News, views, notes, and quotes

Signs of the Times  •  11 July 2019 •  No. 197

Processional. “Listen, smith [crafter] of the heavens, / what the poet asks. / May softly come unto me / your mercy. / So I call on thee, / for you have created me.” —“Heyr himna smiður,” English-translated lyrics of a 13th century Icelandic hymn, performed by Ellen Kristjándsóttir

Above: Halitrephes Maasi jellyfish, photographed at a depth of over 4,000 feet of water off Baja California by the Exploration Vessel Nautilus. Watch this brief (1:17) video.

Special edition


        By the time I finished my cum laude undergraduate work and with distinction seminary degree, my analytical powers were sharply honed. I was capable of researching, selecting, and presenting large troves of factual material; which I immediately put to work as an advocate for justice, peace, and human rights shaped by a passionate theological ethos.

        It didn’t take long, however, to discover that people may be convinced (about what should happen) without being convicted (to make something happen). Insight does not come with its own legs. Knowing much does not of its own momentum lead to vigorous doing. —continue reading “We don’t have anything if we don’t have stories

 ¶ “Creation,” a delightful retelling of the Genesis story of creation, produced by Will Vinton Studio, based on a poem by James Weldon Johnson, narrated by James Earl Jones, animated by Joan C. Gratz. (7:36 video. Thanks Tom.)

Chris Funk, of the music group The Decemberists, has a passion for finding “the most surprising and most extraordinary people in music.” He recently met and jammed with Gaelynn Lea, who was born with brittle bone disease, confining her to a wheel chair, but writes and performs ballads by playing a violin upright, like a cello. (3:53 video. Thanks Amanda.)

Kids making stuff happen. It started with 11-year-old Ruby Chitsey’s simple question to nursing home residents: “If you could have any three things, what would they be?” Now, it’s turned into a national movement. CBS NEWS (2:46 video. Thanks Donna.)

¶ “Humans simply aren’t moved to action by ‘data dumps,’ dense PowerPoint slides, or spreadsheets packed with figures. People are moved by emotion. The best way to emotionally connect other people to our agenda begins with “Once upon a time. . . .” —Jonathan Gottschall

Good news. “Earlier this week, legendary Pink Floyd guitarist and songwriter David Gilmour auctioned off dozens of his guitars—and he sold them all so he could donate the proceeds to charity. In total, Gilmour auctioned off 126 of his guitars at Christie’s, raking in a whopping total of $21 million.” McKinley Corbley, Good News Network

Extraordinary short story (and startling pictures, including the one at left) of the death and resurrection of the Cuyahoga River in Ohio. Fifty years ago, 22 June 1969, the river was so polluted it actually caught fire. It had happened before, several times, but this time the tragedy provoked the nation to do something about environmental degradation. The next year President Richard Nixon backed the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency. —Hilary Brueck, Business Insider  (Thanks Anita.)

¶ Watch this short (2:48) video profile of Wangari Maathai, a renowned Kenyan social, environmental and political activist and the first African woman to win the Nobel Prize for her work founding the Green Belt Movement.

Random act of kindness. My cousin Rustin, a welder in Oklahoma, wrote up an interesting lunch time experience.
    Me: [To the lunch lady at Morello’s] One red chili pork, please.
        Her: [Staring at me, saying something fast and in Spanish to the woman next to her]
    Me: I’m so sorry, I don’t under-
        Her #1: [smiling] She say you move her car.
    Me: [Glancing around to confirm she’s got the right fellow] Pardon?
        Her #1: [Still speaking very quickly, still in Spanish…]
    Me: [Kind of frozen…]
        Guy in Line Next To Me: She said you push her car? She was in the road?
    Me: OOOOOOOOOHHHH! Right! Wow, yeah, sorry I didn’t recognize her!
        [The ladies go to work on my food]
    Guy in Line Next To Me: They
    are very thankful you stop.
    She does not speak English
    and she was afraid. She
    said you are very, umm,
So THIS [picture showing a plate piled with food] is what my one plain taco became.

This puts some things in perspective. “Earth’s history on a football field,” visualizing earth’s timeline—and humanity’s tiny presence. (Thanks John.)

More good news. “With the signing of House Bill 307 [in April], Maryland made history by becoming the first state in the Union to establish a state-wide commission dedicated to investigating racial terror lynchings in the United States. The Maryland Lynching Truth and Reconciliation Commission provides an opportunity for the state to take a significant step in making peace with its African American communities.” Nicholas Creary, Baltimore Sun

¶ “I regularly see young children separated from their parents. It is one of the hardest parts of working in a surgical environment. We go to great lengths to make it less traumatic for them, including medications, transitional objects, putting the parents in head to toe covering so they can stay with their child, showing the kids exactly where Mommy will be waiting for them, and forming relationships with the kids days in advance so they have someone that they trust to carry them in. Even so, it is always difficult and frequently terrifying for the children. . . .

