News, views, notes, and quotes

22 October 2015  •  No. 43

Invocation.  “When hope is aroused—or even the possibility of that hope’s approach—the body, of it’s own accord, fills with a reservoir of bated breath, as though preparing for the shouts of joy and happiness, victory and triumph, that are sure to come, no longer checked by the dams of possibility and doubt shored with the black mortar of cynicism.” —continue reading “When hope is aroused” by “Ghost,” a maximum security prisoner

Photo by Peggy Coleman. See more of her award-winning photography.

Call to worship. “No greater love hath any than to yield / Privilege and pow’r to welcome and to shield / The least, the lost, the whole creation healed / Alleluia! Alleluia!” —continue reading Ken Sehested’s new hymn lyrics to “For All the Saints

Good news. “Can a shared love of hummus bring Jews and Arabs together? An Israeli restaurant near the coastal city of Netanya is offering 50% discounts on hummus for tables with both Jews and Arabs. A manager of the Hummus Bar, located in Kfar Vitkin, told the Times of Israel that “several” tables of Jews and Arabs have taken advantage of the offer since it began Oct. 13. “By us we don’t have Arabs! But we also don’t have Jews … By us we’ve got human beings!” the restaurant posted on Facebook. “And real excellent Arab hummus! And great Jewish falafel!” Jewish Telegraphic Agency  (Thanks, Ivan.)

Hymn of praise. There’ll be “Joy in the Morning,” Mississippi All-State Youth Choir & Orchestra.  (Thanks, Marti.)

Syria’s multiplex civil war. If you could use some help understanding the bloody, convoluted war happening inside and outside of Syria's borders, watch “Syria’s War: A five-minute history(5+ minutes) by Ezra Klein. 

Harriet Tubman wins vote to replace Andrew Jackson on $20 bill.Women on 20s,” a group that has been campaigning to replace Jackson with a woman has chosen Harriet Tubman, the 19th century abolitionist who escaped slavery and led other slaves to freedom via the ‘Underground Railroad.’ The group tallied more than 600,000 online votes over the last few months, narrowing a long list to 4 finalists: Tubman, the late first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parks, whose act of defiance sparked the Montgomery bus boycotts of the ‘60s, and Wilma Mankiller, the first female chief of the Cherokee nation. Tubman was announced the winner Tuesday.” KPIX CBS San Francisco Bay Area (Thanks, Beth.)

Says God: “I know I should stop appearing in Republicans’ dreams and saying ‘I command thee to run for President!’ but dammit, it’s so friggin’ fun.’” —line from David Javerbaum’s play, “An Act of God,” with God played by Jim Parsons, reported in The Christian Century

Can’t say I’m a ballet buff, but even lowbrow artistic tastes bow in awe at the sight of legendary Russian Ballerina Pliseţkaia Maia’s performance (3+ minutes). Maia died last week at the age of 89 years. The music is Camille Saint-Saëns’ “The Swan” from his “The Carnival of the Animals” ballet.

Intercession. “Even with darkness sealing us in, / We breathe Your name, / And through all the days that follow so fast, / We trust in You; / Endless Your grace, O endless Your grace, / Beyond all mortal dream.” —Stephen Paulus' majestic "Pilgrim's Hymn" from his “The Three Hermits” opera, lyrics by Michael Dennis Browne, adapted from a Russian Orthodox prayer, sung here by the Minnesota-based ensemble Kantorei

The painting at right is one of my wife’s treasures from her years as a prison chaplain. This is a self portrait by “Boots” (with a text from the Psalms superimposed), one of her former parishioners. It’s painted on a t-shirt—from back in the day when maximum security prisons allowed inmates access to a few art supplies. No more, at least in our state. In fact, that prison, home to over 700 inmates, is being turned into a “lock-down unit,” solitary confinement for all.

SOLITARY CONFINEMENT: aka “the hole,” “the hotbox,” “lockdown,” “punk city,” “SCU (Solitary Confinement Unit),” "AdSeg" (Administrative Segregation), the "SHU" (pronounced "shoe,” acronym for "special housing unit" or "security housing unit"), "the pound,” "the cooler."
        A few facts:
        • Some 80,000 prisoners in the US are housed in solitary confinement on any given day, living 22-23 hours in a sparse cell the size of a parking space, with virtually no human interaction and where the lights never go out.
        • The first prison records of harmful effects of solitary confinement come from late 19th century Denmark, where staff “noticed inmates were exhibiting signs of mental illnesses while in isolation, revealing that this persistent problem has been around for decades.”
        •Use of solitary confinement was largely discontinued in the United States in 1890 when the Supreme Court ruled that it led to mental deterioration and resulted in no rehabilitation of those incarcerated. The practice was re-implemented in the 1980s and 1990s as part of the get-tough-on-crime political agenda.
        •“In a 2003 report, Human Rights Watch estimated, based on available state data, that one-third to one-half of those held in isolation had some form of mental illness.” Solitary Watch
        • In July President Obama became the first president to visit a federal prison. While at El Reno Federal Penitentiary in Oklahoma he questioned whether “we really think it makes sense to lock so many people alone in tiny cells for 23 hours a day, sometimes for months or even years at a time.”
        •“The Supreme Court declined Tuesday [13 October] to decide whether states' use of solitary confinement for prisoners on death row is constitutional, putting off a major test of the 8th Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment. The justices denied the case at least in part because of the execution of the original plaintiff, Alfredo Prieto, who was given a lethal injection October 1 by the state of Virginia before the high court could rule on his final stay application.” —Richard Wolf, USA Today

