News, views, notes, and quotes

Signs of the Times  •  11 February 2016  •  No. 58

Processional. “They have blessings – those who ask / Jesus himself said so / Hallelujah /  Jesus himself said so. . . . / They have life. . . . / They have joy. . . . / They have faith.” —“Wana Baraka” (They have blessings), traditional Swahili hymn from Kenya, arranged by Shawn L. Kirchner.

Right: Hamilton Pool Preserve is a natural pool that was created when the dome of an underground river collapsed due to massive erosion thousands of years ago. The pool is located about 23 miles west of Austin, Texas. Photo by Dave Wilson.

Invocation. “The world is God’s and it will not fall apart. The church need not live out of fear as though the gospel were not true. Instead, we are destined to live toward freedom, toward the pain of the world, toward the hurt of the world, toward the joy of the world: The hurt and pain the world does not understand and the joy the world does not anticipate.”  —continue reading “The world is God’s,” a litany for worship adapting text from Walter Brueggemann’s Living Toward a Vision

Call to worship. Imagine God singing (about-and-to us) this Muddy Waters tune on Ash Wednesday. “Forty Days and Forty Nights,” performed by B.B. King.

Amazing news. Today “Morocco’s king will switch on the first phase of a concentrated solar power plant that will become the world’s largest when completed. The power station on the edge of the Saharan desert will be the size of the country’s capital city by the time it is finished in 2018, and provide electricity for 1.1 million people. . . . [saving] hundreds of thousands of tonnes of carbon emissions per year.” Arthur Neslen, The Guardian

More amazing news from Morocco. In late January some 300 Muslim clerics, scholars and other leaders approved the “Marrakesh Declaration” asserting the rights of religious minorities in predominantly-Muslim communities.
        Drawing historical precedent from the 1,400 year-old “Charter of Medina” which the Prophet Mohammad drafted to govern the first Muslim state, the affirmations in the Declaration are highly significant. The question now is whether this statement, and the four-year negotiation behind it, will stimulate the conversation needed to affect policies and cultural norms.
        You can read the summary of the Marrakesh Declaration here. Here’s a brief news story from Religion News Service. Here’s a longer New York Times report.

Confession (in Ash Wednesday’s imposition line). “Excuse me . . . I signed up for eternal bliss. I think I may be in the wrong line."

Hymn of praise.Feeling Good,” Nina Simone.

Speaking of interfaith engagement, this is an inspiring video (1:38) of Pope Francis affirmed “we are all children of God.”

Inspiring news you won’t likely hear.Meet The Rabbi Traveling Across The Country To Fight Islamophobia,” by Justin Salhani, (Thanks, Shanta.)

Not so inspiring news. “Are we going to surround the entire State of Israel with a fence, a barrier? The answer is yes, unequivocally. In the environment in which we live we must defend ourselves from the wild beasts." —Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, announcing this week the multi-year, multi-million dollar project. Andrea Germanos, Common Dreams

Words of assurance. “If your world has only done you wrong / And all you find yourself is all alone / And if there's no one there to see you through / I'll be there for you.” —The Mavericks, "Come Unto Me"

“Both miraculous and terrifying.” The largest glacier calving event ever caught on video. (Thanks, Susan.)

Black History Month snippet: Brief profile of Ralph Bunche, career diplomat. Steven J. Niven, “Ralph Bunche: A Diplomat Who Would Not Negotiate on Race” (Thanks, Richard.)

“Hammerin’ Hank” Aaron celebrated his 82nd birthday this week. The photo (at left), from the Negro Leagues Museum, shows the 18-year-old Aaron leaving Mobile, Alabama, in 1952 to join the Indianapolis Clowns Negro League baseball team with a salary of $200 a month. He purportedly had $1.50 in his pocket, two changes of clothes and one major league dream.

This is priceless! You may have heard that on 20 January, Stacey Dash, a FOX News contributor (she was a character in the ‘90s comedy “Clueless”), said that Black History Month shouldn’t exist. The good folk at “Yes!” magazine put together a one minute video of kids’ responses.

