News, views, notes, and quotes

Signs of the Times  •  14 January 2016  •  No. 54

Processional.Wana Baraka,”  by The Festival Singers of Florida. This popular Kenyan religious song expresses a message similar to that of Psalm 128: “They have blessings (and, in subsequent verses, “peace,” “joy,” and “well-being”), those who pray.”

Right: Photo by Alexey Kljatov. See more of Kljatov’s macro photos of snowflakes’ impeccable designs.

Invocation. “Who is this Christ, who interferes in everything?” —Rainer Maria Rilke

Intercession. Bluesy rendition of “Stand by Me” by Rory Block.

¶ “Six Hopeful Breakthroughs from 2015. Despite conflicts and crises at home and abroad, 2015 offered glimpses of the road to a more just, compassionate, and sustainable world.” Sarah van Gelder, Yes! Magazine

Hymn of praise.Lamma badaa yetathaana” (When s/he begins to sway), "hobbii jamaluu fataana" (my love, the beautiful one, attracts me). Traditional Syrian song performed by Lena Chamamyan.

Confession. “We know too much, but are convinced of too little.” —T. S. Eliot

¶ “The number of cubic feet of snow that falls on the planet each year is about 1 followed by 15 zeros, which is a million billion, estimates cloud physicist Jon Nelson at Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto, Japan, who has studied snowflakes for 15 years. Similarly, all this snow weighs about a million billion kilograms. [For us metrically-challenged folk, that's 2,204,622,800,000,000 pounds.] A typical snow crystal weighs roughly one millionth of a gram. This means a cubic foot of snow can contain roughly one billion crystals. A rough estimate of the number of snow crystals that fall to Earth per year is “about 1 followed by 24 zeros,” Nelson told LiveScience. “If another scientist says that I'm off by one or two zeros, then I won't quibble.” Charles Q. Choi,

It’s not widely known that, for 25 years, the US provided refuge for one of El Salvador’s most brutal human rights violators. Gen. Jose Guillermo Garcia, former Salvadoran defense minister, played a key role in the murders in 1980 of Archbishop Oscar Romero, the rape and murder of four US churchwomen and, in 1981, nearly 1,000 defenseless peasants of the village of El Mozote. Finally, on 8 January, US Immigration officials deported Garcia back to El Salvador, his plane landing at the San Salvador airport renamed in honor of Romero. Linda Cooper & James Hodge, National Catholic Reporter

Words of assurance.Brightly Beams Our Father’s Mercy” (aka “Let the Lower Lights be Burning”), old school hymn in tight a cappella harmony, sung by Dan Ellison, Spencer Ellison, Steven Jensen and Trevor Nielsen.

This is significant. “The pension board of the United Methodist Church—one of the largest Protestant denominations in the United States, with more than seven million members—has placed five Israeli banks on a list of companies that it will not invest in for human rights reasons, the board said in a statement on Tuesday. It appeared to be the first time that a pension fund of a large American church had taken such a step regarding the Israeli banks, which help finance settlement construction in what most of the world considers illegally occupied Palestinian territories.” Rick Gladstone, The New York Times

For commentary on the “boycott, divestment and sanctions” movement opposing Israel’s occupation of the West Bank of Palestine, see Ken Sehested’s “Boycott, divestment and sanctions: Israel and the occupation: We cannot ignore this contentious conversation.”

News of Israeli human rights activists get little attention here in the US. We need increased awareness of their work and build closer alliances. For a start, read Michael Sfard’s “Israeli Human Rights Activists Aren’t Traitors” to their own country.

If you’ve read Clarence Jordan’s work, you know his reference about the church needing to be a “demonstration plot” for what he called “the God Movement.” If you want to learn of an actual form of large-scale, sustainable agriculture—a demonstration plot for agriculture that regenerates both the soil and communities from its abundance—you should watch this inspiring video (“Life in Syntropy,” 15:28 minutes) on “agroforestry” underway in the Amazon region of Brazil. (Thanks, Greg.)

At the close of a recent worship service, members of my congregation, Greg Yost (standing at right in photo, by Marc Mullinax) and daughter Anna Farlessyost, displayed a banner made by some of Greg’s high school math students. Greg invited our members to participate the following week in an action at a local Exxon gas station. Greg organizes with “Beyond Extreme Energy”  whose strategic focus is on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission which issues the licenses—and thus is the gatekeeper—for much new fossil fuel infrastructure.

¶ “Arch Coal, the United States' second largest coal supplier, on Monday filed for bankruptcy, signaling what environmentalists described as the "end of an era" as the country moves to more renewable, less polluting energy sources. ‘Arch Coal’s bankruptcy is the latest sign of a profound shift in America’s energy landscape,’ said Mary Anne Hitt, director of Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign.” Lauren McCauley, Common Dreams

It wasn't just Exxon that knew fossil fuels were cooking the planet. New investigative reporting by Neela Banerjee with Inside Climate News recently revealed that scientists and engineers from nearly every major US and multinational oil and gas company may have for decades known about the impacts of carbon emissions on the climate. Between 1979 and 1983, the American Petroleum Institute (API), the industry's most powerful lobby group, ran a task force for fossil fuel companies to "monitor and share climate research," according to internal documents obtained by Inside Climate News. Lauren McCauley, Common Dreams

If you want investigative details of how fossil fuel companies have since the 1970s covered up scientific research indicating their product caused climate change, read Robert Brulle’s “America has been duped on climate change,” in The Washington Post.

