News, views, notes, and quotes

Signs of the Times  •  7 January 2016  •  No. 53

Processional. Berzeit University (Ramallah, Palestine) performing the Palestinian Dabka folk dance. (58 seconds) (Thanks, David.)

Right: A ring of fire—the aurora borealis (“northern lights”) as photographed from a NASA satellite. It is caused by the interaction of charged particles from the sun with atoms in the upper atmosphere.

Invocation. “To be hopeful in bad times . . . is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places — and there are so many — where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.” —Howard Zinn, “You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A personal history of our times”

Oregon standoff. “These aren’t the first armed whites to take over that Oregon land: Just ask the native Paiute people.” —Amy Goodman interviews Jacqueline Keeler, Democracy Now

More satire from The Borowitz Report. “A majority of Oregonians favor building a twenty-foot wall along the border of their state to prevent angry white men from getting in, a poll released on Monday shows. The survey indicates that Oregonians are fed up with irate male Caucasians pouring into their state and bringing with them guns, violence, and terrorism. ‘This used to be such a nice state,’ said Oregon State Senator Carol Foyler, a pro-wall lawmaker. ‘Since the angry white men came here, parts of it are unrecognizable.’” Andy Borowitz, The New Yorker

Blues praise music. “I am marching every day / I’m meeting trials on my way / Short of blessings, but I’m going on just the same / Folks complaining on every side / Except me, Lord / I’m satisfied.” —Maria Muldaur, “It’s a Blessing” (Thanks, Stan.)

Confession. “I've tracked blood in on the floor / I put my fist through the wall / I've dragged trouble through the door / And I've spilled wine on it all / Maybe I can paint over that / It'll prob'ly bleed through / Maybe I can paint over that / But I can't hide it from you.”  —“Maybe I Can Paint Over That,” Guy Clark

Words of assurance. “Careless seems the great Avenger; history's pages but record / One death-grapple in the darkness 'twixt old systems and the Word; / Truth forever on the scaffold, Wrong forever on the throne,— / Yet that scaffold sways the future, and, behind the dim unknown, / Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above his own. —James Russell Lowell, “The Present Crisis”

¶ A largely unknown story of grace. “Bob Fletcher, a former California agriculture inspector who, ignoring the resentment of neighbors, quit his job in the middle of World War II to manage the fruit farms of Japanese families forced to live in internment camps, died on May 23 in Sacramento. He was 101.” William Yardley, New York Times

¶ “I keep flashbacks on the bombings and I get flashbacks of all the killings, but I’m thankful for this great country, that is the county of human rights, to allow us to have new lives here,” he said. “And we are here to contribute to this country.” —testimony from Samir Alraschdan, a recently-landed Syrian refugee, in Hamtramck, Michigan (part of metro Detroit), a town which recently elected the nation’s first Muslim-majority City Council

Personal note. For Christmas my wife enlisted a friend, singer-songwriter Ken Medema, to record a new arrangement of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” using new lyrics drawn from Psalm 23. Listen on YouTube.

Amazing news. “More than 200 Muslim youth volunteers are part of those protecting Christians during church services to celebrate this year’s Christmas in Kaduna [Nigeria], says Pastor Yohanna Buru. Buru, a cleric of Christ Evangelical Church, Sabon Tasha, Kaduna South, disclosed this in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on Friday. He confirmed that over 200 Muslims were at his church to help protect the faithful from any attack during the church service." Daily Post

Resources for understanding the Sunni-Shia conflict.
        •“Sunnis and Shia: Islam’s ancient schism,” a brief primer from BCC. And here is a brief (6:22 minutes) video introducing Sufism, a minority movement within Islam.
        •“Reality Check: The myth of a Sunni-Shia war” is a helpful short video (2:47 minutes) by Al Jazeera’s Mehdi Hasan explaining how the Sunni-Shia religious conflict is overplayed.
        •If you want a more thorough analysis of this same point, read Max Fisher’s “The real roots of Sunni-Shia conflict: Beyond the myth of ‘ancient religious hatred,’” Vox World.
        •This map is useful. “Behind the stark political divisions, a more complex map of Sunnis and Shiites,” Sarah Almukhtar, Sergio Peçanha and Tim Wallace, New York Times.

