News, views, notes, and quotes

Signs of the Times  •  28 January 2016  •  No. 56

Processional.Traveller,” Anoushka Shankar, on sitar, dance by Shalini Patnaik. The dance form, Odissi, is one of the eight classical dance forms of India and is thought to be the oldest surviving dance of India.

Tibetan Prayer Flag Quilt by Peg Green, VA

Invocation. "Oh, a storm is threat'ning / My very life today / If I don't get some shelter / Oh year, I'm gonna fade away." Watch David Wolfe's inspiring, multi-artist rendition of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards' "Gimme Shelter."

This is amazing. German musician Felix Kleiser was born without arms. Yet he is an award-winning French horn artist, playing with his toes. Listen to him perform (with Christof Keymer on piano) Schumann’s “Adagio and Allegro in A flat major for horn and piano.”

Hymn of praise. Led Zepplin’s “Kashmir” performed by The Louisville Leopard Percussionists (featuring xylophones—this is awesome).

Backfired. “A Texas grand jury investigating video-recorded allegations that Planned Parenthood was illegally selling fetal organs instead indicted two of the people who made the controversial undercover videos.” Trevor Hughes, Religion News Service

Confession. “It's when we face for a moment / the worst our kind can do, and shudder to know / the taint in our own selves, that awe / cracks the mind's shell and enters the heart.” ―Denise Levertov, “On the Mystery of the Incarnation”

Words of assurance. “I, God, am your playmate! / I will lead the child in you in wonderful ways / for I have chosen you. / Beloved child, come swiftly to Me / for I am truly in you. / Then I shall leap into love.” Mechthild of Magdesburg, member of the Beguines, a non-canonical, self-supporting religious order founded by women in 12th century Europe whose lack of male oversight and mystical leanings resulted in their being repressed by the Church in the 14th century.

¶ “The Most Important Writing from People of Color in 2015.” Zeba Blay, Huffpost Black Voices (Thanks, Mark.) 

Good news. “On Friday, 15 January, the White House announced “a halt to new coal mining leases on federal lands until the administration conducts a comprehensive review on coal companies' royalty fees—a move that is expected to give new momentum to the environmental campaigns calling for a post-fossil fuel era.” Nadia Prupis, Common Dreams

Not so good news. A recent survey by Public Policy Polling asks respondents whether or note they supported a US bombing campaign of Agrabah: 30% of self-identified Republicans supported the action, while 13% opposed. Among self-identified Democrats, 19% supported and 36% opposed. Problem is, Agrabah is the fictional country from the Disney movie “Aladdin.” —see Miles E. Johnson, Mother Jones

More not-so-good news. “The irony of gay marriage becoming legal in the United States is that it has made discrimination against LBGT people easier.” —read more analysis in “Can States Protect LGBT Rights Without Compromising Religious Freedom?” by Emma Green, The Nation

More good news. “An incredible moving company in California helps victims of domestic violence by moving their belongings at no charge. After recognizing the scale of the need and unwilling to take money from people in such distress, the brothers decided to make free moving services for people fleeing violent situations a company policy.” A Mighty Girl  (Thanks, Connie.)

Science in service to whom? “The U.S. Department of Defense is asking the American Psychological Association (APA) to place its ethical considerations aside and reconsider its ban prohibiting psychologists from participating in torture at Guantánamo Bay and elsewhere.” Last summer the “Hoffman Report” undermined “the APA's repeated denials that its members were complicit in torture,” which led to the near-unanimous vote establishing the organization’s policy. Lauren McCauley, Common Dreams

That’s a bunch of bytes! One of the biggest scientific events of 2015 was the NASA New Horizons’ flyby of the planet Pluto. It took the spacecraft nearly 10 years to pass by close enough to Pluto and its moons to begin collecting information. The mission team back on earth will need about 16 months to download the associated data. Even though the radio signals that contain the data are moving at light speed, the download won’t be complete until early 2017! Brian Heckert, Mozy

Creative compassion can erupt from anywhere, anytime. “If you type the word ‘refugee’ using the new typeface Common Sans, something potentially confusing happens: ‘Refugee’ immediately autocorrects to ‘human.’ That’s not an error. It’s the handiwork of Swedish design studio Essen International. It created the graphic bit of activism as a pro bono project. ‘Often this is what you read in the headlines, about refugees, and you forget that they’re humans,’ says creative director Robert Holmkvist.” Margaret Rhodes, Wired (Thanks, Abigail.)