¶ “[Solitary confinement] units are virtual incubators of psychoses–seeding illness in otherwise healthy inmates and exacerbating illness in those already suffering from mental infirmities.” —Federal Judge William Wayne Justice, Ruiz v Johnson, 154 F.Supp.2d 975 (S.D.Tex.2001)

¶ “A general consensus has emerged among politicians, academics and prison officials that something is seriously wrong with the way we isolate tens of thousands of prisoners in solitary confinement.” —Terrence McCoy, Washington Post

¶ “In June of 2006 a bipartisan national task force, the Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons called for ending long-term isolation of prisoners. Beyond about ten days, the report noted, practically no benefits can be found and the harm is clear.” —Atule Gawande, “Hellhole,” The New Yorker magazine

Ironically, Pennsylvania’s early Quaker leaders are credited with the initial experiments in solitary confinement for convicted criminals. (It’s note quite that simple.) Hint: the word “penitentiary” stems from the word “penitent.” It was thought that forced “solitude” would encourage repentance leading to positive social behavior.

At right: A prisoner, in his cell, kneeling at prayer before the central inspection tower.  N. Harou-Romain, Plan for a penitentiary, 1840. From: Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish.]

¶ “We no longer seem to have faith in the ‘penitent’ part of ‘penitentiary,’ and our ‘corrections’ system no longer ‘corrects’ anti-social behavior but inevitably breeds it." —Brook Shelby Biggs, “Solitary Confinement: A Brief History

¶ “There are 10 times more mentally ill Americans in prisons and jails than in state psychiatric hospitals.” —“The Treatment of Persons With Mental Illness in Prisons and Jails

Solitary Watch has a 4-page “FAQ(frequently asked questions) summary background on solitary confinement. Also see “Solitary Fact Sheet.”

Confession.Can’t Find My Way Home,” Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood.

Words of assurance. “The thing that keeps me on my knees is the difference between Grace and Karma. . . . Grace defies reason and logic. Love interrupts, if you like, the consequences of your actions. . . .  I’d be in big trouble if Karma was going to finally be my judge. I’d be in deep shit.” —Bono, excerpts from “Bono on Bono: Conversations with Michka Assayas

Bumper sticker seen. “She who laughs, lasts.”

Good work, if you can find it. This week when Oprah Winfrey bought 6.4 million shares of Weigh Watchers, the stock price more than doubled in value, adding $70 million to her net worth in a single day.

¶ “Nothing sucks more about prison than missing the people who own beachfront property in your heart.” —“Ghost,” a maximum security prisoner, in a letter to his former chaplain after transferring to another facility

¶ “Super-PACS may be bad for America, but they’re very good for CBS.” —CBS CEO Les Moonves, March 10, 2012, at an entertainment law conference at the University of California in Los Angeles

Preach it. “The world is waiting for new saints, ecstatic men and women who are so deeply rooted in the love of God that they are free to imagine a new international order. . . . Most people despair that [it] is possible. They cling to old ways and prefer the security of their misery to the insecurity of their joy. But the few who dare to sing a new song of peace are the new St. Francises of our time, offering a glimpse of a new order that is being born out of the ruin of the old.” —Henri Nouwen

Just for fun. Robert DiNiro playing a Homeland Security spokesperson in a press briefing.

Not so much fun. In a speech to the World Zionist Congress on Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed a Palestinian for the Holocaust. —William Booth, Washington Post

Call to the table. “Hope has two beautiful daughters. Their names are anger and courage: anger at the way things are and courage to see that they do not remain the way they are.” —St. Augustine

Altar call. “Everyone thinks forgiveness is a lovely idea until he has something to forgive.” —C.S. Lewis

At right: Art by

Lectionary for Sunday next (All Saints Day). “The saints of old don’t wear golden crowns, or sit on lofty perch, mouthing caustic comments on how poorly we yet-mortal souls measure up to the glory of days past. They, too, knew about keeping hope alive while getting dinner on the table, faucets fixed, carpools covered, and budgets balanced.” —continue reading Ken Sehested’s “All Saints Day” litany

Closing hymn. Let yourself be carried by Samuel Barber’s “Agnus Dei Op. 11” while you ponder the benediction below.

Benediction. "What is hope? It is the presentiment that imagination is more real and reality less real than it looks. It is the hunch that the overwhelming brutality of facts that oppress and repress are not the last word. It is the suspicion that reality is more complex than realism wants us to believe; that the frontiers of the possible are not determined by the limits of the actual; and that, in a miraculous and unexpected way, life is preparing the creative events which will open the way to freedom and resurrection.” —Brazilian theologian Rubem Alves

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Featured this week on prayer&politiks:

•“Beatitudes,” a litany for worship inspired by Matthew 5:1-12 (can also be sung to the Pat Wictor tune, "Love Is the Water")

•“All Saints Day,” a litany for worship

•“For All the Saints,” new lyrics for an old hymn

•“Hallowed Week,” a call to worship for All Hallow’s Eve and All Saints Day,” by Abigail Hastings

EXTRA Good news!  A note from Gerald, prayer&politiks’ guardian angel and synod convener.
       The advisory synod overseeing the vision and mission of prayer&politiks has heartily recommended another year of work. —Continue reading prayer&politiks’ first annual report, including a summary of the recent reader survey.

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