News, views, notes, and quotes

Signs of the Times  •  13 June 2019 •  No. 195

Processional.Ain’t a That Good News,” performed by the combined Boston Chidren’s Chorus and the Chicago Children’s Choir.

Above: Iceland's volcano, Hekla, erupted at the same time that auroras were visible overhead. Photo by Sigurdur H. Stefmisson.

Special issue


"I believe that I shall see the goodness of God in the land of the living,"
—Psalm 27:13

        When preparing each issue of “Signs of the Times,” I intentionally look for bits of good news to leaven the litany of fraud and wreckage that fills our many news feeds.

        Part of the problem in finding good news is that such information does not easily catch the eye. Local newscasts tend to give disproportionate attention to carnage because it’s cheaper to find—just monitor first responders’ communications for directions to the latest wreck or shooting or wildfire. Or the weather channel, which salivates over devastating storm coverage.

        On top of that, scandal in the body politic appeals to a deep-seated human attraction to dirty linen and ignominy, often all out of proportion to newsworthiness.

        Which is why we all have to work at looking for and lifting up the overlooked evidence that life is different from cable news. Make it a habit; consider it to be among your spiritual disciplines.

Invocation. “From the cowardice of accepting new truth, from the laziness of being satisfied with half-truth, from the arrogance of thinking we know all the truth: Deliver us, O Lord.” —from "A Wee Worship Book," Wild Goose Worship Group

Call to worship. "Heaven and earth are threads of one loom." —anonymous, quoted in "By Shaker Hands" by June Sprigg

I confess I’m head-over-heels in awe of Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenager who was recently awarded Amnesty International’s coveted “Ambassador of Conscience Award for 2019, on behalf of the Fridays for Future [aka Youth Strike 4 Climate] movement of school children demanding bold action to address the global climate crisis.

        [For more on that, see Amnesty International.  Also, watch this short (4:12) video of Thunberg and fellow “school strikers for climate change” from around the world.]  —continue reading “Greta Thunberg: When the muted find a voice

¶ “Despite an epidemic of childhood obesity, the cholesterol levels of American kids have been improving over the past 20 years, a new study shows. Researchers found that since 1999, levels of "bad" LDL cholesterol among US children and teens have declined, while levels of "good" HDL cholesterol have risen.” Researchers can’t point to one specific reason; but clearly the educational-advocacy work of individuals and organizations to shine a light on the need for improved eating habits is working. Amy Norton, Healthday News

¶ “Judge throws out Trump order and restores Obama-era drilling ban in Arctic.” Juliet Eilperin, LA Times

¶ “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

¶ “France Becomes The First Country To Ban All Five Pesticides Linked To Bee Deaths.” Herbs Info (Thanks Kristin.)

¶ 22 May 2019 “marks the official launch of Covering Climate Now, a project co-sponsored by The Columbia Journalism Review and The Nation. Joined by The Guardian and others partners to be announced, Covering Climate Now will bring journalists and news outlets together to dramatically improve how the media as a whole covers the climate crisis and its solutions.

        Read a portion of , “What if we covered the climate crisis like we did the start of the second world war?” —Guardian

¶ “Iceland has made it illegal to pay women less than men.” Emma Willis, Business Insider

Janet Mills, Maine’s governor, has signed a bill making the state the first to prohibit public schools, colleges, and universities from using Native American symbols as mascots. David Williams, CNN

Connecticut will soon become the 7th state to provide paid time off to new parents and caregivers. Mark Pazniokas, CT Mirror

Short story. By the time Lélia and Sabastião Salgado took over their family’s historic ranch in the Minas Gerais region of Brazil, its tree coverage was mostly gone and the wildlife had disappeared. “The land,” said Salgado, “was as sick as I was.”

        The couple decided rebuild the formerly lush rain forest. Twenty years later “hundreds of species of flora and fauna call the former cattle ranch home. In addition to 293 species of trees, the land now teems with 172 species of birds, 33 species of mammals, and 15 species of amphibians and reptiles—many of which are endangered,” and dried-up springs have returned. Kelly Richman Abdou, My Modern Met

More than 400,000 people have toured the National Memorial for Peace and Justice and Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Alabama, in its first year; currently, attendance is averaging 3,000 per day. —Brad Harper, Montgomery Advertiser

Word. “The threat of the world today is lied about every time you open your computer or switch on your phone. Terror lives in your pocket, on a device that does not differentiate between wisdom, information, propaganda, and deceit. The good news is that you can learn more than ever before, connect quicker, and heal yourself (some of the world’s great healers and healing techniques are mobile apps). The challenge—and the invitation —is that you need to learn how to edit what you're seeing. No one else will do that for you—indeed, it is in the interests of the military-industrial-entertainment-gossip-complex that you stay unconscious, and click on as many links as possible.” —Gareth Higgins & Brian McClaren, “Us, Them, and the End of Violence: A Lenten Journey”

¶ “Sikhs around the world are taking part in a scheme to plant a million new trees as a ‘gift to the entire planet.’ The project aims to reverse environmental decline and help people reconnect with nature as part of celebrations marking 550 years since the birth of the founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak.” Isabella Kaminski, Guardian

        For more background on Sikhs, see Simran Jeet Singh, “Who are the Sikhs and what are their beliefs?—Religion News

Left: Cape Town South Africa school children strike for climate change. Reuters photo.