¶ “Did we ever think that, instead of enemies, an albeit small group from within the Islamic world using the language of Islam, would present it as the religion of killing, violence, whips, extortion and injustice?” —Reuters new story, quoting Iranian President Hassan Rouhani calling on the Muslim community to correct Islam’s tarnished public image

Right. Islamic calligraphy: Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim ("In the name of God, most Gracious, most Compassionate")

Recovering the discipline of lamentation.
       • #ForTamirRice “We must grieve a Prophetic Grief: Grief that tells the truth, grief that unmasks the powers, the forces, the systems.” —Rev. Michael-Ray Mathews, director of clergy organizing, Pico National Network
       • “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation and brings no regret, but worldly grief produces death.” —2 Corinthians 7:10
       • “Prophetic mourning demands that we be neither comfortable nor cynical in the face of violent death. We must mourn over it and we must stand against it. Pope Francis challenges us in Laudato Si ‘to become painfully aware, to dare to turn what is happening in the world into our own personal suffering, and thus to discover what each of us can do about it.’ And so today we mourn and tomorrow we work to transform crucifixion into resurrection and become what the prophet Isaiah calls ‘the repairers of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.’” —Rev. Dr. William Barber, leader of the Moral Monday Movement, “Grief at the Heart of a Moral Movement: A Personal Meditation for 2016

¶ “There is a strange comfortability with black death. Even grief is subjugated by an imagination birthed by race where victims are always culpable for their own demise. Black tears are of no consequence because they come from bodies deemed defective by the myths of racialized thinking. Until all hearts begin to break and mothers of privilege join the funeral procession only then will sorrow cease to be our song.” — Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III, senior pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ, Chicago

1,052 mass shootings in 1,066 days. See this dramatic  visualization of what America’s gun crisis looks like. —The Guardian

Americans make up about 4.43 percent of the world's population, yet own roughly 42 percent of all the world's privately held firearms. If more guns make us safe, shouldn't our streets be absolutely serene?

Can’t make this sh*t up. In early December 2015 Republican senators had the opportunity to approve one common sense measure—to restrict gun sales to those on the FBI’s terror watch list. With the exception of Mark Kirk of Illinois, they all voted against it. Senator Coryn of Texas expressed concern over violation of constitutional rights. —see more at Mark Silk, Religion News Service

Ban on gun violence research. “Researchers from federal agencies including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institute of Health (NIH) have largely been mum on the public health issue of gun violence—not by choice, but because of a 20-year-old congressional ban on federally funded gun violence research.” Linda Poon, Citylab

Testify. War veteran Joshua Casteel is a former US Army interrogator at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Listen to his story   (9:37 minutes) of how he became a conscientious objector.
        Our friends at the Mennonite Central Committee’s Peace Education office have put online a large collection of personal stories of faith from veterans. I've put the descriptive list, with weblinks, at “Conscientious objection: Faith stories from veterans." (Thanks, Titus.)

At bottom are links to several preaching, teaching and worship planning resources for commemorating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. In preparation, we need reminders of what has been edited out of his public witness.
       • “The Martin Luther King You Don’t See on TV,” by Jeff Cohen and Norman Solomon, FAIR.
       • We forget that following his famous “Beyond Vietnam” speech on 4 April 1967—exactly one year before his assassination—King was savaged in the media. Life magazine called it “demagogic slander that sounded like a script for Radio Hanoi.
       • The Washington Post said “King has diminished his usefulness to his cause, his country, his people.”
       • Reader’s Digest warned it might provoke an “insurrection.”
       • The New York Times ran an editorial, “Dr. King’s Error,” chiding him for linking foreign policy (the US war in Vietnam) with domestic policy.
       • The Federal Bureau of Investigation privately called King the "most dangerous and effective negro leader in the country."
       • “Racial apprehension before [the 1963 March on Washington] drove the federal government to furlough its workers for the day. The Pentagon deployed 20,000 paratroopers. Hospitals stockpiled plasma. Washington banned sales of alcohol, and Major League Baseball canceled not just one but two days of [Washington’s baseball games], just to be sure.” —Taylor Branch, author of Parting the Waters, Pillar of Fire, and At Canaan’s Edge, a three-volume history of the modern civil rights movement, in “Dr. King’s Newest Marcher,” New York Times, 5 September 2010
       • According to Roger Mudd, who covered the March on Washington for CBS News, the Kennedy Administration drew up in advance a statement declaring martial law, in case it became necessary.

Preach it. “I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today—my own government. For the sake of those [soldiers], for the sake of this government, for the sake of the hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence,” —Martin Luther King Jr., “Beyond Vietnam,” The Riverside Church, New York City, 4 April 1967

Call to the table. “Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, / the world offers itself to your imagination, / calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting— / over and over announcing your place / in the family of things.” —Mary Oliver, “Wild Geese.” Listen to Oliver read her poem.

Altar call.If Ye Love Me,” Thomas Tallis.

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

Left. Dancer at the 35th Annual Paiute Restoration Gathering, Paiute Tribal Center, Cedar City, Utah, June 13, 2015. Photo by Dave Amodt, St. George News.

Benediction. “I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean, / Whenever one door closes I hope one more opens, / Promise me that you'll give faith a fighting chance,  / And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance. / I hope you dance. I hope you dance.” —Lee Ann Womack (singing at Maya Angelou's memorial service),  “I Hope You Dance

Recessional marching consequences: “Eyes on the Prize” performed by Mavis Staples.

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Featured this week on prayer&politiks:

• “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

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