News, views, notes, and quotes

Signs of the Times  •  4 February 2016  •  No. 57

Processional.  Street percussion and dance in New York City, from “To the Culture” (2:28 minutes).

Right: Shelf cloud over Sydney, Australia, photo by Richard Hirst.

Invocation.Miserere Mei, Deus" (Psalm 51),  by 17th century Italian composer Gregorio Allegri (5:44 minutes).

Call to worship. “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness” (Luke 4:1) —see “Wilderness: Lenten preparation: A collection of biblical texts on wilderness

Money can’t buy you love. This past Sunday, while stumping in Iowa to corral votes prior to Monday’s caucuses, presidential candidate Donald Trump visited a non-denominational church for worship, where he attempted to put money on the communion tray. “I thought it was for the offering.” Nick Allen and Ruth Sherlock, The Telegraph

The Reverend Richard Allen, founder and first bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, founded 200 years ago in the US, is the US Postal Service’s featured portrait for their Black History Month commemorative stamp. —for more information see Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service 

Notable Nobel Prize nomination. Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC—where a Christian terrorist assassinated nine members in June 2015—has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for the way it has handled that tragedy. Andrew Knapp, The Post and Courier

¶ “Jarena Lee (February 11, 1783–1836, pictured below right) was a 19th-century African-American woman who left behind an eloquent account of her religious experience. The publishing of her autobiography made Lee the first African American woman to have an autobiography published in the United States. She was also the first woman authorized to preach by Richard Allen, founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1819. Despite Allen's blessing, Lee continued to face hostility to her ministry because she was black and a woman. She became a traveling minister, traveling thousands of miles on foot.” —Wikipedia

As part of its coverage of Black History Month, The New York Times is printing a series of previously unpublished archival photos of African Americans—with new ones each day in February.

Hymn of petition.Choneni Elohim” (“Be gracious to me, O G-d”), from Psalm 51, written and performed by Christene Jackman.

In memoriam—and in anticipation of the outcome of Lent’s discipline. “Freedom,” Richie Havens, who died this week at age 72, improvising “Motherless Child” at Woodstock 1969.

Hymn of (amazing) praise.  Young Amira Willighagen sings Giacomo Puccini’s “O Mio Babbino Caro” (“Oh My Beloved Father”) on Dutch TV’s “Got Talent” program.

Confession. “Most of our culture prefers to celebrate Valentine's Day rather than Ash Wednesday. Most are repulsed by the thought of smudging ashes on the forehead in the shape of a cross. Most, even in the church, shy away from the mark of crucifixion. Instead of the body-broken, blood-spilt meal which Jesus offered, most prefer the empty calories of candy. Valentine candy is the Gospel of our culture.” —Ken Sehested

The history behind Valentine’s Day. “It is said that a jailer in a Roman prison had a daughter who was one of St. Valentine’s patients before he was arrested. He tended her for her blindness, but when he was arrested she still had not regained her sight.
       Before his execution Valentine asked the jailer for some parchment and ink, wrote the girl a note, and signed it 'From your Valentine.' When she opened the note, a yellow crocus flower fell out of the parchment and it was the first thing she had ever seen.” —Read Ken Sehested’s “St. Valentine: Remembering prisoners on his feast day.” Each year the children and youth in my congregation make homemade Valentine’s cards for prisoners, which are then distributed by local prison chaplains.

¶ “Valentine's Day is a time to spoil our beloveds, woo our secret lovers, and remember to call our mothers. It is also, to put things slightly less tenderly, a $20 billion macroeconomic stimulus aimed straight at the heart of the American chocolate-floral-lingerie industrial hydra.” Derek Thompson, The Atlantic

More children’s ministries. Circle of Mercy Congregation’s youth made several pillowcase banners in support of the #GiveRefugeesRest  campaign. Some were sent to our state’s governor, who was one of the 31 governors opposing Syrian refugee resettlement. Two were hand delivered by one of our members to Speaker of the House Paul Ryan.

Why refugees matter. “The First Testament says it plainly enough: ‘You shall love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt’ (Deuteronomy 10:19, among a score of similar injunctions). In the Second Testament, the plight of strangers—the stranded, the stripped, the stricken and the strapped—is equated with the sake of Jesus himself. Thereby, and in these very days, the judicial transcript of Matthew 25 is published anew: Lord, when did we see thee. . . ?” —read Ken Sehested’s “Mamrean encounter: A meditation on the threat of refugees, the burden of strangers and the bounty of God

Words of assurance. “We're all / Born to trouble / In troubling times / This world has a way / Of wearing us down / But the earth / Keeps on turning / Night turns to day / And every new morning / Mercies come round.” —“Lay Back the Darkness,” Kate Campbell 

 ¶ “There are voices who are constantly claiming you have to choose between your identities. . . . Do not believe them. . . . You fit in here. Right here. You’re right where you belong. . . . You’re not Muslim or American, you’re Muslim and American. And don’t grow cynical.” —President Barack Obama, in his 3 February speech at the Islamic Society of Baltimore mosque. For more, see Michelle Boorstein, The Washington Post.

