News, views, notes, and quotes

Signs of the Times  •  2 September 2016  •  No. 86

Processional. “Approach My Soul God’s Mercy Seat,” hymn from the indigenous “Spiritual Baptist” tradition of Trinidad & Tobago. (More on that below.)

Above: Sunrise at Ocracoke Island, North Carolina, photo by Ira David Wood III

Invocation. “There are no unsacred places; / there are only sacred places / and desecrated places.” —Wendell Berry, “How to Be a Poet”

Historic flight. “First US-Cuba Commercial Flight in More Than 50 Years Has Landed.” Merritt Kennedy, NPR

Left: The first commercial flight in over 50 years from the US to Cuba—from Ft. Lauderdale to Santa Clara—landed Wednesday, 31 August, and greeted with a water canon salute. Photo by Joe Skipper/Reuters.

More Cuba news. This past June the United Church of Christ Southern Conference approved a resolution drafted by Ken Sehested in support of renewed diplomatic relations between the US and Cuba.  “Bring Down the Wall in the Caribbean” serves as a good summary of recent advances.

It started as a typical evening’s research, selecting and reading a number of news stories in search of material for my weekly column. One on the list was the account of San Francisco 49ers’ quarterback Colin Kaepernick sitting during the playing of the national anthem prior to the start of the game.
        Reading these accounts led me to similar events in previous years of athletes using their public visibility as a stage for protest. That led to digging into the history of the national anthem, “The Star Spangled Banner,” including its largely unknown third verse which celebrates the killing of African slaves. This information led me to research the US invasions of Canada (also largely unknown here).
        It was a busy evening, but a fascinating one. —continue reading Ken Sehested’s “Colin Kaepernick, national anthems, and flag-flown piety

Right: San Francisco 49er stadium, photo by Carlos Avila Gonzalez, San Francisco Chronicle.

Call to worship. “Let the ruined rejoice in the Lamb who rules, for the Tendering Day draws near! How sure the delight of Mercy’s pure light conqu’ring darkness and danger with cheer.” —continue reading Ken Sehested’s “Let the lost rejoice,” a litany for worship inspired by Luke 15:1-10

¶ “Ultimately it’s to bring awareness and make people realize what’s really going on in this country. There are a lot of things that are going on that are unjust, people aren’t being held accountable for, and that’s something that needs to change. That’s something that — this country stands for freedom, liberty, justice for all. And it’s not happening for all right now.” —Colin Kaepernick, commenting on his decision to remain seated during the playing of the national anthem prior to his team’s National Football League game against

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”)

It wasn’t until 1931 that “The Star-Spangled Banner” became our national anthem, and then only after 40 previous failed congressional votes, beginning in 1918. The song was not universally beloved, partly because of its difficulty in singing, and partly because of obscure lyrics. Among the obscure ones is a phrase in the third stanza’s:
        “No refuge could save the hireling and slave / From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave.” The reference was to mercenary forces employed for the British in the War of 1812, along with American slaves who volunteered to fight in exchange for Britain’s pledge of their freedom. Ken Sehested

The first flag desecration laws . . . "were not to stop political dissidents from burning flags.” They were “intended to prevent the use of flag imagery for political campaigns and for commercial and advertising purposes—uses that are now seen as patriotic. —Sarah Boxer, “Word for Word/The Flag Bulletin; Two Centuries of Burning Flags, A Few Years of Blowing Smoke," The New York Times

In 1861, poet Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote a fifth verse to support the Union cause in the Civil War and denounce “the traitor that dares to defile the flag of her stars.” I doubt this verse will be sung this Saturday at the Alabama-Clemson game.

¶ “A Brief History of Racial Protest in Sports,” Kat Chow, NPR.

Invading Canada. Many historical accounts refer to the War of 1812 as “America’s Second War of Independence.” More properly, it was America's “First War of Choice,” since it was we who declared the war. Though historical causation is always a complicated matter, and both Britain and the U.S. had lingering disputes from our previous war, the evidence is clear that the war’s principal aim was annexation of Canada.
        Among the many pieces of our forgotten history is the fact that the U.S. invaded Canada four times. Ken Sehested

Confession. “There is no flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people.” —Howard Zinn

Spontaneous heroism. In case you didn’t see the video (39 seconds) of this woman being freed by passersby from a car fire, shortly after a 10-car pileup in New York. (The first few second are startling—but the rescue is inspiring.)

Hymn of lamentation. “Shadows are fallin' and I've been here all day / It's too hot to sleep and time is runnin' away / Feel like my soul has turned into steel / I've still got the scars that the sun didn't heal. . . . Sometimes my burden is more than I can bear / It's not dark yet, but it's getting there.” —Bob Dylan, “Not Dark Yet

Care as a form of prayer. Rev. Jessica Lowe, a Methodist pastor in Shreveport, Louisiana, recently spent time helping friends in Baton Rouge recover from the flooding. Out of that experience she write this powerful meditation, ““How to Gut a House (in 7 Steps).”