¶  “The world is literally a greener place than it was 20 years ago, and the data from NASA satellites has revealed a counterintuitive source for much of this new foliage: China and India. This surprising new study shows that the two emerging countries with the world’s biggest populations are leading the improvement in greening on land. The effect stems mainly from ambitious tree planting programs in China and intensive agriculture in both countries. In 2017 alone, India broke its own world record for the most trees planted after volunteers gathered to plant 66 million saplings in just 12 hours.” Good News Network (Thanks Jaroslav.)

¶ “Tired of receiving notices warning that their drinking water may have been compromised and having little recourse to fight corporate polluters, voters in Toledo, Ohio approved a measure granting Lake Erie some of the same legal rights as a human being. Sixty-one percent of voters in Tuesday's special election voted in favor of Lake Erie's Bill of Rights, which allows residents to take legal action against entities that violate the lake's rights to ‘flourish and naturally evolve’ without interference.

        “The initiative was modeled on ‘rights to nature’ laws which have passed in Lafayette, Colorado; by the Ponca Nation of Oklahoma and the Chippewa Nation in Minnesota; and countries including India and Nepal.” —, Common Dreams

Preach it. “Our civilization is being sacrificed for the opportunity of a very small number of people to continue making enormous amounts of money. Our biosphere is being sacrificed so that rich people in countries like mine can live in luxury. It is the sufferings of the many which pay for the luxuries of the few.” —Greta Thunberg

¶ “[P]eople all around the world are banding together to make the UN Sustainable Development Goals a reality. Child mortality is decreasing every year, while a health infrastructure that helps women find skilled obstetric care is lessening maternal deaths in Ethiopia. The Democratic Republic of Congo has a program training health workers that is aimed at making vital medical care more accessible.

        • “Three women in Afghanistan are running their own veterinary clinic and teaching the importance of education to change attitudes and stifle gender inequality. Dr. Devi Shetty, a cardiac surgeon in India, set up an affordable healthcare company called Narayana Health to provide low cost, high quality healthcare and now has more than 20 medical centers in India.

        • “In 2016, Costa Rica successfully powered its electrical grid with renewable energy for 113 consecutive days, and private sectors in Malawi are creating custom-built portable water filters for households lacking access to safe drinking water, lessening the risk of contracting water-borne diseases by half.

        • “On a larger scale, the country of Rwanda became the first low-income country to provide universal eye-care to its entire population. Although this might seem like a trivial cause compared to fighting poverty, if uneducated parents—particularly mothers—can keep their eyesight sharp, they can continue working their jobs and their work won’t deteriorate as they age.” —Sarah Westbrook, “UN Sustainable Development Goals: What Progress Has Been Made?”, Seeds of Hope

Right: 'Mother Earth' by textile artist Galla Grotto

Can’t makes this sh*t up. (The good news is that this was uncovered.) "Redistricting is like an election in reverse! It's a great event," he said with a smile at a National Conference of State Legislatures event in 2000. "Usually the voters get to pick the politicians. In redistricting, the politicians get to pick the voters!" That was Republican strategist and electoral mapmaker Thomas Hofeller, speaking at a National Conference of State Legislatures event in 2000. A key proponent of adding a “citizenship” question to the 2020 census, Hofeller promised that efforts to redraw electoral maps would be “advantageous to Republican and Non-Hispanic Whites.”  After his death in 2018 his daughter found massive amounts of computer files revealing electoral rigging proposals. —for more see Miles Parks, NPR

Call to the table. “We’re asking adults to step up alongside us . . . today, so many of our parents are busy discussing whether our grades are good, or a new diet or the Game of Thrones finale—whilst the planet burns. But to change everything, we need everyone. It is time for all of us to unleash mass resistance . . . if we [demand change] in numbers we have a chance.” —Greta Thunberg

Graduation season. This is the most extraordinary graduation speech I’ve ever heard, from Asheville High School class of 2019 valedictorian Ascher Walker Williams. (8 minutes)

Father’s day specials

        • Dad’s were meant for many things. Among them, to be apostles of encouragement and delight for their children. You can never plan these things in advance. But if an opportunity (of who knows what sort) comes your way, be this kind of dad. (3:01 video. Thanks Blake.)

        •Be like this dad. (0:30 video. Thanks Dick.)

        • And this dad. (0:50 video. Thanks Kimberly.)

Best one-liner. “Storms make trees take deeper roots.” —Dolly Parton

For the beauty of the earth. 10 good news stories re. environmental affairs. —from “Words Presents” (2:01. Thanks Faye.)

Recessional.Rhapsody in Blue,” George Gershwin. A bit of trivia about the song: “The opening clarinet glissando came into being at rehearsal when, as a joke on Gershwin, Whiteman’s virtuoso clarinetist exaggerated the opening measure adding what he considered a humorous touch to the passage. Gershwin told him to play it that way at the concert and to add as much wailing as possible.” Good News Network

Lectionary for this Sunday. “The voice of Wisdom,” a litany for worship inspired by Proverbs 8

Lectionary for Sunday next. “Elijah’s pity party,” a litany for worship inspired by 1 Kings 19: 1-15

Just for fun. Amazing Cirque de Soleil jump rope artist. (2:55 video)

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Featured this week on prayer&politiks

• “Fire and Fury: Reading Elijah in light of Charlottesville,” a sermon rooted in 1 Kings 19:1-18 by Nancy Hastings Sehested

• “Greta Thunberg: When the muted find a voice

• "Elijah’s pity party,” a litany for worship inspired by 1 Kings 19:1-15

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