News, views, notes, and quotes

3 December 2015  •  No. 48

 Processional. Beluga whales responding to cello music.

¶ Call to worship. “The Manger’s trailhead opens at / the portal of praise and genuflecting / thanks. Not because heaven arises to / piety’s incense. But because Advent’s / brush with moral flesh is a perilous journey, / fraught with insurrection’s threat, / pregnancy’s scandal, birthed from / stabled bed, and Herod’s foam and fury. / The innocents take it in the chops every time.” —continue reading Ken Sehested’s “Portal of Praise

¶ To visualize the import of Advent, watch this NASA video (3:28 minutes, with beautiful background music) profiling the largest picture ever taken (1.5 billion pixels), requiring more than 4 GB of disk space. It is an image of the Andromeda Galaxy captured by the Hubble Space Telescope. There are 100 million stars in this one image. (Thanks, Ivan.)

¶ Song of praise. Earl Scruggs’ “Flint Hill Special,” performed by brothers Jonny Mizzone (8) on banjo, Robbie (12) on fiddle and Tommy (13) on guitar, of the Sleepy Man trio.

¶ St. Dorothy? “A proposal for Dorothy Day’s canonization was put forth publicly by the Claretian Missionaries in 1983. At the request of Cardinal John J. O'Connor, head of the diocese in which she lived, in March 2000 Pope John Paul II granted the Archdiocese of New York permission to open her cause, allowing her to be called a ‘Servant of God’ in the eyes of the Catholic Church. As canon law requires, the Archdiocese of New York submitted this cause for the endorsement of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which it received in November 2012.” —Wikipedia

¶ In truth, all human beings are called to be saints, but that just means called to be fully human, to be perfect—that is, whole, mature, fulfilled. The saints are simply those men and women who relish the event of life as a gift and who realize that the only way to honor such a gift is to give it away. —William Stringfellow

¶ The dilemma with naming saints is that we have a tendency to elevate them to pedestals, creating distance between their lives and ours. Accountability is broken—honor is offered but animation is not received.

¶ Confession in word. “We are buried beneath the weight of information, which is being confused with knowledge; quantity is being confused with abundance and wealth with happiness. We are monkeys with money and guns.” —singer/songwriter/poet Tom Waits

¶ Confession in song.Step Right Up,” by Tom Waits.

¶ Words of assurance. “It will come / When you're broken, / When your heart is finally open, / When you're down, / Down and troubled, / When you're lost among the rubble  / Mercy, mercy, coming to you, / Feel her beauty flowing through you  / She will unbind you, set the word free. / Mercy, Mercy.” —Glen Hansard, “Her Mercy

¶ Good news. By the end of the 19th century, Florida’s pink flamengo population were nearly eradicated due to feather and egg harvesting. “Last year, ornithologists counted a record 147 flamingos in Storm Treatment Area 2 early in the breeding season, which lasts from March to July. This year they tallied only eight, but it seems the birds are back for good.” Amy Kraft, “Audubon”

¶ Sane sense. “I don’t want [Donald Trump] to understand Islam. . . . I want him to understand the Constituion.” —Dalia Mogahed, director of Research at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, on “Meet the Press,” 22 November 2015

¶ The faux fight for Christmas is a fool’s errand. Consider the following:

        •Instead of putting Christ back into Christmas, our nation’s Puritan ancestors wanted to remove him entirely, going so far as to outlawing seasonal cheer both in the Puritan-controlled British parliament (1643) and later in the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

        •Between 1659 and 1681 any Massachusetts colonist found making merry on Christmas was fined five shillings.

        • In 1706, a Puritan mob smashed the windows of King's Chapel in Boston to disrupt an Anglicans Christmas service.

        •“If it had been the will of Christ that the anniversary of his birth have been celebrated, he would at least let us have known the day.” —Ezra Stiles, writing in 1776

        •The New Testament’s and early church’s general disinterest in dating the birth of Jesus was key to the Puritan bah-humbuggery. The earliest recorded speculation about a precise nativity date is in the late second century CE, when Clement of Alexandria surveys several then-current theories, all of which proposed spring season days.

        •It wasn’t until the 1870s that New England states embraced Christmas revelry.

        •In Scotland, Christmas wasn’t an acknowledged holiday until 1958.