Words of assurance. “Lay down your burden / Lay it all down / Pass the glass between you / Drink it up / Place the Light before you / Come through the door / The dragon doesn’t live here anymore.” —Colleen Crangle, "Lay Down Your Burden," performed by Susan Osborn and the Paul Winter Consort

Troubling conviction. The flag's central purpose, aided by the anthem, is to maintain attention to, and confidence in, military supremacy. The nation's memory of flag “desecration” is associated with the shame of the one war—Vietnam—we lost. Ken Sehested

Hymn of intercession.Talk About Suffering,” Ricky Skaggs, BBC Transatlantic Sessions.

Preach it. “The early church would be utterly baffled by the idea that future Christians would shame someone for not swearing allegiance to the empire.” —Rachel Held Evans

A community’s creative response to hate crime. Suburban Philadelphia resident Esther Cohen-Eskin was saddened one recent morning to find her trash bin painted with a swastika. Cohen-Eskin, who is Jewish, immediately recognized the targeted threat behind such graffiti. In response, she painted flowers over the hate symbol, and in a gesture of solidarity, many of her neighbors painted pleasant scenes on their bins as well. When the story circulated on the web, she received notes of support from as far away as Germany and Ireland, some accompanied with photos of paintings they had done on their own trash cans.Dake Kang, Associated Press

Online offering. You’re invited to take part in the Friday 9 September (12 noon) online seminar about “the Original Rainbow Coalition, formed in Chicago in the late 1960’s, was the alliance between the Chicago Black Panther Party, Puerto Rican Young Lords, and Poor White Young Patriots Organization. It was one of the moments in the history of this country where poor people came together across racial lines to build power, support each other, and fight for their shared interests.” —Kairos: The Center for Religions, Rights, and Social Justice (at Union Theological Seminary, New York City). For more information.

When only the blues will do. I’ll Play the Blues for You,” performed by Joe Bonamassa.

The best short article on racism (and what to do about it) I’ve seen in a long time: “How White Americans’ Hatred of Racism Actually Supports Racism Instead of Solves It.” Jon Greenberg, Everyday Feminism (Thanks Ron.)

Can’t makes this sh*t up. “When you go to war . . . You shoot at the enemy. . . . And the enemy right now, the overwhelming majority of people coming in are people of color.” —Maine Governor Paul LaPage, quoted in Vox

Didn’t hurt a bit. The LinkedIn social media platform just sent me a notice that my profile matches a new job opening for a pregnancy counselor at a local social service agency. (I didn’t have the heart to respond that I had a vasectomy 36 years ago.)

The arena for practicing nonviolence is comprehensive. The overwhelming number of contexts, in fact, are far short of international conflict. For example, school discipline. See “Everything you think you know about disciplining kids is wrong,” Katherine Reynolds Lewis, Mother Jones. (Thanks Abigail.)

Right: AP photo by Mark J. Terrill

Call to the table. The dispute over sovereignty, over whose bread will satisfy, over whose power is more reliable, over whether love is stronger than fear, is adjudicated anew every time we come to the Table. Unfortunately, the bread tends to be stale. Ken Sehested

Excellent electoral history summary.How the Republican Party went from Lincoln to Trump,” Ezra Klein (7:20 video).

The state of our disunion. Kaepernick’s pride, or lack of it, brings to mind this ancient assessment. “Look at the proud! . . . They open their throats wide as Sheol; like Death they never have enough. They gather all the nations for themselves, and collect all peoples as their own” (Habakkuk 2:4, 5).

After the War of 1812, most of the American slaves who fought for the British settled in Canada. Some, however, relocated to the Caribbean island of Trinidad (one of the twin islands that now make up the nation of Trinidad and Tobago) and founded a distinctive religion tradition known as Spiritual (or Shouter) Baptists. Though explicitly Christian, the tradition adopted many devotional elements from indigenous African religious.

Left: Trinidad & Tobago Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar (center) is escorted by Archbishop Barbara Gray-Burke (left) in the Shouter Baptist Empowerment Hall for the 15th anniversary of Shouter Baptist Liberation Day celebrations, 30 March 2014, in Maloney. Photo by Abraham Diaz.

Best one-liner. “You don’t like what Kaepernick has to say? Then prove him wrong, BE the nation he can respect. It’s really just that simple.” —Navy veteran Jim Wright

Altar call.Mercy, Mercy, Mercy,” Cannonball Adderly Quintet.

Laughter as a mechanism of grace. Remembering Gene Wilder, PBS Digital Studios interview on why be became an actor. (4:28. Thanks Abigail.)

Benediction. The Gandhi Rap–Be the change you want to see,” MC Yogi.

Recessional.Palestine Symphony,” Murat Malay.

For the beauty of the earth. View a few British photographer Christopher Swann’s breathtaking photos of whales. Inspiremore (Thanks Mimi.)

Lectionary for Sunday next. “Have all the workers of iniquity no knowledge? Who eat up my people as they eat bread, and call not upon the Lord.” —Psalm 14:4

Just for fun. Time magazine has assembled videos of what it judges the “Top 10 Worst National Anthem Renditions.”

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Featured this week on prayer&politiks

• “Let the lost rejoice,” a litany for worship inspired by Luke 15:1-10

• “Colin Kaepernick, national anthems, and flag-flown piety: Commentary on what is and is not sacred”

• “Bring Down the Wall in the Caribbean: A resolution in support of renewed diplomatic relations between the US and Cuba.”
Other features
• “Labor Day: A litany for worship: For work that fulfills”
• “Labor in the shadow of sabbath,” a Labor Day sermon

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