News, views, notes, and quotes

Signs of the Times  •  10 December 2015  •  No. 49

Processional. My favorite Hanukkah song. “Light One Candle” by Peter, Paul and Mary.

Invocation. "Only those with wombs of welcome / to heaven's Annunciation / can magnify God and heal the earth." —read Ken Sehested's Advent poem, "Annunciation: Mary's song of praise."

Hymn of praise.Blagoslovi, dushe moya” (“Praise the Lord”), Sergei Rachmaninov, performed by the USSR Ministry of Culture Chamber Choir .

At right: photo by Nate Zeman, Rocky Mountain National Park

We need to take steps so that in the future people like Donald Trump do not become radicalized. —New Yorker satirist Andy Borowitz

Intercession.O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” Lovely new arrangement by Sarah McCoy.

Words of Assurance. “Arise, you fear-confounded, attest / With Insurrection’s voice confess / Though death’s confine and terror’s darkest threat / Now govern earth’s refrain . . . and yet / Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel / Shall come to thee, O Israel!” —new lyrics to “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” by Ken Sehested

When our children were in early grade school, each year before Christmas holiday break I went to their classrooms to read Cajun Night Before Christmas.

Good news. “While hostility to Syrian refugees has dominated the national debate, many local leaders—among them elected officials, community advocates and direct service providers—are sending a different message by calling for compassion instead of fear. Here are seven efforts underway across the South to support Syrian refugees and fight Islamophobia.” Allie Yee, Institute for Southern Studies

Holy obedience. “The Chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ committee on migration chided the governors for ‘using this tragedy to scapegoat all refugees,’ in a statement on Nov. 17. ‘They are extremely vulnerable families, women, and children who are fleeing for their lives. We cannot and should not blame them for the actions of a terrorist organization,’ Bishop Eusebio Elizondo said. Bishops from Chicago, New York, Missouri, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and New Mexico were also among those who penned opinion pieces for local papers or open letters calling for compassion over overreaction.” Leslie Caimi, Washington Post

¶ “It is incumbent on every public figure, elected politician, and media outlet to stand up against the ‘dangerous tide of hatred, violence, and suspicion’ taking hold in the United States, over 700 prominent organizations and people declared in a full-page ad in Thursday's New York Times. ‘We grieve the many lives that have been lost or painfully transformed in recent weeks through extreme acts of violence. And we are appalled by the surge of divisive rhetoric that sows the seeds of more violence to come.’” Sarah Lazare, Common Dreams

¶ “Put the glove of religion on the hand of either a revolutionary or a statesman, and religion will be pulled into the dynamics of cohesion, control, acquisition and maintenance of power, and the marking of boundaries—and will more likely than not turn violent. In other words, align moral self-understanding of society, state and religion, and even most peaceful religion will become ready to ‘take up the gun.’” —Miroslav  Volf, “In light of the Paris attacks, is it time to eradicate religion?

In 2010, during her Supreme Court nomination hearings in the Senate, Elena Kagan, then the federal Solicitor General, is asked by Senator Lindsay Graham to state the rationale for indefinite detention of “enemy combatants” at the US base prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Afterwards, Graham says “That’s a good summary. The problem with this war is that there will never be a definable end to hostilities, will there?”
        Kagan responds. “That is exactly the problem, Senator.” —quoted in Shadow Proof

¶  “In May, 2013, the Senate Armed Services Committee held a hearing on whether it should revise the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF). A committee member asked a senior Pentagon official, Assistant Secretary Michael Sheehan, how long the war on terror would last; his reply: ‘At least 10 to 20 years.’ At least. A Pentagon spokesperson confirmed afterward ‘that Sheehan meant the conflict is likely to last 10 to 20 more years from today — atop the 12 years that the conflict has already lasted.’ As Spencer Ackerman put it: ‘Welcome to America’s Thirty Years War,’ one which—by the Obama administration’s own reasoning—has ‘no geographic limit.’” Tlen Greenwald, The Intercept

¶ "I think we're looking at kind of a 30-year war.” —Leon Paneta, former the Obama administration Director of the Central Intelligence Agency and then Secretary of Defense

"With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation."
— Isaiah 12:3. Photo above: WaterAid/Caroline Irby.

¶ “In great empires the people who live in the capital, and in the provinces remote from the scene of action, feel, many of them, scarce any inconveniency from the war; but enjoy, at their ease, the amusement of reading in the newspapers the exploits of their own fleets and armies. To them this amusement compensates the small difference between the taxes which they pay on account of the war, and those which they had been accustomed to pay in time of peace. They are commonly dissatisfied with the return of peace, which puts an end to their amusement, and to a thousand visionary hopes of conquest and national glory from a longer continuance of the war.” —Adam Smith, considered the “father” of modern economics, in The Wealth of Nations, published in 1776

¶ “10 Things I Wish Everyone Knew About Chanukkah,” by Rabbi Evan Moffic.

