Signs of the Times • 30 June 2016 • No. 79
Processional. “America the Beautiful,” performed by Willie Nelson for a video protesting the devastating practice of coal mining by mountaintop removal.
Above. Purple mountains' majesty. Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.
¶ America the Beautiful. Poet and Wellesley College English professor Katharine Lee Bates wrote her poem “Pikes Peak,” first published in 4 July 1895 edition of The Congregationalist magazine under the title “America,” on a trip to Colorado’s Pike National Park. In 1910 the poem was adapted to a hymn tune by Samuel A. Ward.
In Bates’ original poem (revised in 1904 and 1911), the third stanza ends with, “Till selfish gain no longer stain, / The banner of the free!” These lines “reflected Bates’ disillusionment with the Gilded Age’s excesses” which produced profound levels of economic inequality in the late 19th century (Lynn Sherr, America the Beautiful: The Stirring True Story Behind Our Nation's Favorite Song).
The fourth and final stanza of the original poem also contained prophetic announcement, “Till nobler men keep once again / Thy whiter jubilee!” referencing the Torah’s “jubilee” tradition of a profound social renewal movement along with a reference to Revelation 7:14 where those “dressed in white” represent “they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb,” the Lamb being the one who refused violence’s ascendancy, accomplishing salvation’s triumph by abandoning rather than wielding the sword of vengeance.
¶ Invocation. “O Truth Untamed, all boundaries bow before You / All borders bend according to your Word / O grant that every bitter heart be harbored / In sheltered cove, with Mercy’s flag unfurled / Hearken and haste, Desire of every nation / Refresh the heart of hope too long deferred.” —continue reading Ken Sehested’s new lyrics to “This Is My Song”
¶ Quotes for Independence Day reflection.
• “What the people want is very simple. They want an America as good as its promise.” —Barbara Jordan
• “This nation is founded on blood like a city on swamps / yet its dream has been beautiful and sometimes just / that now grows brutal and heavy as a burned out star.” —Marge Percy
• “American history is longer, larger, more various, more beautiful, and more terrible than anything anyone has ever said about it.” —James Baldwin
• “O, let America be America again — / The land that never has been yet — / And yet must be.” —Langston Hughes
¶ Call to worship. Listen to a reading of Langston Hughes’ “Let America Be America Again,” produced by junior students in the James Logan High School Electronic Media Production Academy (4:28).
¶ Counter stories. In light of Istanbul and Orlando and the fear of otherness which feeds these and similar eruptions, we must tell different stories. Our struggle, said the Apostle Paul, is not against flesh and blood but against “principalities and powers” (Ephesians 6:12). The only means of effectively defeating evil is not by killing it but by displacing it.
Posted below are three recent stories with a different tale to tell.
§ Mayor of London Sadiq Khan (at left) took this selfie with the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and the UK’s Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis at a multi-faith Iftar meal [breaking the day’s fast after sundown during Ramadan] for 100 young people from across London’s faith communities. Khan is the first ethnic minority to be elected as mayor of London, and the first Muslim serving as mayor of a major western nation’s capital. Lambeth Palace, home of the Anglican Archbishop, hosted the event on Monday 27 June. —Religion and Ethics NewsWeekly
§ What happened when an Orthodox Jewish congregation went to a gay bar to mourn Orlando. “When our synagogue heard about the horrific tragedy that took place at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, it was at the same time that we were celebrating our festival of Shavuot, which celebrates God’s giving of the Torah. As Orthodox Jews, we don’t travel or use the Internet on the Sabbath or on holidays, such as Shavuot. But on Sunday night, as we heard the news, I announced from the pulpit that as soon as the holiday ended at 9:17 p.m. Monday, we would travel from our synagogue in Northwest Washington to a gay bar as an act of solidarity.” —Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld, Washington Post
§ Creative resistance to hate. Members of the Orlando Shakespeare Theater took the lead in resisting Westboro Baptist Church’s picketing of funerals of those killed in the Pulse nightclub shooting, constructing large angel outfits to block the protestors’ visual access. (See photo at right.)
The Westboro vicious anti-gay legacy of disrupting funerals, which began in 1991but escalated significantly after the killing of Matthew Shepard in Wyoming, stretches to include military funerals and women preachers. (A church in East Texas where my wife was preaching was targeted—the congregation’s youth group took lemonade to the protestors.) Read the NPR story (and 1:14 video)
¶ Hymn of praise. “This Is My Song,” a cappella rendition by Joan Baez.
¶ More on the Muslim response to terror.
• ”A Joint Muslim Statement: On the Carnage in Orlando,” more than 200 imams, scholars and community leaders http://orlandostatement.com/ For more background on this document, see “Muslims on Orlando Attacks,” Cameron Glenn, Wilson Center and CNN’s interview with one of the co-authors.
• “50 Million Muslims Start Peace Campaign and Openly Denounce ISIS,” Huffington Post http://www.itakelibertywithmycoffee.com/2015/12/50-million-muslims-start-peace-campaign-and-openly-denounce-isis/
• “Muslim anti-Isis march not covered by mainstream media outlets, say organisers: Hundreds of Muslims flooded the streets of London to condemn terrorism. Media’s response: Silence.” —The Guardian
• “Muslim Americans denounce ISIS terror campaign; urge Americans to stand in solidarity and peace with them.” —PennLive
• “Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: ISIS is to Islam What Westboro Baptist Church is to Christianity,” Georgia Bristow, Bipartisan Report.