Good news from the heartland. “A new climate narrative is emerging among farmers in the American heartland that transcends a lot of the old story lines of denial and cynicism, and offers an updated tale of climate hope.” —Jeff Biggers, The New York Times (Thanks, Dick.)

¶ “'The Tides Are Turning': Portland Passes Landmark Resolution Against Fossil Fuel Infrastructure. It’s a powerful sign that the fossil fuel era is beginning to come to an end.” Andrea Germanos, Common Dreams

This animated statistical graphic shows how each state’s electricity fuel sources (coal, natural gas, nuclear, hydro, renewable, oil) have changed from1990-2014. The graph is in a loop, so you don’t need to catch everything in one viewing. —Union of Concerned Scientists (Thanks, Tom.)

According to federal authorities' own predictions, potentially deadly oil train accidents are likely to be commonplace in the United States over the next two decades, with derailments expected to occur an average of 10 times a year, costing billions of dollars in damage, and putting a large number of lives at risk. The grim projection was revealed exclusively by the Associated Press, which cites a previously unreported analysis by the Department of Transportation from last July. Sarah Lazare, Common Dreams

“These Technologies Will Shift the Global Balance of Power in the Next 20 Years.” “The next shock will come from clean energy. Solar and wind are now advancing on exponential curves. Every two years, for example, solar installation rates are doubling, and photovoltaic-module costs are falling by about 20 percent. . . . By 2030, solar power will be able to provide 100 percent of today’s energy needs.” Vivek Wadhwa (Thanks, Paul.)

Public subsidy of the fossil fuel industry. “One of the greatest contradictions of our time is that while world leaders profess concern over a rapidly warming planet, they continue to spend hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars subsidizing the fossil fuel industries that are driving climate change. In fact, according to a new report released on [21 September 2015] by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)—a global forum on economic policy—the world's richest nations spend roughly $160-200 billion each year supporting fossil fuel consumption and production.” Lauren McCauley, “Amid Runaway Warming, Richest Nations Spend $200 Billion Backing Fossil Fuels”

“Why Bernie Sanders Was Right To Link Climate Change to National Security.” “For over three years, leading security and climate experts—and Syrians themselves—have made the connection between climate change and the Syrian civil war. Indeed, when a major peer-reviewed study came out on in March making this very case, Retired Navy Rear Admiral David Titley said it identifies “a pretty convincing climate fingerprint” for the Syrian drought. Titley, a meteorologist who led the U.S. Navy’s Task Force on Climate Change when he was at the Pentagon, also said, “you can draw a very credible climate connection to this disaster we call ISIS right now.” Joe Romm, thinkprogress

The text of Pope Francis’ amazing encyclical on the environment, “Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home,” is available free for downloading.

Preach it. “The greatest failure in the history of Christian thought is the separation of souls from bodies, spirit from soil, the wrenching of hearts from habitation—all representing the abdication of the realm of earth from the rule of Heaven. It is the great anthropomorphic heresy: that redemption is for humans alone, and then only for some ethereal essence: no bodies, no biology, no hills or dales, neither minnows nor whales.” —continue reading Ken Sehested’s “Realm of earth, rule of Heaven: The need for a bodified faith

Altar call. “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” —Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Lectionary for Sunday next. “Throw off the covers of earth’s darkened slumber! Unplug your ears, you creatures of flesh! From deepest sigh of tear-stained eye, set your sight on Heaven’s resolve.” —continue reading “Blessed intention,” a litany inspired by Psalm 19

Just for fun (especially for you percussionists). “Top 20 2015 Video Countdown Montage,” Drum Talk TV (2:28 minutes).

Benediction.Shed a Little Light,” by James Taylor, performed by two a cappella groups, The Maccabeats (Jewish) and Naturally 7 (African American), in memory of Martin Luther King Jr. on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. —bangitout

#  #  #

Featured this week on prayer&politiks:

• “Faithful Witness: The testimony of Scripture and of Martin Luther King Jr.,” a litany for worship

What of it?”, a litany for worship inspired by 1 Corinthians 12

• “Realm of earth, rule of Heaven: Bodified faith and environmental activism,” commentary on the needed theological basis for sustained action on climate change

Other resources for commemorating Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday

• “We, too, have a dream,” a litany for worship commemorating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday 

• “Dr. King didn’t do everything.” We miss the significance of the Civil Rights Movement if we attribute everything to Dr. King.

• “Hear this, O People of the Dream,” a litany for worship commemorating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

• “Write the vision, make it plain,” a sermon on Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday

• “Hold Fast to Dreams: Defaulting on the Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,” a theological conference lecture

©Ken Sehested @ Language not otherwise indicated above is that of the editor. Don’t let the “copyright” notice keep you from circulating material you find here (and elsewhere in this site). Reprint permission is hereby granted in advance for noncommercial purposes.

Your comments are always welcomed. If you have news, views, notes or quotes to add to the list above, please do. If you like what you read, pass this along to your friends. You can reach me directly at