The Chanukkah Candelabra is known as a Chanukkiah, not a Menorah. The Menorah is the seven-wicked candelabra that stood in the Jerusalem Temple. It became a symbol of Judaism and is carved into one of the gates of Rome as a symbol of the Roman conquest of Judea in 70 C.E.

Not your grandfather’s Hanukkah music. —“Dreidel,” by Erran Baron Cohen, performed by Jules Brookes and Y-Love

At right: Pomegranate Tree Chanukiah by Yair Emanuel

Is it spelled “Hanukkah” or “Chanukah”? These and more interested facts about the Jewish holiday commemorating the Maccabean victory over the Greek army in 2nd century BCE, with the temple Menorah’s miraculous store of lamp oil.

Here’s one way to visualize God as (in Francis Thompson’s verse) “the hound of heaven,” ever pursuing us, however fast we seek to flee from that Union of the soul which frightens yet, in fact, is so joyously ecstatic.

Listen to Richard Burton’s rendition of Francis Thompson’s famous poem, “The Hound of Heaven.”

¶ “More than 1,000 people gathered in the bright sunshine on the steps of Helsinki Cathedral to sing the Finlandia hymn [“This Is My Song, O God of All the Nations,” lyrics by Lloyd Stone and, later, Georgia Harkness], one of the most popular compositions of composer Jean Sibelius, whose 150th anniversary has been celebrated nationwide. The Dec. 8 anniversary of the national composer's birth in 1865 has been marked with concerts and a 24-hour broadcast of Finnish music, mostly by Sibelius, including all seven symphonies.” Here is a video of the crowd singing.

Read Ken Sehested’s new lyrics to “This Is My Song.”

We cannot long survive as a democracy with these uncommonwealth indicators:
        •”The divide between the "haves" and the "have-nots" in the United States has never been so vast, with a new report out Tuesday revealing that the nation's 20 richest individuals own more wealth than the entire bottom half of the population. “
        • Half of the $176 million donated to presidential candidates thus far has been given by 158 families, along with companies they own or control. (The article’s graphic is, well, just that.) —Nicholas Confessore, Sarah Cohen and Karen Yourish, New York Times

State of our disunion. “It was left to Bo Dietl, a former New York City cop, to cross the line from the simply stupid to the downright chilling, as he called for mass surveillance of mosques. ‘Let’s stop worrying about people’s rights,’ he said.” Leonard Pitts

¶ “We love having all 16 Republicans candidates throwing crap at each other—it's great. The more they spend, the better it is for us." —Les Moonves, CBS Corporation chief executive, during a recent investor presentation

Can’t make this sh*t up. “Gun company stocks surged after the latest massacre, and gun manufacturers admit behind closed doors that Sandy Hook and other atrocities have proved good for business—after, of course, adding their obligatory statements on the small bloody bodies at Newtown that "obviously we are all shocked” but hey they're obliged to “respond to market pressures.”
        A spokesperson for The Shopping Channel’s new 24/7 “Gun TV,” whose parent company is called the “Social Responsibility Network,” says “We saw an opportunity in filling a need, not creating one.” —excerpted from Abby Zimet, Common Dreams

For the first time since 1920, the New York Times has placed its editorial on page 1: “It is a moral outrage and national disgrace that civilians can legally purchase weapons designed to kill people with brutal speed and efficiency.” New York Times editorial, 4 December 2015

Last week 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

¶ “The front cover of the New York Daily News for Thursday takes a strong stance against how some politicians are reacting to the San Bernardino shooting with calls for prayer instead of tighter gun control laws.” Jessica Durando, USA Today

Just for fun. Andy Griffith’s famous 1953 stand-up monologue, “What It Was, Was Football(5:39 minutes).

Preach it. “Advent’s waiting is not listless. With training, death’s threat need not unnerve us. Fear not, though folded lies await.” —read Ken Sehested’s “Undo the Folded Lie: Notes on the reckless folly of our season

Altar call. Would You Harbor Me?” Sweet Honey in the Rock.

Call to the table.Canticle of the Turning” performed by Emmaus Way.

Benediction. “There's a light, there's a light in the darkness / And the black of the night cannot harm us / We can trust not to fear for our comfort is near / There's a light, there's a light in the darkness.” —“There’s a Light,” performed by Beth Nielsen Chapman, Emmylou Harris, Pat Benatar, Sheryl Crow and Shea Seger

Recessional. Simple Praise” by Joanie Madden.

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Featured this week on prayer&politiks:

•“Annunciation: Mary's song of praise,” a poem inspired Mary’s Magnificat

•“The Manger’s Revolt,” a sermon based on Mary’s Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55)

•“'Undo the folded lie': Notes on the reckless folly of our season

•“This Is My Song (O God of all the nations),” new lyrics to an old hymn

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