News, views, notes, and quotes

Signs of the Times  •  25 February 2016  •  No. 60

Processional (and celebrating the rising of the women). The ceremony marks the first aboriginal women—Melanie Mark—elected to British Columbia (Canada) legislature.  (Thanks, Lee.)

Photo at right. Colima Volcano in Mexico shows a powerful night explosion with lightning and incandescent rockfalls. This photo, by Velasco Garcia, took second place in the 2016 World Press Photo Contest.

Invocation. “Fill my heart with song and / Let me sing for ever more / You are all I long for / All I worship and adore.” —7-year-old Angelina Jordan, from Norway, singing “Fly Me to the Moon.”

Call to worship. “Let the lost rejoice in the Lamb who rules, / for the Tendering Day draws near! / When the grumbling accountants of shame / and chagrin trap the erring, / consigned to regret, / When the safeguarding coins are scattered, astray, / and tattered hearts freeze with fear and dismay.” —continue reading Ken’s Sehested “Let the lost rejoice,” a litany for worship inspired by Jesus’ parables of loss in Luke 15

Good news you likely didn’t hear. Susan Dancy Aldrich, a stay-at-home mom and part-time preschool teacher in Charlotte, NC, faced a vocational fork-in-the-road when the last of her children left home. After a coffee shop chance encounter with a friend starting a new non-governmental organization (NGO) in Panama, Susan hatched the idea for what became, in 2010, “One Library at a Time,” a project to establish and strengthen libraries serving young children in underdeveloped regions of the world—mostly in Central America—building on existing linkages with various NGOs to promote sustainability and relational development with communities here in the US. Consider stirring interest in your congregation to “adopt” one of these libraries.

Left: US & Cuban flags on a balcony in Havana. Photo by Yamil Lage, Getty Images.

US-Cuba relations continuing to thaw
        •US President Barack Obama has announced he will visit Cuba on 21 March, the first sitting president to travel there since Calvin Coolidge in 1928.
        •Cleber LLC, a US manufacturer of small tractors, is the first business granted permission to establish a manufacturing plant in Cuba. —Melissa Block, NPR
        •On his second day in office in 2008, President Barack Obama issued an executive order mandating the closing within one year of the Guantánamo Bay Prison. Seven years later, Obama—frustrated by Congressional obstruction—has renewed his commitment to dismantle the military prison.      
        •The present cost to US taxpayers is $4 million annually for each of the 91 prisoners at the Guantánamo prison. For more background information, see the ACLU's “Guantánamo by the Numbers.”
        •The US and Cuba signed “a civil aviation agreement in Havana [Tuesday 16 February] re-establishing air service between the two countries,” up to 20 flights per day to Havana and as many as 10 daily flights to other Cuban cities. With 10 international airports in Cuba, that means there could be as many as 110 flights daily. —Laura Wagner, NPR

For more background on Cuba:
        • “Thirty-give interesting facts about Cuba and its US relations,” by Ken Sehested. 
        • “Reflections on Changes in US-Cuba Relations,” by Stan Hastey, guest columnist.

For the beauty of the earth. Aerial video of Multnomah Falls, Oregon. (2:25. Thanks, Michael.) 

Hymn of praise.Ode to Joy,” James Turner, glass harp virtuoso.

When praise is something else.
        •“We either praise or blame according to whether the one or the other provides the greater opportunity to let our power of judgment shine. —Friedrich Nietzsche
        •“We seldom praise anyone in good earnest, except such as admire us.” —François de La Rochefoucauld

A convenient opportunity for religious literacy. Harvard University, along with its Divinity School and Wellesley College are offering a free online series on world religions.

¶ Left. Mural portrait In Baltimore of Trayvon Martin, killed in February 2012 by George Zimmerman. Martin would have been 21 this year on 5 February.

Suspicion of Lenten piety. “It has been said: Our weakness is our only claim on Jesus. ‘Come to me, you who are weary. . . . For my yoke is light’ (Matthew 11:28, 30).
        “‘Aha!’ you say. ‘Just as I suspected. What God really wants is to keep us subservient and dependent! On our knees, rather than on our own two feet. This religion business is nothing more than a form of social control.’”
        “If that were true, I would say: This ‘God’ is nothing but a pimp and his disciples are but hustlers. But something else is at stake—something so subtle that it cannot be said directly but only ironically. Rather than slavery, this ‘weakness’ is the key to freedom.” —continue reading “Claim on Jesus,” a call to worship and litany inspired by Luke 15:11b-32, the story of the “prodigal son”

War costs in dollars. It’s estimated that the total costs of the US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq will be between $4-$6 trillion, once you factor in not only the direct costs but also interest on borrowing (virtually all the war costs were put on a credit card), long-term medical care and disability compensation for wounded veterans, and supply and equipment replenishment.
        •The George W. Bush Administration forced Lawrence Lindsey to resign as head of its National Economic Council shortly before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, after he said the cost of a war with Iraq might reach $200 billion. A month later, just before the U.S. invaded Iraq, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld suggested the war’s total cost would be “something under $50 billion.” And the US, he added, would share that bill with its allies.