Religious liberty for Muslims was championed by Roger Williams in colonial America, and specifically mentioned in early US constitutional wording. Thomas Jefferson, who 1786 penned Virginia’s Statue for Religious Freedom—which became the model for the religious liberty amendment to the US Constitution, approved by Congress in 1789 and ratified by the states in 1791—which extended explicit protection to “the Jew and the gentile, the Christian and the Mohametan” [the latter word meaning Muslim]. And, in fact, the Virginia legislature explicitly rejected inclusion of language recognizing “Jesus Christ” in the bill. —see Elahe Izadi, “Obama, Thomas Jefferson and the history of the fascinating history of Founding Fathers defending Muslim rights

¶ "In the formation of the American ideal and principles of what we consider to be exceptional American values, Muslims were, at the beginning, the litmus test for whether the reach of American constitutional principles would include every believer, every kind, or not." —Denise Spellberg, author of Thomas Jefferson's Qur'an: Islam and the Founders

Awesome. Listen to University of Maryland student Sabah Muktar’s introduction of President Obama prior to his speaking at the Islamic Center of Baltimore. (3:02 minutes).

Twenty-five years of US combat operations against Iraq. Twenty-five years ago the US and its allies were midway through “Operation Desert Storm,” the action to expel Iraqi troops from Kuwait. —For more information, see Alan Taylor’s “Operation Desert Storm: 25 Years Since the First Guld War," The Atlantic.

¶ “Despite the prayers of millions of believers, both in this country and elsewhere, the war has begun. And it has been prosecuted on a scale never before witnessed in the history of humankind. On February 4, Major General Robert Johnston said that ‘[we have flown] approximately one bombing sortie for every minute of the Desert Storm operation.’” —read Ken Sehested’s “Deepening the Call: A wilderness fast opposing a ‘Desert Storm,’” a Lenten essay protesting the 1991 Gulf War

US military strikes in Iraq have not ceased since 1991. Although a cease-fire was established 28 February 1991, the US and Britain established “no-fly” zones in southern and northern Iraq, engaging in near-daily attacks on Saddam Hussein’s forces right up until the 2003 “Shock and Awe” invasion of Iraq. US troops did not formally withdraw from Iraq until 31 December 2011, but then returned in June 2014. According to Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren, there are now “well above 4,000” US troops in Iraq, and more are expected to be deployed.

¶ “Do not bother looking for Lent in your Bible dictionary. There was no such thing in biblical times. There is some evidence that early Christians fasted 40 hours between Good Friday and Easter, but the custom of spending 40 days in prayer and self-denial did not arise until later, when the initial rush of Christian adrenaline was over and believers had gotten very ho-hum about their faith.
        “When the world did not end as Jesus himself had said it would, his followers stopped expecting so much from God or from themselves. They hung a wooden cross on the wall and settled back into their more or less comfortable routines, remembering their once passionate devotion to God the way they remembered the other enthusiasms of their youth.” —Barbara Brown Taylor, “Settling for Less: A Lenten Meditation on Luke 4:1-13

Preach it. “’Fear of God’ is not cowering, frightened intimidation. Those who fear God are not wimps and are not preoccupied with excessive need to please God. They are rather those who have arrived at a fundamental vision of reality about life with God, who have enormous power, freedom, and energy to live out that vision. ‘Fear of God’ is liberating and not restrictive, because it gives confidence about the true shape of the world.” —Walter Brueggemann, Remember You Are Dust

Lectionary for Sunday next. "All who dwell in the dell of the Blessed Embrace shall raise anthems of joy and grace. My fortress, my shield, by mercy concealed: O Shelter, my shiv’ring displace." —continue reading When you call I will answer,” a litany for worship inspired by Psalm 91

Call to the table.Idumea (Am I Born to Die),” Doc Watson and Gaither Carlton.

Altar call. “Isn’t there anything you understand? It’s from the ash heap God is seen. Always! Always from the ashes.” —character in Archibald MacLeish’s play, “J.B.”

Just for fun. Bobby McFarrin and Esperanza Spalding jam at the 53rd Grammy Pre-Tel  (Thanks, Graham.)

Benediction.Abide With Me," slow jazz instrumental rendition by Charles Lloyd and The Marvels.

Some recessionals are for marching with martialed courage, like those children leaving the sanctuary, in 1963, of 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, to face police dogs and fire hoses. But some are for sauntering and slow dancing like “The Shadow of Your Smile” performed here by Glenn Frey (RIP).

Right: Art ©Julie Lonneman

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Featured this week on prayer&politiks:

•“Mamrean encounter: A meditation on the threat of refugees, the burden of strangers and the bounty of God,” a poem

• “St. Valentine: Remembering prisoners on his feast day,” the history behind the holiday

• “When you call I will answer,” a litany for worship inspired by Psalm 91

Resources for Lent

• “Fasting: Ancient practice, modern relevance

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

• “Create in me a clean heart,” a litany for worship inspired by Psalm 51

• “Heart religion,” a litany for Ash Wednesday

• “Spirit-led and Spirit-fed,” a litany for worship inspired by Luke 4:1-13

• “Lent is upon us,” readings for Lenten liturgy

• “Deepening the Call: A wilderness fast opposing a “Desert Storm,” 25th anniversary of a Lenten essay written prior to the 1991 Gulf War

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