.5 million). —Brad Devereaux, MLive Media
¶ We can all wish for more of this. “He [Dominican Republic-born David Ortiz, aka “Big Papi,” Boston Red Sox star and future hall-of-famer] added that his kids are into baseball and said, ‘If they ever get up here [to the big leagues], I want people to say to them, I knew your dad, and he was a guy with huge power. But there was something better about him. He was a good person. That’s what I care about the most.’” Ortiz announced earlier that this will be his last season. —Jorge I. Ortiz, USA Today
¶ Call to the table. “By the Waters of Babylon,” Don McClean.
¶ The state of our disunion. NC Representative Robert Pittenger on the protests in Charlotte after the killing of Keith Lamont Scott. “. . . they hate white people because white people are successful and they’re not.” In a follow-up tweet Pittenger did not retract his statement, only “I apologize to those I offended.” The implicit message: It’s your fault that you were offended. —CBS New York
¶ Best one-liner. Stop trying to make everyone happy—you aren’t chocolate. —author unknown (Thanks Karen.)
¶ For the beauty of the earth. “The Breathing Earth.” Watch this stunning, sequenced series of composite satellite photos of the earth. (1:40 video.)
¶ Altar call. “There is a place between passivity and violence. I’ll meet you there.” —Rivera Sun
Right: Painting by Jose Ignacio Fletes Cruz.
¶ Benediction. “We do not live by what is possessed but by what is promised.” —Walter Brueggemann
¶ Recessional. “By the Waters of Babylon,” Russian chant by the Moscow Srentensky Monastery Choir. (7 minutes)
¶ Lectionary for Sunday next. “The City: Besieged and Beloved: A collection of biblical texts for personal meditation and public liturgy.”
¶ World Communion Sunday. “I’m not sure if it’s celebrated much outside the US. And that may be because much of the world suspects that ‘world communion’ holds the same promise of what we call ‘globalization.’ A globalized economy is supposed to work for everyone. ‘Everyone has an even chance,’ so we’re told. But casino owners say the same thing, knowing the process is heavily tilted toward the house.” —continue reading Ken Sehested’s World Communion Sunday sermon, “Remembering the Future”
¶ Just for fun (this is a genuine hoot). Comedian Ellen DeGeneres taking First Lady Michelle Obama shopping, to prepare her for life outside the White House. (9:20. Thanks Leslie.)
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Featured this week on prayer&politiks
• “Remembering the Future,” a World Communion Sunday sermon
Left: "Our Lady Mother of Ferguson and All Those Killed by Gun Violence," icon by Mark Dukes.
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