Right: Marine Abrams tank with the words "New Testament" painted on the barrel, Anbar Province, Iraq, 2005.

        •According to the Congressional Research Service, it costs $3.9 million annually for each American soldier in Afghanistan. —Mark Thompson, Time

        •The US war in Afghanistan has cost at least $1 trillion (1,000,000,000,000—that’s one thousand billion dollars) in direct expenses (i.e., not counting things like debt on war-expense borrowing and long-term medical costs for wounded US troops). Which mean the US, instead of invading, could have cut a $33,000 check to each of Afghanistan’s 30 million citizens. In a country where the annual average per capita income is $670, that would last nearly 50 years per citizen. (Life expectancy in Afghanistan is 60.5 years.) —Peter Apps, Reuters

State of our disunion. In August 2015 the Birmingham, Alabama, city council voted to raise in two stages the minimum wage from $7.25 (the federal level—Alabama has no state law for such) to $10.10 in 2017. (Adjusted for inflation, the latter rate would be only about 10¢ higher than the federal minimum wage rate of 1970.)
        Now state Representative David Faulkner, from neighboring Mountain Home, has drafted legislation forbidding Alabama cities from setting their own standard.
        Background. The median household income in Mountain Home is $131,281; median home value is $542,800; poverty rate is 2.6%; population is 97% white. While in Birmingham: median household income is $31,445; median home value, $85,000; poverty rate, 31% (50% for children); population rate, 70% African American. —see Audie Cornish, NPR

On 19 February 1942 President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066. Listen to Japanese Americans—approximately 120,000, two-thirds of them naturalized US citizens—reflect on their time in internment camps during World War II. (4:02. Thanks, Ashlee.)
        •Laws preventing Asian Americans from owning land, voting, and testifying against whites in court, among other things, had already been in effect for decades.
        •“In 1940 and in early 1941, President Roosevelt secretly commissioned studies “to assess the possibility that Japanese Americans would pose a threat to U.S. security.” Both reported no credible threat, but both were ignore.”Wikipedia
        •Here is a map of the Japanese American internment camps.

Confession. “What a chimera, then, is man! What a novelty, what a monster, what a chaos, what a contradiction, what a prodigy! Judge of all things, feeble earthworm, repository of truth, sewer of uncertainty and error, the glory and the scum of the universe.” —17th century French mathematician, physicist and philosopher Blaise Pascal

Words of assurance. “Even with darkness sealing us in, / We breathe Your name, / And through all the days that follow so fast, / We trust in You; / Endless Your grace, O endless Your grace, / Beyond all mortal dream.” Stephen Paulus (from his “The Three Hermits” opera), lyrics by Michael Dennis Browne, adapted from a Russian Orthodox prayer.

Preach it (in anticipating Women’s History Month in March). “Be the kind of woman that when your feet hit the floor each morning the devil says, ‘Oh crap, she's up!’" —bumper sticker

Call to the table. “For with you is the source of life, in your light we see light,” (sung in Hebrew and English), David Zeller.

Altar call. “I can say no to myself, I can say yes to God, and then every single day there are tests to prove whether I meant it. I may have meant it yesterday, but I would like to take it back today. Somebody has said, 'Living sacrifices keep crawling off the altar.'" —Elizabeth Elliott

Lectionary for Sunday next. “Sunday school, like the ministry of reconciliation, has been tamed. In 2004, shortly after the release of gruesome photos of abuse and torture in Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison, a ranking U.S. Senator responded this way to a reporter’s question: “This is not Sunday school. This is interrogation. This is rough stuff.”  —read Ken Sehested’s “There is a new creation: The Apostle Paul’s vision of the ministry of reconciliation,” commentary on 2 Corinthians 5:17-19

Right: “Real life” artwork ©Brian Andreas, Storypeople

Benediction. ““I believe the light that shines on you will shine on you forever . . . though I can’t guarantee there’s nothing scary hiding under your bed.” —Paul Simon, lyrics in “Father and Daughter

Recessional.Eies irae” from Giuseppe Verdi’s “Requiem.”

Just for fun. Why do we still have pennies, considering the fact that each penny costs 1.7¢ to make—and the US Mint still produces eight billion new ones each year? Watch John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight hilarious takedown of this phenomenon and learn about, among other things, the “Americans for Common Cents” lobby, the zinc industry, and the Lincoln Library. (9:35)

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Featured this week on prayer&politiks:

• “Claim on Jesus,” a call to worship and litany inspired by Luke 15:11b-32, the story of the “prodigal son”

• “Let the lost rejoice,” a litany for worship inspired by Jesus’ parables of loss in Luke 15

• “There is a new creation: The Apostle Paul’s vision of the ministry of reconciliation,” commentary on 2 Corinthians 5:17-19

Resources for Lent

• “Fasting: Ancient practice, modern relevance

• “Wilderness: Lenten preparation: A collection of biblical texts that speak of wilderness

• “Lent is upon us,a liturgy for Lent

• “Deepening the Call: A wilderness fast opposing a 'Desert Storm,'” a Lenten essay protesting the 1991 Gulf War

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