News, views, notes, and quotes

Signs of the Times  •  24 December 2015  •  No. 51

¶ Processional.  “Nami, Nami(Arabic Lullaby, 4:17 minutes), by Azam Ali.

Invocation. “The terror of God is the Risen One’s threat / to every merchant of death, every marketer’s breath, / every peddler of gun-wielding promise of power.” —continue reading Ken Sehested’s “The Payback of Heaven

Right: Located in the Gulf of Mexico on Florida's barrier island Sanibel, the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge (Official) is world famous for its spectacular migratory bird populations. Photo by Al Hoffacker.

Call to worship.No Room at the Inn,” Staple Singers.

Amazing legacy. “On the surface, James Harrison is just an average guy. He loves his daughter and grandchildren, collects stamps, and goes for walks near his home on Australia's central coast. But it's what's under the surface that makes him extraordinary—specifically, what's flowing in his veins.” —Read Samanthan Bresnahan’s story of Harrison, an Australian citizen, who has donated blood platelets more than 1,000 times, saving the lives of an estimated two million babies.

Christmas Eve special on CBS TV. “May Peace Prevail On Earth: An Interfaith Christmas Special,” produced by United Religions Initiative (URI) and broadcast Thursday 24 December at 11:35 p.m. (Eastern Standard Time) or anytime afterward at

Also on Christmas Eve. This year Christmas Eve and the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad coincide. The observance, known as Eid Milad ul-Nabi (more commonly, Mawlid), is when Muslims celebrates the Prophet birth in the Islamic month of Rabi' al-awwal, the year 570 CE in the Gregorian calendar, in Mecca. (Since Islam uses a lunar calendar, the yearly dates for special observances move in relation to the Gregorian calendar.) Celebrations of Mohammad's birthday, a public holiday in many Islamic countries, vary greatly in different parts of the Islamic world.

Confession. “Here we are all in one place / The wants and wounds of the human race / Despair and hope sit face to face / When you come in from the cold.” —Carrie Newcomer, “Betty’s Diner

Words of assurance. “This train / Carries saints and sinners / This train / Carries losers and winners / This train / Carries whores and gamblers / This train / Carries lost souls / I said this train / Dreams will not be thwarted / This train / Faith will be rewarded /  This train, hear the steel wheels singing / This train, bells of freedom ringing / All aboard!” —“Land of Hope and Dreams," Bruce Springstrein and the E Street Band

The Basilica of Our Lady of Africa (Notre Dame d’Afrique) in Algiers, Algeria, was consecrated in 1872. The inscription in its apse is among its most distinguishing features: “Notre Dame d’Afrique priez pour nous et pour les Musulmans”  (“Our Lady of Africa, pray for us and for the Muslims”).

Photo of the Basilica of Our Lady of Africa apse courtesy of Magharebia.

¶ A prayer from the Notre Dame d’Afrique community. “Our Lady of Africa, in whose maternal and immaculate heart the whole human race finds refuge, look with favour upon the Muslims, who honour you as the mother of Jesus and the most blessed among women.”

In case you lost count. “The Defense Department spent more than $5 billion on operations related to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, an average of $11 million a day, between September 2014 and the end of last month.” Karen DeYoung, Washington Post

And in other profligate news. “In 2008, the Pentagon bought 20 refurbished cargo planes for the Afghan Air Force, but as one top US officer put it, ‘just about everything you can think of was wrong.’ No spare parts, for example. The planes were also ‘a death trap,’ according to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. So $486 million was spent on worthless planes that no one could fly. We did recoup some of the investment. Sixteen of the planes were sold as scrap for the grand sum of $32,000. That’s 6 cents a pound.” Megan McCloskey, “Behold: How the US blew $17 billion in Afghanistan”

¶ This (see photo at left) is from where a new social consensus must emerge in order to change cultural habits and political policy. —photo at left of American City Diner sign in Washington, DC

¶ Can’t make this sh*t up. “What started out as a joke straight out of Spaceballs has suddenly taken off as a viable business—a Canadian start-up selling bottled air from the Rocky Mountains has seen a surge of sales from China, with its first shipment selling out in four days. The concept of Vitality Air was dreamt up back in 2013, when a couple of Canadians auctioned off a bag of air for less than 99 cents on eBay. Their second bag sold for US$160. ‘That’s when we realised there is a market for this,’ said co-founder Moses Lam.” —“People in China are buying cans of fresh air from Canada,” Science Alert (Thanks, Margarete.) 

¶ Oh, those small, delightful moments of grace. Listen to a moving collaboration between the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and Syrian clarinet player Kinan Azmeh. —The Globe and Mail video (1:14 minutes)

¶ And more grace—this being but one of many recent similar actions. “After someone vandalized the Islamic Center of Macon earlier this week, Central Georgians gathered to stand with the members Friday.” 13 WMAZ News

¶ Intercession.Nami, Nami(Arabic Lullaby, 4:17 minutes), by Azam Ali.

¶  “Love in the Time of Mania: Six Ways Americans Are Defying Islamophobia.” —Nur Lalji, Yes ! Magazine.

¶ Conservative Republican “Senator (SC) Lindsey Graham apologized to the Muslim world for Donald Trump at Tuesday night’s GOP presidential undercard debate and insisted the billionaire doesn’t reflect America’s attitude toward Islam. ‘Donald Trump has done the one single thing you cannot do—declare war on Islam itself,’ an emotional Graham said at the debate.” Marisa Schultz, New York Post

¶  “70,000 Indian Muslim clerics issue fatwa against ISIS, the Taliban, al-Quaeda and other terror groups.” Caroline Mortimer, Independent

¶ Cross cultural prophecy. Listen to this moving song by a Muslim hip-hop artist, “Nothing to Do With My Prophet,” (4:51 minutes), at “Talk Islam.”

