News, views, notes, and quotes

28 October 2015  •  No. 44

Invocation. Malawian home-made instruments and home-grown gospel music. (Thanks, Phillip.)

Call to worship. “We are a people acquainted with grief. In the bonds of this Body none need be embarrassed at the sound of sobbing, of the soul’s aching groan. Here the tear is neither uncommon nor unwelcomed. Here the strong confess their doubts, the fluent run out of words.” —Continue reading Ken Sehested’s “Acquainted with grief,” a litany for worship inspired by Psalm 42.

Right: Double cap cloud over Mount Ranier, King5 Weather, photo by Jim George.

In case you haven’t figured this out, you can configure your browser to listen to music links in “Signs of the Times” while reading copy at the same time. Call up “Signs of the Times,” then open a second tab with the same link, and switch back and forth as you prefer.

Inspiring story without the sentimental crust. “Thistle Farms [based in Nashville, Tennessee] is a social enterprise of women who have survived prostitution, trafficking and addiction. Thistle Farms houses the bath and body care company, Thistle Stop Café and paper and sewing studios. All proceeds support Thistle Farms and the residential program, Magdalene. —Watch this 4+ minute video.

Great story about a transforming conversation in the midst of the grief of everyday life. —Hannah Greenwald, “An Open Letter from an Israeli to her Muslim Uber Driver” (Thanks, Dick and Dan.)

Left: art by Ricardo Levins Morales, ©RLM Art Studio. "The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes." —Marcel Proust

We need such stories (above) however small and personal, to counter the news that our nation’s longest war, in Afghanistan, just got longer with President Obama’s announcement that instead of withdrawing virtually all 10,000 military personnel at the end of 2016, another 4,000 will reinforce that garrison. And an increase from 3,050 to 3,500 soldiers in Iraq. And serious hints the Pentagon may put “boots on the ground” in Syria.

¶ “No one in Washington has yet taken the slightest responsibility for blowing a hole through the Middle East, loosing mayhem across significant swathes of the planet, or helping release the forces that would create the first true terrorist state of modern history; nor has anyone in any official capacity taken responsibility for creating the conditions that led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands, possibly a million or more people, turned many in the Greater Middle East into internal or external refugees, destroyed nations, and brought unbelievable pain to countless human beings.” —Tom Engelhardt, “14 Years After 9/11, the War on Terror Is Accomplishing Everything bin Laden Hoped It Would

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.)

¶ “The world’s richest 1 percent now own more wealth than all of the bottom 99 percent combined. This finding comes from Credit Suisse’s Global Wealth Report for 2015, released last week. Last year, Credit Suisse found the richest 1 percent of adults owned 48% of global wealth. According to the new report, the top 1 percent now hold 50.4% of all the world’s household wealth.” Nick Galasso, CommonDreams

Quantifiying our economic contradictions.
        •50 million of 243 million American adults are part of the world’s poorest 10% of the global population. At the same time, over 110 million American adults are among the world’s richest 10%.
        •Since the 2009 recession, three-fourths of the estimated $54-$86 trillion in new wealth created in the US went to the wealthiest 10%.
        •Among countries with at least one million adult citizens, only four countries have a greater wealth inequality than the US: Kazakhstan, Libya, Russia and Ukraine. —Paul Bucheit, “New 2015 Weath Data: US Inequality at its Ugliest

Chic meek. You, too, can march in the upscale poordressing fashion parade with $70 jeans conveniently ripped then patched with plaid fabric, with that head-turning chic meek appeal. (Available through one of those ubiquitous “dear so-and-so or current resident” catalogs.)
        Postal carriers lug some 12 billion of these catalogs to mailboxes in the US every year. Want to “kick the catalogs,” or at least exercise some control? Carbonrally will tell you how.

Big pharma maneuvers. "You likely heard recently that former hedge fund manager-turned-entrepreneur Martin Shkreli’s company, Turing Pharmaceuticals, bought the patent to a drug treating toxoplasmosis, a potentially deadly parasite disease, increasing the per pill cost from $13.50 to $750. (Before being sold several previous times, the Daraorun medication per pill cost was $1.00.)
        "Now San Diego-based Imprimis Pharmaceuticals has announced it would manufacture customized versions of the drug for less than $1.00." —Continue reading Ken Sehested’s essay, “In Greed We Trust: Greedlock and the god of fiduciary responsibility.”

An Economic Policy Institute study revealed that among the 50 companies with the largest number of low-wage employees (the federal poverty level is $11.06 per hour), the average CEO salary is $9.4 million. If you consider a CEO work week at 60 hours, with no vacation, it factors out to a cool $3,012 per hour. Travis Waldron, thinkprogress

Here’s the link for a 15-question, multiple choice quiz on economic inequality in the US. It’s a great popular education tool. (Thanks, Evelyn.)

This 11-minute, graphically-enticing video commentary from philosopher Slavoj Zizek is a profound challenge to the hope that liberal values of charity, without structural reform, can save us. —“RSA animate

¶ “Ever-increasing temperatures and unmitigated climate change will worsen global inequality and widen the north-south gap between rich and poor countries, according to a groundbreaking new study published this week in the journal Nature. It will, in effect, create a “Robin Hood in reverse” phenomenon. Deidre Fulton, CommonDreams

More: good work, if you can find it. Last week we reported that when Oprah Winfrey invested in Weigh Watchers, the stock more than doubled in value, adding $70 million to her net worth in a single day. A few days later we learned that CEOs of the four largest tech companies got a collective one-day income bounce totaling more than $10 billion-with-a-“b” following upbeat earnings reports. Matt Krantz, USA Today

Speaking of CEOs, the average pension of the 100 largest company execs  averages $49.3 million per annum, or $277,686 a month. Each. (That’s compared to a mere $16,975 per month scale for the Commander in Chief, aka President Obama.) The cumulative total of these top CEOs is equivalent to the retirement savings of 41% of American families. 31% of households have no retirement savings. Kevin McCoy, USA Today

Your church’s adult study or youth group (or both) should plan to watch and discuss “Inequality for All,” an 89-minute graphically appealing film by Robert Reich. It is revelatory. You can buy it for less than $10.