        “I can't stop thinking about those children at border who can't find their parents and the parents who can't find their children. . . . I am realizing that, yes, this is truly evil, and yes, it's being done by my country and my tax dollars. . . .” —read the story by Hania Thomas-Adams, pediatric pre-op Child Life Specialist at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital, Oakland, Ca., in a Facebook post

Hard question. “Most of what gets shared as heartwarming stories are usually temporary, small-scale responses to systemic failures. I wish we found it just as inspirational to make structural changes to unjust systems, but I don’t know if our culture knows how to tell those stories.” —Anil Dash

¶ “As the oldest career National Park Service ranger, 97-year-old Betty Soskin (pictured at left, photo by Shaniqwa Jarvis) is unabashed about revealing all of America's history—and her optimism about our future.” Faral Chideya, Glamour

¶ “Neither revolution nor reformation can ultimately change a society, rather you must tell a new powerful tale, one so persuasive that it sweeps away the old myths and becomes the preferred story, one so inclusive that it gathers all the bits of our past and our present into a coherent whole, one that even shines some light into the future so that we can take the next step. . . . If you want to change a society, then you have to tell an alternative story.” —Ivan Illich

Old hymn, persevering power. “We've a story to tell to the nations, / That shall lift their hearts to the Lord, / A song that shall conquer evil, / And shatter the spear and sword, / And shatter the spear and sword. / For the darkness shall turn to the dawning, / And the dawning to noonday bright, / And Christ's great kingdom shall come on earth, / The kingdom of love and light.” —H. Ernest Nichol (1862-1926), lyrics to “We've a story to Tell”

“Tame Geese,” a story by Soren Kierkegaard. “Every seventh day these geese paraded to a corner of the yard, and their most eloquent orator got up on the fence and spoke of the wonders of geese. He told of the exploits of their ancestors who dared to mount up on wings and fly all over the sky. He spoke of the mercy of the creator, who had given geese wings and the instinct to fly. This deeply impressed the geese who nodded their heads solemnly. All this they did. One thing they did not do. They did not fly, for the corn was good and the barnyard was secure.”

The vocation of a writer “is to rescue from the shadows people who are genuinely heroic but unknown and unnoticed.” —Alan Gurganus (Thanks Guy.)

¶ “By the time Angela was brought to Jamestown’s muddy shores in 1619, she had survived war and capture in West Africa, a forced march of more than 100 miles to the sea, a miserable Portuguese slave ship packed with 350 other Africans and an attack by pirates during the journey to the Americas. . . .

        “Now, as the country marks the 400th anniversary of the arrival of those first slaves, historians are trying to find out as much as possible about Angela, the first African woman documented in Virginia.” DeNeen L. Brown, Washington Post

¶ “The shortest distance between a human being and the truth is a story.” —Anthony de Mello

Facing the truth. In 2018, Tulsa, Oklahoma mayor G.T. Bynum announced that the city was to reopen an investigation of the May 1921 race riot when a white mob descended on Greenwood, a thriving business district known as Black Wall Street. The mob set fire to hundreds of black-owned businesses and homes, killing more than 300 black people and leaving more than 10,000 homeless. Survivors recounted bodies tossed into mass graves. (For background, see DeNeed L. Brown, Washington Post.) The first meeting of the Mass Graves Investigation Public Oversight Committee was held on 27 June. —, Tulsa World

¶ “I’m not interested in talking about America’s history because I want to punish America. I want to liberate America.” —Bryan Stephenson, Equal Justice Initiative

Saintliness breaks out at the beauty parlor. “I arrived for a cut at the very end of their workday and witnessed them provide a warm and very human circle of care for the only other client. This was a woman past my age who had called in a panic when her long wavy hair started coming out in handfuls as a result of her cancer treatment regimen.

        “Now this was not my first time here, and in the past I've heard these women pass on some vicious gossip and fling barbed zingers at one another with glee. There was none of that this evening. Neither was there saccharine sentiments nor empty platitudes.

        “Instead, they lovingly washed her hair and efficiently shaved off what remained, completely following the woman's lead in conversation topics, which ranged from family doings to treatment experiences and side effects to the best way to fashionize her new look. Perhaps she would wear black lipstick and go Goth or maybe wear only one of her large hoop earrings for more of a pirate statement. They cut some stretchy black silky material into a headscarf and tied it into some beautiful stylish knots.

        “And they held steady when she teared up as she faced her self in the mirror without her hair.

        “It was beautiful. They were beautiful. She was beautiful.” —Amy Smith

¶ “Storytelling has but two separate but interdependent functions: To sit with the onslaught of grief and prepare for the upsurge of hope. To refuse the first is to reduce hope to pleasantry; to refuse the second is complicity with despair.” —Ken Sehested

Scripture reading depends in part on living the text. “I was converted again to this conviction one night in northern Uganda. The Lord’s Resistance Army was still at its evil games and children slept in ‘night commuter’ camps to try to stay alive and tortured into becoming a child soldier. Only one adult was stationed [at the school]—a middle-aged woman available to help. She explained that she came each night as a volunteer. She talked about the children’s need and her desire to do what she could. . . .

        “Still wanting to know more, I pressed, ‘But what motivates you to care?’ She looked me up and down and finally said, ‘Well, I am what you call a Christian. I read my Bible, go to church where we eat something called the Lord’s Supper. I can’t read the Bible every day and share in that meal and not come here at night.’” —Mark Labberton, “The plain sense? Scripture may be clear, but it’s not easy,” Christian Century 12 April 2017

Just for fun. Gospel of John (Cana’s water into wine story) alternative rendering from Rowan Atkinson. (4:43 video. Thanks David.)

Recessional. Bailey Mountain Cloggers (Mars Hill University, Mars Hill, NC), an award-winning dance troupe.

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Featured this week on prayer&politiks

• “We don’t have anything if we don’t have stories,” a new essay

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