¶  “A brief history of Islam in America,” Jennifer Williams. (This article is brief, but the history it surveys is a lot longer than you think).

¶ The lectionary reading for New Year’s Day is from Matthew 25:31-46, which is the only place in the New Testament where Jesus gives an explicit entrance exam for heavenly admission. —Artwork at right by Meinrad Craighead

¶ Santa’s workshop location leaked. “Our yuletide myth-making might like to imagine that Christmas is made by rosy-cheeked elves hammering away in a snow-bound log cabin somewhere in the Arctic Circle. But it’s not. The likelihood is that most of those baubles, tinsel and flashing LED lights you’ve draped liberally around your house came from Yiwu, 300km south of Shanghai—where there’s not a (real) pine tree nor (natural) snowflake in sight. Christened ‘China’s Christmas village,’ Yiwu is home to 600 factories that collectively churn out over 60% of all the world’s Christmas decorations.” Oliver Wainwright, The Guardian

¶ This is revealing. A couple of creative pranksters in the Netherlands surveyed people on the street about their opinion of some harsh texts read (supposedly) from the Qur’an but were actually from the Bible. —watch the video (3:31 minutes)

¶ This is by far more dangerous than Trump’s petty vulgarities. “What good does it do to have a good nuclear triad [land, air and sea platforms] if you’re afraid to use it?” —Katrina Pierson, spokesperson for presidential candidate Donald Trump

¶ Good news you likely didn’t hear. “Almost all of Costa Rica's electricity came from renewable sources this year, making it one of a few countries in the world to eschew fossil fuels in energy generation, the state electricity agency said Friday.”

¶ Similar news on the home front. “With a unanimous City Council vote, San Diego, the country’s eighth-largest city, became the largest American municipality to transition to using 100 percent renewable energy, including wind and solar power. In the wake of the Paris accord, environmental groups hailed the move as both substantive and symbolic. Other big cities, including New York and San Francisco, have said they intend to use more renewable energy, but San Diego is the first of them to make the pledge legally binding.” Matt Richtel, New York Times

¶ Warning about the Bible. My friend Vern Ratzlaff, author of many of our “What are you reading and why?” annotated book reviews, recent sent me this note.
            “On the Amazon website, if you want to download the audio version of the Bible, the "Rating" category is "Guidance Suggested." When you click on "guidance" you get this: ‘Guidance Suggested. Based on information provided by the developer, the content of this application has material that is appropriate for most users. The app may include account creation, location detection, user-generated content, advertisements, infrequent or mild references to violence, profanity or crude themes, or other content not suitable for all ages.’
            “In other words, they will detect where you are when you read the Bible and they are advising you that some of it may be mildly violent, profane, or crude.”
            Actually, as Vern well knows, the violence can be more than mild. Read, for example, Judges 19, beginning at v. 22.

¶ Vern added a personal note. “When I went to teach in a Mennonite Bible college, my friend and I found that many books in the library had inserts warning people about reading the book because it had been the occasion for theological error. We took a whole raft of these notices and placed them inside Bibles around the campus. The older faculty were not impressed.”

¶ Just for fun. This is what we’ll be doing in heaven for the first . . . oh, say, million years or so. After that, breakfast.

¶ Preach it. “Even in a world that's being shipwrecked, remain brave and strong.” —Hildegard of Bingen

¶ Call to the table.O Sacrum Convivium” (O Sacred Banquet), Thomas Tallis, sung by the choir of St. George’s, Windsor, UK.

Epic shift. “Amid a changing religious landscape that has seen a declining percentage of Americans who identify as Christian, a majority of U.S. Christians (54%) now say that homosexuality should be accepted, rather than discouraged, by society.” That percentage has increased by 10 points in the last eight years. Caryle Murphy, Pew Research Center

¶ Altar call. “If God had so willed, He would have created you one community, but [He has not done so] that He may test you in what He has given you; so compete with one another in good works. To God you shall all return and He will tell you the truth about that which you have been disputing.” —Qur’an 5:48

¶ Lectionary for Sunday next. “There are three versions of what Epiphany (“Manifestation”) is meant to commemorate. One is to celebrate Jesus’ baptism on January 6. Another tradition links Epiphany Sunday with the birth of Jesus. Yet another tradition celebrates Epiphany as marking the arrival of the magi. Yet the common element in each is the inauguration of a confrontation between God’s Only Begotten and those in seats of power.” —continue reading Ken Sehested’s “Epiphany: Manifesting the Bias of Heaven

Right: Art by Ade Bethune, ©Ade Bethune Collection, St. Catherine University, St. Paul, MN.

¶ Benediction.Go Tell It On the Mountain,” Jubilee Singers. "The story behind “Go, tell it on the mountain” provides the opportunity to recall how singing African American spirituals saved a university, and how that university’s musical group, The Fisk Jubilee Singers, has been credited with keeping the Negro spiritual alive." Michael Hawn, “History of Hymns: ‘Go, Tell it On the Mountain’”

Right: “Flight Into Egypt,” ©John August Swanson

¶ Recessional. Tchaikovsky’s “Dance of the Sugarplum” played on crystal bowls.

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Featured this week on prayer&politiks:

• “Give wisdom to legislators,a litany inspired by Psalm 72

• “Epiphany: Manifesting the Bias of Heaven,” a meditation on Epiphany Sunday

• “Every portal of sight,” a litany for worship inspired by Isaiah 60:1-6

A new batch of annotated book reviews are posted in the “What are you reading and why?” section. 

©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.

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