News, views, notes, and quotes

Signs of the Times  •  28 April 2016  •  No. 70

Processional.There’s a Meetin’ Here Tonight,” Cantus.

Invocation. “How, indeed, shall we then live / in this enduring season between / Easter, / God’s Resurrection Moment, and / Pentecost, / God’s Resurrection Movement?” —read Ken Sehested's poem, "Little Flock of Jesus"

Call to worship.I Get a Blessing Everyday,” Joe Ligon and Mighty Cloud of Joy.

We missed this good news. Last July a “US Navy nurse who refused to force-feed prisoners on an extended hunger strike at Guantanamo Bay received an ethics award from the American Nurses Association. The unidentified nurse was honored with the Year of Ethics award. The nurse's lawyer accepted the award on his behalf. Attorney Ronald Meister told The Associated Press that the nurse is fighting plans by the Defense Department to revoke his security clearance as a result of his actions.” Associated Press

Hymn of praise.Laudate Dominum” (“Praise the Lord”) by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, performed by Elīna Garanča.

Right: US Secretary of State John Kerry signs the Paris Accord with his granddaughter sitting in his lap.

Earth Day marker. On Friday, 22 April, “leaders from 175 countries signed the historic Paris climate accord, using Earth Day as the backdrop for the ceremonial inking of a long-fought deal that aims to slow the rise of harmful greenhouse gases.” The signing sets a record for such international agreements. But the accord must now be ratified by each country’s legislative body. Doyl Rice, USAToday

Confession. “We are in a race against time. The era of consumption without consequences is over. The poor and most vulnerable must not suffer further from a problem they did not create.” —United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, speaking at the 22 April signing of the Paris climate accord

Words of assurance.Lo, I Am With You,” John Bell, performed by the Wild Goose Worship Group.

Hymn of intercession. Imagine this as a bluesy love song to Wisdom (see Proverbs 8):Forty Days and Forty Nights,” Ben Caplan.

Left: Photo by Lucien Perkins, The Washington Post.

Foreign aid fantasy. The photo at left, of US Marines tossing candy to Afghan children, is a rather accurate visualization of US foreign aid. Every year since 2009 the Kaiser Family Foundation has polled US citizens on how much the US spends on foreign aid. On average, people think 26% of the budget goes for such. Only 1 in 20 got the answer right: less than 1% (not counting military aid). —see Poncie Rutsch, NPR

¶ “I think the U.S. spends too much money helping out other countries when we clearly have a sh*t ton of problems being ignored in our own." Here's the truth. Morgan Shoaff

For more background on US foreign aid, see Oxfam America’s “Quick and Easy Guide."

Want to see the detailed numbers? Visit the US Agency for International Development’s “Foreign Aid Explorer,” an illustrated, interactive website.

Sometimes it’s the little things. When Elizabeth Scharpf was interning for the World Bank in Mozambique, she discovered a major impediment to women’s employment. It was unmentionable. It was menstruation—the pads were too expensive and caused significant absenteeism. —read more of Nicholas Kristof, “D.I.Y. Foreign-Aid Revolution

For a summary of the pros and cons of foreign aid, see “Understand the Foreign Aid Debate,” Jennifer Doherty-Bigara, Georgetown Public Policy Review.

Dollar-signed foreign policy. “Iraq has one of the largest customer bases in the entire Arab world. It has one of the world’s largest supply of oil. And so it’s time for the United States to start thinking of Iraq as a business opportunity. Iraq is projected to grow faster than China in the next two years.” —former Secretary of State Hillary R. Clinton, in a June 2011 speech to 30 senior US corporate executives gathered at a State Department Roundtable on Investment Opportunities in Iraq

GDP as global secular religion. “The fallacy of our reliance on economic growth as the panacea for our societal ills is demonstrated by the American Gross National Product having almost tripled in value during the last three decades. Yet the US, when compared to the other 20 industrialized democracies comprising the G20, now has the lowest social mobility, the greatest income inequality, the highest rate of poverty, and remains the only one lacking universal health care.” Harry Petrequin, Asheville Citizen-Times

American charity: read the numbers in context. The US contribution to the Syrian refugee resettlement crisis is impressive at $5.1 billion. But if you calculate each contributing nation’s portion on a per capita basis, the US total represents only $16 per person. Norway, on the other hand, contributes $240 per citizen, Germany $32, the UK $26. Kim Hjelmgaard and Valeria Criscione, USA Today

More signs of a dystopian future. “In a blow to schoolchildren statewide, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled on Nov. 7 the State of Michigan has no legal obligation to provide a quality public education,” in this particular case, to students in the Detroit suburban Highland Park School District. “This is brought to us by the same people who poisoned the children of Flint,” commented my friend Dan Buttry on Facebook. “We have seen a huge unraveling of the social contract in our country as the gap between the rich and the poor is growing so spectacularly.”

Public subsidy of the fossil fuel industry. “One of the greatest contradictions of our time is that while world leaders profess concern over a rapidly warming planet, they continue to spend hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars subsidizing the fossil fuel industries that are driving climate change. In fact, according to a new report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)—a global forum on economic policy—the world's richest nations spend roughly $160-200 billion each year supporting fossil fuel consumption and production.” Lauren McCauley, “Amid Runaway Warming, Richest Nations Spend $200 Billion Backing Fossil Fuels”

Right: Pakistani flood survivors reaching up for humanitarian aid.