¶ “Yes, the rich pay more in taxes (because they earn so much more)—but they don't usually pay more as a percentage of their incomes. According to a new report from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, in 2015 the poorest fifth of Americans will pay on average 10.9% of their income in state and local taxes, the middle fifth will pay 9.4% and the top 1% will average 5.4%. —Bud Meyers, “The Poor Pay More in Taxes

State of our disunion. “Researchers have repeatedly found that in the US, there is now less economic mobility than in Canada or much of Europe. A child born in the bottom quintile of incomes has on a 4% chance of rising to the top quintile, according to a Pew study.” —Nicholas Kristof, “USA, Land of Limitations?

What you (and your congregation) can do about income inequality. If you and/or your church have savings of some kind, one of the simplest, safest and most convenient steps you can take (to divert working capital into communities that most need it) is to invest some portion in microlending institutions. For more information about this strategy and its rationale, see the “Resolution on community funding.”  There are numerous firms on the web that specialize in socially-responsible investing, like “Just Money Advisors.”

If I had to recommend one resource on the Bible and economic justice for group study in congregations it would be Ched Myers' The Biblical Vision of Sabbath Economics. The 70-page book offers seven studies of the scriptural views of Jubilee justice and God's Dream of enough for everyone. It "reads the Bible economically in order to read the economy biblically." Now in its eighth printing, this resource is ideal for adult education and study groups. It comes with a companion study guide, Household Practices.

Confession. “Let me ask you one question / Is your money that good / Will it buy you forgiveness / Do you think that it could / I think you will find / When your death takes its toll / All the money you made / Will never buy back your soul.” —Bob Dylan, “Masters of War

Words of assurance. “In a church where holy people were supposed to be perfect, austere, and forbidding, [St. Teresa] prayed to be delivered from sour saints. An admirer once remarked on her voracious appetite: "For such a holy woman, you sure pack it in." "Listen," Teresa shot back, "when I pray, I pray; when I eat, I eat!" — Mary Luti, speaking of Teresa of Ávila, 16th century Spanish mystic and Carmelite nun

Can’t make this sh*t up. The headline says it all: “Ken stands in as martyred Jesus, Barbie as Virgin Mary.”  —Kamilia Lahrichi, USA Today

¶ “8 Gorgeous National Parks You’ve Never Heard Of,” in National Geographic magazine, as we head toward the centennial of the National Park Service.

Freedom follies (plundering “freedom” language). “We have the right and obligation to protect what others have fought and died for.” —letter to the editor, challenging previous letter writers’ complaints of motorcycle noise

Preach it. “Today, the future of our democracy is threatened. How can "We the People" call American politics back to health at a time when, in the words of Bill Moyers, "we have fallen under the spell of money, faction, and fear"? One answer is close at hand, within everyone's reach.” —Read more of Parker Palmer’s “Five Habits to Heal the Heart of Democracy.” (Thanks, James and Marion.) 

¶ “It is hugely ironic and hugely significant that the one thing on the planet most closely resembling the forgoing conception of the divine is money. It is an invisible, immortal force that surrounds and steers all things, omnipotent and limitless, an ‘invisible hand’ that, it is said, makes the world go ’round.'” —Charles Eisenstein, Sacred Economics

Call to the table.Khudaya, rahem kar,”  a "Kyrie" from Pakistan, sung in Urdu and English. "Lord have mercy on us. Christ have mercy on us." (Thanks, Michael.)

In case you missed it last week, see the “Good news report from Gerald: The first annual prayer&politiks report.” One way you can support our future: recommend this site to your friends, in whatever social media you use.

Altar call. “Hold on and never give in! Throw all your fears to the wind. Join hands and hearts till the end, and let’s walk.” English translation by Mel Bringle of Pablo Sosa’s tango-flavored “Este Momento en Punto (“This is the Moment”), sung when Pope Francis’ entrance to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception during his September visit to the US. You can view the musical score and lyrics (original Spanish and Bringle’s English translation) here.

Lectionary for Sunday next. “As people of God we are called to a journey. Sometimes we are pilgrims. Sometimes we are refugees. For the pilgrim, there is a choice. For the refugee, there is no choice. For the pilgrim, there is freedom. For the refugee, there is no freedom. The biblical story offers us Ruth, the pilgrim and Naomi, the refugee. Both step into an uncertain future.” —Continue reading Nancy Hastings Sehested’s sermon, “Companions for the Journey: The Ruth and Naomi story.”

Just for fun. Ten-year-old Carson Peters sings and plays (along with mandolin-wizard Ricky Skaggs) Bill Monroe’s “Blue Moon of Kentucky” on the Grand Ole Opry.

Benediction. “Laughter at oneself is always proof that God has healed us in the touchy places.” —Eugenia Price


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Featured this week on prayer&politiks:

•“Companions for the journey: The Ruth and Naomi story

•“Acquainted with grief,” a litany for worship inspired by Psalm 42

•“In Greed We Trust: Greedlock and the god of fiduciary responsibility

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

•“Resolution on community funding: Putting a portion of household, congregational and denominational money where our mouths are

©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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