¶ “More people from every corner of the globe have been uprooted by war, persecution or natural disasters than ever before in history. That amounts to 55 million people ‘forcebly displaced’ at the end of 2014, according to the UN Refugee Agency. That doesn’t count tens of millions more in poverty who are voluntarily seeking a better life.” Jane Onyanga-Omara, USA Today

¶ “[I]f others neither have goods we want nor can perform services we need, we make sure that they are at a safe distance and close ourselves off from them so that their emaciated and tortured bodies can make no inordinate claims on us. —Miroslav Volf, “Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation”

¶ “Justice demands that we seek and find the stranger, the broken, the prisoner and comfort them and offer them our help. Here lies the holy compassion of God that causes the devils much distress.” —Mechtild of Magdeburg

¶ “By majority vote [22 January] the Commissioners of the United States Commission on Civil Rights have issued a letter that requests the immediate end of the raids currently being carried out by the Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement against Central American refugees.” PRNewswire (Thanks, Greg.)

Preach it. “Pope Francis is taking direct aim at the wealthy and powerful of the world, saying in his message for Lent that they are often ‘slaves to sin’ who, if they ignore the poor, ‘will end up condemning themselves and plunging into the eternal abyss of solitude which is hell. . . . The greater their power and wealth, the more this blindness and deception can grow,’ the pontiff wrote in his annual Lenten exhortation, which was released on Tuesday,” 26 January. David Gibson, Religion News Service 

Altar call. “Madrone's eyes were far away. Slowly she drew her attention back to the room, and shook her head.
        "I know my destiny," she said. "I had a dream."
        She turned to meet Bird's eyes, and gave him a little, hesitant smile, almost like an apology.
        "What kind of dream?" he asked, knowing before she spoke what she was going to say.
        "That kind of a dream," she said lightly. "The kind that messes up your life. It said, 'Build a refuge in the heart of the enemy.'" —“City of Refuge” by Starhawk (Thanks, Deborah.)

¶ “I don’t know about the levels and layers of heaven,
but I do know about tenderness
about curves of a baby’s bottom
about the touch of a loved one
about wrinkles
about dirt
about sunshine
about wild geese
about waterfalls
about mountains
and about a God who is here with us
        and above
intimate with those whose brokenness
        has become an opening for Him to enter.
This is a God
who is not just the God of the majesty and the mighty,
but a God of the broken down,
the poor,
the refugee.
This is a God is less the Prime Mover
        and more the Most Moved Mover.”
Omid Safi, “A Theology of Cracked Spaces,” On Being

¶ “God bless the grass that grows through the crack / They roll the concrete over it / And try to keep it back. / The concrete gets tired, of what it has to do / It breaks and it buckles / And the grass grows through.” —“God Bless the Grass,” Pete Seeger

Call to the table. “Ah the wars they will / be fought again / The holy dove / She will be caught again / bought and sold / and bought again / the dove is never free / Ring the bells that still can ring / Forget your perfect offering / There is a crack in everything / That's how the light gets in.” —“Anthem,” Leonard Cohen

Zaatari refugee camp (left) in Jordan, where some 85,000 Syrian refugees live.  Altogether, the United Nations have registered 600,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan, though the total number could top one million. Keep in mind that Jordan is also the home of more than two million Palestinian refugees, who began pouring into the country after the creation of the state of Israel in 1948.

Lectionary for Sunday next. “’Everything begins in ecstasy and ends in politics,’ according to Charles Péguy, the French poet and essayist. I think of this community of faith as a school for ecstasy; but ecstasy is so much more than an emotionally pleasurable experience. Ecstasy is thicker and sturdier. We’re not just ‘getting high’ on God. In fact, the ecstasy I have in mind is what gets us ‘low,’ which impels us down from the experience of transfiguration with Jesus to encounter the world’s convulsion.” —read Ken Sehested’s Transfiguration Sunday sermon, “From ecstasy to epilepsy

Just for fun. President Barack Obama wingin’ it on live TV (1:37 minutes).

Benediction.Always Stay Humble and Kind,” Tim McGraw. (Thanks, Lenora.)

Recessional.Ain’t Got Time to Die,” by Accoustic Choir of Romania.

N.T. Wright quote: photo by Tomsan Kattackal.

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Featured this week on prayer&politiks:

From ecstasy to epilepsy, a Transfiguration Sunday sermon

• “Resilience Mojo for the Bonobo Year: A bleak midwinter sermon,” by Abigail Hastings

• “When grief sits with you,” a call to worship by Abigail Hastings

• “Nation of frivolous piety,” a litany for worship inspired by Psalm 99 and Isaiah 1:15

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