¶ “What percentage of terror attacks in the US and Europe are committed by Muslims?” (you’ll be surprised), Dean Obeidallah, The Daily Beast.
¶ “Army of God? 6 Modern-Day Christian Terrorist Groups You Never Hear About,” Alex Henderson, AlterNet.
¶ Confession. “God Forgive Us,” Armenian hymn.
¶ The Broadway hit musical “Hamilton” avoids an equally pronounced feature of Hamilton’s beliefs: his deeply ingrained elitism, his disdain for the lower classes and his fear of democratic politics. . . .
“Hamilton mistrusted the political capacities of the common people and insisted on deference to elites. In a speech delivered at the Constitutional Convention, Hamilton praised the hierarchical principles of the British political system. He argued, for example, that the new American president and senators should serve for life. . . .
“No founder of this country more clearly envisioned the greatness of a future empire enabled by drastic inequalities of wealth and power. In this sense, too, “Hamilton” is very much a musical for our times.” —Jason Frank and Isaac Kramnick, “What ‘Hamilton’ Forgets About Alexander Hamilton," New York Times
¶ Other stories of effective resistance. This is how meaningful and sustainable political change happens, one watershed at a time: mobilizing a broad spectrum of citizens who understand long-term hidden costs outweigh short-term profit—a process not dependent on the fickle and cash-corrupted practice known as electoral politics. —Ken Sehested
• “After facing community resistance, bottled beverage giant Nestlé Waters North America this week ditched its plans to extract water from a Monroe County, Penn. spring. The plan would have seen Nestlé take 200,000 gallons of water per day from the source in Kunkletown. . . .
"This entire village of Kunkletown came together and slayed the dragon, and it's something to be proud of," Eldred Township resident Donna Deihl told the Allentown Morning Call. . . .
“The news comes less than a month after voters in Hood River County, Ore. stopped a years-long attempt by Nestlé to extract up to 100 million gallons a year of Oxbow Springs water and bottle it under the Arrowhead brand.” —Andrea Germanos, Common Dreams
¶ And in related water news. 71% of the citizens of Butte County, California, voted to ban fracking. This is the fourth California country to do so. For a list of other fracking bans, in the US and elsewhere, see “Keep Tap Water Safe.”
¶ Words of assurance. “Let the rain wash away all the pain of yesterday / I know my kingdom awaits and they've forgiven my mistakes / I'm coming home, I'm coming home / Tell the world that I'm coming.” —“I’m Coming Home,” Ruby Wilson, the Queen of Beale Street (Memphis)
¶ Prank? The headline read “McDowell High (NC) senior prank sparks backlash.” Who are the party-poopers? Latino/a students. Some of the school’s seniors were given permission to decorate the school. What they ended up doing is building a wall out of cardboard boxes closing off an open area, with the caption “We built the wall first” appearing on an Instagram photo. This is how the seeds of Donal Trump’s vulgarity sprout in a harvest of destruction. —from a Ginny Rhodes article, mcdowellnews.com
¶ Best response to Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign theme:
Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again! —Langston Hughes, final stanza of “Let America Be America Again”
¶ “Border controls have always been racist in character. And it’s much the same today. They are about locking in our wealth and keeping mosques out of the Cotswolds. At present, globalisation is a luxury of the rich, for those of us who can swan about the globe with the flick of a boarding pass. The so-called “migrant crisis” is globalisation for the poor. They are blowing their trumpets around our walls. And our walls will fall.” —Giles Fraser, “National borders exist to pen poor into reservations of poverty”
¶ Preach it. “We’re not bound by genetic code to repeat the mistakes of the past. We can learn. We can choose. We can tell our children a different story, one that describes a common humanity, one that makes war less likely and cruelty less easily accepted,” one that may lead to “our own moral awakening.” —President Barack Obama, speaking at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial in Japan, 27 May 2016. Obama is the first sitting US president to visit Hiroshima
¶ Call to the table. “What a Friend We Have In Jesus,” sung by a farm family inside an empty grain silo.
¶ Altar call. “Redemption Song,” by Bob Marley, performed by Playing for Change (various artists).
¶ Benediction. “My country ‘tis of thee, struggling for liberty, of thee I sing. / Land where my people died, brilliant with nature’s pride, / From plain and mountain side let freedom ring.” —continue reading Ken’s Sehested alternate lyrics to “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee”
¶ Recessional. “This Is My Song,” sung in Finnish by a flash mob at the Helsinki, Finland train station. The “Finlandia” tune was written by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius in 1899 as a protest to growing censorship of Finnish society by Russia, then Finland’s colonial ruler.
¶ Lectionary for Sunday next. “Remind us again, oh maker of peace, oh drier of tear and calmer of storm, that lion and lamb share a common destiny. Remind us again, that all is Yours and Love secures.” —continue reading Ken Sehested’s “Remind us again,” a litany for worship inspired by Psalm 82
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Featured this week on prayer&politiks:
• “Remind us again,” a litany for worship inspired by Psalm 82
• “This Is My Song,” new lyrics to an old song
• “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” alternate lyrics
Independence Day resources:
• “Nation of frivolous piety,” a litany for worship on patriotic occasions
• “Proclaim Liberty,” a litany for worship around US Independence Day
• “Instruction on freedom’s demands,” a litany for worship