Recovery of African American history. Just down the mountain to the east of where I live is the small town of Old Fort, NC. One Sunday in September 1950 (years before the phrase “civil rights movement” was a headline) Old Fort citizens were stunned to see African American children marching down main street (see the photo at right), carrying signs like “We want our school back,” in opposition to the county’s decision to close the Catawba View Grammar School. —read more of Dawna Goode’s story

More historical recovery. “Virginia’s public education then [1956] was a hotbed of white-black conflict after [the US Supreme Court’s ruling] Brown v. Board of Education. Several Virginia counties temporarily closed their schools to avoid integration. Prince Edward County resisted integration to the point that eventually, in 1959, the county shut down its public school system indefinitely. Whites-only private schools were formed, perversely supported by state funds. For five years, from 1959-1964, there was no public education for black children.” Jerry A. Miller, Jr., Asheville Citizen-Times

This, too, is to be learned in Lent. “On Judgment Day God will hold us accountable for the permitted pleasures we failed to enjoy.” —Jerusalem Talmud

It is, I hope, a permitted pleasure to enjoy personal acquaintance with publicly-recognized justice-seeking, peace-making, reconciliation-building icons—in my case two of this year’s five “Public Peace Prize” recipients: Marie Dennis, co-president of Pax Christi International, and Michael Lapsley, a South African priest who works with victims as well as authors of apartheid and other forms of repression (and a recent guest preacher for my congregation). Read more about all five recipients.

Lent is an especially good time to give thanks for, and encourage, hospital and hospice chaplains. One recent testimony: “In the past week, I baptized two babies—one dead, one dying. I held a chair steady for a mother collapsing in tears, and I held a trash bin for a father vomiting in grief. I prayed for children who had cancer, held hands of children who had burns, sang songs to children who had been abused.” Keith Menhinick, hospital chaplian in NC,  “The Spiritual Practice of Poetry”

Among the lessons of Lent is the limit of speech. “I am reluctant to talk about God and what God thinks and how God acts. . . . I go there, but when I do, I’m reminded of Robert Capon saying we’re like oysters trying to explain ballerinas." —Barbara Brown Taylor

A prophet speaks to profit. “If Wall Street can borrow money at 0.75% interest, so can college students. We need to stop treating students as profit centers.” —Senator Elizabeth Warren

Preach it, Mr. President. "What better time than these changing, tumultuous times to have Jesus standing beside us, steadying our minds, cleansing our hearts, pointing us towards what matters.
        “His love gives us the power to resist fear's temptations.
        “He gives us the courage to reach out to others across that divide, rather than push people away.
        “He gives us the courage to go against the conventional wisdom and stand up for what's right, even when it's not popular. To stand up not just to our enemies but, sometimes, to stand up to our friends.
        “He gives us the fortitude to sacrifice ourselves for a larger cause. Or to make tough decisions knowing that we can only do our best." ­President Barack Obama, National Prayer Breakfast, Thursday 4 February 2016. You can watch a video (1:41 minutes) and read a news report of his comments at Politico.

Plundering “freedom” language. “. . . religious liberty is a code word for defending the right of Christians to continue to hold cultural authority and privilege.” John Fea, “Ted Cruz’s campaign is fueled by a dominionist vision for America,” Religion News Service

¶ “It is directly contrary to the nature of Christ Jesus . . . that throats of men should be torne out for his sake.” —Roger Williams, colonial pastor, advocate for universal protection of religious liberty, founder of Rhode Island, a haven for religious dissenters, who was referred to by Puritan leaders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony as “an incendiary of the Commonwealth

Lectionary for Sunday next. “Those who live there make their bellies their gods, belches are their praise; all they can think of is their appetites.” —Philippians 3:19, The Message

¶ “I asked God if it was okay to be melodramatic / and she said yes / I asked her if it was okay to be short / and she said it sure is / I asked her if I could wear nail polish / or not wear nail polish / and she said honey / she calls me that sometimes / she said you can do just exactly what you want to. . . .” —Kaylin Haught, “God Says Yes to Me.” Here  is a video rendition of the poem (3+ minutes).

Call to the table. "We learn some things to know them; others, to do them.” —St. Augustine

Benediction. “Defenseless under the night / Our world in stupor lies; / Yet, dotted everywhere, / Ironic points of light / Flash out wherever the Just / Exchange their messages: / May I, composed like them / Of Eros and of dust, / Beleaguered by the same / Negation and despair, / Show an affirming flame. —W.H. Auden, last verse of his poem “September 1, 1939”

Just for fun. Comedic lip syncing Patsy Cline.

Recessional. “Going home, going home / I'm jus' going home / Quiet like, some still day / I'm jus' going home / It's not far, yes close by / Through an open door / Work all done, care laid by / Going to fear no more.” —performed by Sissel Kyrkjebø, music by Antonin Dvorak from Symphony No. 9, Op. 95, lyrics by William Arms Fisher, who wrote that “the lines . . . should take the form of a negro spiritual.”

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Featured this week on prayer&politiks:

• “Wintering over,” a call to worship in a chilly season, by Abigail Hastings

• “With courage impart,” a litany for worship inspired by Psalm 27.

• “The world is God’s,” a litany for worship adapting text from Walter Brueggemann’s Living Toward a Vision, edited by Ken Sehested

Resources for Lent

• “Fasting: Ancient practice, modern relevance

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

• “Lent is upon us,” liturgical readings for Lent

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

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