¶ “If you want to understand any problem in America, you need to focus on who profits from that problem, not who suffers from the problem.” —Amos Wilson,

The kind of progressivism that has gutted prophetic speech. “I’m a secular person. I’m not against religion. I think religion is good. But it has its place—inside the chapel.” —a doctoral candidate at Duke University, founded by Methodists and Quakers in North Carolina in 1938, who was grateful the private school reversed its original decision allowing the Muslim call to prayer to be broadcast each Friday from the Duke Chapel’s tower

Cultural climate shift. The New York-based Gay Ole Opry is coming to my hometown. Founded in 2011, its “Queer Country Quarterly” creates community for people “who love country music even if country music doesn’t always love us back. . . . Everybody needs a honky tonk angel to hold them tight. And that country music should be for all cowpeople.” Asheville Citizen-Times

Loveliness. What do you get when you combine the Arabic language with street art? A CNN video profile (3:38) of el Seed, a French-Tunisian artist. (Thanks Deborah.)

The latest from the Hubble Space Telescope: a massive bubble is being blown into space by a super-hot, massive star. (30 seconds)

Scandalous. “America’s wealth grew by 60% in the past six years, by over $30 trillion. In approximately the same time, the number of homeless children has also grown by 60%. . . . The U.S. has one of the highest relative child poverty rates in the developed world. As UNICEF reports, “[Children’s] material well-being is highest in the Netherlands and in the four Nordic countries and lowest in Latvia, Lithuania, Romania and the United States.”Paul Buchheit, Alternet

Overlooked historical marker. It was on this day, 5 May 1773, that Baptists in Boston agreed to refuse payment of taxes due to support the state-sponsored pilgrim-puritan church of the region. Such historical memories help us remember who we are and thus more able to account for the hope that is within us. —continue reading Ken Sehested’s “Accounting for the hope that is in you

For the beauty of the earth. 15 seconds of dozens of leaping dolphins. (Thanks David.)

Testify. CNN’s Clarissa Ward recently went into highly conflicted region in Syria’s long-standing civil war. One of her interviews was with Dr. Fera al-Jundi, who works in the city’s only remaining hospital. (Four others have been destroyed, reportedly from Russian air strikes. The US and allied forces are suspected to have hit hospitals in other areas.)
        Why don’t you leave Syria? Ward asked al-Souad. As he answered his voice began to break with emotion.
        "If I did that I would abandon my conscience,” al-Jundi said. “This is our country, we can't desert it. If we left then we have sold our morals. Who would treat the people? I can very easily leave, but we will remain steadfast. I am prepared to die rather than to leave. And I will carry on no matter what.”

More background on the recent Vatican conference examining alternatives to “just war” theory. “The Catholic church's ongoing move away from the just war theory as ‘settled teaching’ to a more expansive call to proactive peacemaking has been made clear in a global conference scheduled for April 11-13 in Rome. . . . Five reasons underlie this pivot to a positive vision of peace and a point of view that goes well beyond the just war theory.” Terrence Rhynne, National Catholic Reporter

Let this be one of your 20 minute meditations this week: Fr. Gregory Boyle, director of Homeboy Industries.

Preach it. “Fear is a powerful thing. We live in a city where monied white yogis can sit barefoot in tea rooms and say things like ‘Love is letting go of fear’ with a straight face. Fortunately, for many in our society, this is true. But for an NICU [Neonatal Intensive Care Unit] parent, fear and love are hard to separate. . . .
        “It may be true that love is the opposite of fear. But for so many months, feeling fear was how we loved our son. How can we let go of that?” Max Cooper, in a moving story about the first year of his life with his son Atticus, a “micro-premature” baby (25 weeks), through many surgeries, Asheville Citizen-Times

Altar call. “It is when I position myself in situations of despair that I discover people who know the most about hope.” —continue reading Ken Sehested’s “Accounting for the hope that is in you,” a sermon based on Luke 24:44-49

Benediction. “Beloveds, now we know for sure. Every day is grace and every night is gratitude. . . . May you wear down the pathway to the sanctuary of your soul. May you speak up for the silenced. May you befuddle the brutal, bewilder the bullies, be intolerant of the intolerable. Lament and laugh. And may laughter get the best of you.” —continue reading “Keep ringing the bells of holy hope,” by Nancy Hastings Sehested

Recessional. Irish Blessing,” backed by Kevin Macleod “Long Road Ahead,” spectacular photos by Kevin Barry, plus the text to this traditional blessing. —edited by Peter Clayton

Lectionary for Sunday next. Remembering Paul and Silas:
        •“Eyes on the Prize,” Mavis Staples
        •“Paul and Silas,” Foggy Mountain Boys
        •“Eyes on the Prize,” Bruce Springsteen

Just for fun. Some interesting college mascot histories.
        •Elon University (NC) students are now the “Phoenix” (singular) and not the “Fighting Christians.”
        •Several school who used to be “Crusaders” have now adopted new brands, including Eastern Nazarene College (now the Lions), Point Loma Nazarene University (Sea Lions), Susquehanna University (River Hawks), The University of the Incarnate Word (Cardinals), Wheaton College (Thunder).
        •”Fight, fight, inner light! Kill, Quakers, Kill! Knock’em down, beat’em senseless, Do it ‘til we reach consensus” is a sports chant at several Quaker schools, including Earlham, Guilford, Haverford and Swarthmore College. Wilmington College is the only remaining school with “Fighting Quakers” as its nom de guerre. Tobin Grant, Religion News Service

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Featured this week on prayer&politiks:

• “Keep ringing the bells of holy hope,” a benediction by Nancy Hastings Sehested

• “Dragged into the marketplace,” a sermon based on Acts 16:16-34

• “Accounting for the hope that is in you,” a sermon based on Luke 24:44-49

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Right: Ascension of Jesus, Fr. John Giuliani.