        • Benjamin Franklin penned what was likely the best general assessment of the holiday, both in Britain and in the Colonies, recorded in the 1739 edition of Poor Richard’s Alamanac: “O blessed Season! Lov’d by Saints and Sinners / For long Devotions, or for longer Dinners.” —all this and more is gathered in Ken Sehested’s “Faux fight for Christmas: Backdrop on the annual year-end culture war

¶  “For I believe, in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., that there is such a thing as being too late. And when it comes to climate change, that hour is almost upon us.” President Barack Obama at the UN Climate Change conference in Paris

¶ When bankers say it. . . . “Scientific research finds that an increasing concentration of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere is warming the planet, posing significant risks to the prosperity and growth of the global economy.” statement from the six largest banks in the US, including JP Morgan Chase Bank, Bank of America Corp., Wells Fargo, and Citibank (the four largest commercial banks) along with Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, the two largest investment banks, Barbara Grady, GreenBiz

¶ “It’s not news that climate change disproportionately affects the poor—but a new report from the World Bank gives us a better idea of just how stacked the deck really is. The report is one of the first to connect climate and poverty at the level of the household. According to the Bank, a warming world will send an additional 100 million people into extreme poverty (living on $1.90 per day, according to the new standard) by 2030 — and nearly half of those people will live in India.” Clayton Aldern, Grist (Thanks, Robert)

Intercession. The University of South Carolina and Clemson University bands team up to play a tribute (6:29 minutes) to members of the Emanuel AME Church and the memory of those who died in the 17 June 2015 terrorist attack.

¶ There are times when what is needed is to simply say no: No further; no more; not in my name. “Upset over new [Mormon] church policies that declare same-sex couples apostates and restrict their children from baptism and other rites,” more than 1,000 Mormons lined up in a park in Salt Lake City beside the Mormon Tabernacle for a mass resignation. Jack Healy, New York Times

¶ “In a survey we conducted with the Police Executive Research Forum last year of 382 law enforcement agencies, 74 percent reported anti-government extremism as one of the top three terrorist threats in their jurisdiction; 39 percent listed extremism connected with Al Qaeda or like-minded terrorist organizations. And only 3 percent identified the threat from Muslim extremists as severe, compared with 7 percent for anti-government and other forms of extremism.” —Charles Kurzman and David Schanzer, “The Growing Right-Wing Terror Threat,” New York Times

¶ Preach it. “We have become so accustomed to the idea of divine love and of God’s coming at Christmas that we no longer feel the shiver of fear that God’s coming should arouse in us. We are indifferent to the message, taking only the pleasant and agreeable out of it and forgetting the serious aspect, that the God of the world draws near to the people of our little earth and lays claim to us. The coming of God is truly not only glad tidings, but first of all frightening news for everyone who has a conscience.” —Dietrich Bonhoeffer

¶ Prayer&politiks is not above printing celebrity gossip. According to the UK’s Telegraph newspaper, big screen superstar Brad Pitt has ditched his strict Southern Baptist rearing and is now a proud atheist. When people tell me they no longer believe in God, I typically say, “Tell me what god you no longer believe in—chances are I don’t believe in that one, either.”
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¶ Call to the table. Listen to this recitation of Adam Zagajewski’s poem “Try to Praise the Mutilated World.”

¶ Attention deficit loitering. A USA Today survey of 2,000 smartphone users reports that on average users check their phones 134 a day.

¶ Altar call. “Pope Francis pulled no punches and appears to be leading his very own war on Christmas. In a sermon this week, he called the decadent holiday a ‘charade’:
        "‘Christmas is approaching: there will be lights, parties, Christmas trees and nativity scenes . . . it's all a charade. The world continues to go to war. The world has not chosen a peaceful path,’ he said in a sermon. He didn’t mince words for those who wage war: ‘We should ask for the grace to weep for this world, which does not recognize the path to peace. To weep for those who live for war and have the cynicism to deny it,’ the Argentine pontiff said, adding: ‘God weeps, Jesus weeps.’” Jen Hayden, Daily Kos

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

¶ Lection for Sunday next. “John. / Spirit-drenched baptizer of repentant flesh, / exposing shameful inheritance to the Advent / of mercy and an anthem of praise. / Lonely minstrel of pledged Betrothal, announcing dawn’s infiltration / of destiny’s dark corner, / scattering death’s shadow with / the footfalls of peace.” —continue reading Ken Sehested’s poem, “The baptizer’s bargain

¶ Benediction.Don’t Ever Let Nobody Drag Your Spirit Down,” Eric Bibb & Maria Muldaur.

¶ Recessional.Cantus in Memoriam of Benjamin Britten,” a short (6:56 minutes) canon in A minor, written in 1977 by the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt.

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Featured this week on prayer&politiks:

•“Faux fight for Christmas: Backdrop on the annual year-end culture war

• “Songs for Advent and Christmas: Old hymns, new lyrics

•“All flesh shall see,” a litany for worship inspired by Luke 3:1-6

• “The baptizer’s bargain,” a poem inspired by the Luke 3 story of John the Baptizer

• “The Baptizer’s Bargain,” a sermon inspired by the Luke 3 story of John the Baptizer

• “Portal of praise: Praise as presage to Advent’s treason,” an Advent poem

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