News, views, notes, and quotes

10 September 2015  •  No. 37

In praise of a life fully and well lived. Amelia Boynton Robinson, who led voting drives and ran for Congress as a civil rights activist in Alabama, and whose severe beating by police during the 1965 “Bloody Sunday” confrontation at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., shocked the nation, died 26 August at a hospital in Montgomery, Ala. She was 104. This past March she again crossed the Pettus Bridge, in a wheelchair and holding hands with President Obama, on the 50th anniversary of that historic event. —See Andrea Germanos, “Crusader, Warrior, Fighter for Justice, Civil Rights Icon Amelia Boynton Robinson Dead at 104

Invocation. “So come on darling, feel your spirits rise; come on children, open up your eyes; God is all around, Buddha’s at the gate, Allah hears your prayers, it’s not too late.” —Mary Chapin Carpenter, “Why Shouldn’t We?

Call to worship. “Oh, a storm is threat'ning / My very life today / If I don't get some shelter / Oh yeah, I'm gonna fade away / War, children, it's just a shot away / It's just a shot away / War, children, it's just a shot away / It's just a shot away.” —“Gimme Shelter,” by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, performed here by a global cast, arranged by the creative folk at

Along with many of you I’ve been haunted of late by a single photograph, of 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi, from Syria, lying in the surf of a Turkish beach, lifeless, having drowned along with his brother and mother while attempting to reach Greece on a rickety boat that capsized. His body looks serene, very much like those of my own babies and grandbabies when fast asleep. Only Aylan is drenched, face down in the surf, a wave lapping at his head, breathless.
        Not since the 9-year-old Vietnamese girl Phan Thị Kim Phúc was photographed running naked on a road, fleeing a napalm bomb attack, has a single picture so galvanized the attention of the world.
        All week I’ve debated posting Aylan Kurdi’s photo (“Facebook Banned These Photos of Europe’s Refugee Crisis”). I think every emotionally stable person above the age of 12 should be subject to its savage disclosure. But that needs to be your choice, not mine.
        In its place is one (see above) of several artists’ renderings of those tragic deaths. —See Ryan Broderick, “17 Heartbreaking Cartoons From Artists All Over the World Mourning the Drowned Syrian Boy"

¶ “The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ annual “Global Trends Report: World at War,” released on Thursday (June 18), said that worldwide displacement was at the highest level ever recorded. It said the number of people forcibly displaced at the end of 2014 had risen to a staggering 59.5 million compared to 51.2 million a year earlier and 37.5 million a decade ago.

The Yarmouk refugee camp for Palestinians, in Damascus, in 2014. (United Nation Relief and Works Agency/Getty Images)

        “The increase represents the biggest leap ever seen in a single year. Moreover, the report said the situation was likely to worsen still further.
        “Globally, one in every 122 humans is now either a refugee, internally displaced, or seeking asylum. If this were the population of a country, it would be the world's 24th biggest.” —“Worldwide displacement hits all-time high as war and persecution increase

¶ “You shall know the truth, and the truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable.” —anonymous

Praise be. Beauty in a factorified world: Ballerina Allesandra Ferri accompanied by Sting, from El Sentido de la Musica Community.

Some additional notes about the current refugee crisis:
        •The United National High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that 2,500 people have died just this summer while attempting to cross the Mediterranean in rickety boats.
        •This unfolding tragedy is the worst refugee crisis since World War II.
        •Nearly 60% of Syria’s pre-war population of 20 million have been displaced within the country or have fled the country.
        •Many wealthy allies of the US in the Middle East—including Israel, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait Quatar and Bahrain—have taken few if any refugees.
        •Altogether over the past four years the US has spent $4 billion assisting refugees in the Middle East, mostly in humanitarian aid grants to Syria’s neighboring countries struggling to copy with Syrian refugees. The Pentagon has spent about the same amount in the last year bombing ISIS positions in northern Iraq and Syria.
        • See the entire list of nations’ contributions to the UN refugee fund.

Hungary is building a $35 million fence along it’s 175 km (108 miles) border with Serbia to stem the flow of refugees. This week Israel announced it would do the same along its border with Jordan, which has already taken in 1.4 million Syrian refugees in the past four years.

Call to confession.Why do we build the wall, my children, my children” —Anaïs Mitchell, performed by Greg Grown

“Kein mensch ist illegal” (“no human being is illegal”) by Rafael Swiniarski

¶ “I can't stop thinking about that little boy, dead on a beach in Turkey. Just last week, I was playing with my kids, who are the same ages as Aylan and his brother, Galip, on a beach. No one was scared. Everyone was, very much, very blessedly, alive.
        “My three-year-old looked over my shoulder while I was working on a post about the image of Aylan today. ‘What did they do to that boy?’ she said.
        “And I could hardly answer her. All I could tell her was that she was lucky that she was born in a place where there wasn't a war going on, but that there had been a war in his country for his whole life, and that he died trying to escape it.
        “And then we were all quiet for a while.” —Alisha Huber on FaceBook

Hopeful notes.
        •Sweden was the first EU country to take in Syrian refugees, back in 2012, and ranks highest in the number admitted as a proportion of population.

Vienna, Austria. 1 September 2015 — A banner is held up by a group welcoming refugees arriving from Syria and Afghanistan at Vienna Railway Station where they plan to stay overnight en route to Germany. Photo by Martin Juen. Copyright Demotix.

        •Germany has just announced a $6.6 billion appropriation to care for the 800,000 refugees it has admitted. Watch this 2-minute video of Germany citizens welcoming refugees.
        •”Hundreds of Austrians and Germans Turn Out to Welcome Refugees Arriving From Hungary”
        •In Iceland a 13,000 member Facebook group is calling on its government to increase its Syrian refugee resettlement commitment from 50 to 5,000. The latter number is more than 1.5% of the country’s population of 323,000. If the US admitted that percentage, the total number would be nearly a half million—but the actual number is currently about 1,434. The US has pledged to resettle between 5,000 and 8,000 by the end of 2016.
        • This past Sunday Pope Francis, speaking to pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City, called on “every parish, religious community, monastery and sanctuary to take in one refugee family.”

¶ “no one leaves home unless / home is the mouth of a shark. . . / no one puts their children in a boat / unless the water is safer than the land . . . / no one would leave home / unless home chased you to the shore / unless home told you / to quicken your legs / leave your clothes behind / crawl through the desert / wade through the oceans” —“No One Leaves Home,” Warsan Shire, Kenyan-born Somali poet, writer and educator based in London

Serious yogurt. Hamdi Ulukaya, founder of Chobani, the popular Greek-style Yogurt, has pledged $700 million for humanitarian aid  to refugees, especially for fellow Kurds in northern Iraq and Syria.

For more background, see the relief agency MercyCorps’ “Quick facts: What you need to know about the Syrian crisis

This series of cartoons by Alisha Huber brilliantly summarizes the origins of the 5-year-old war in Syria. (Thanks, Betsy.)

¶ “5 Ways to Stand Up and Be the Church in the World’s Worst Refugee Crisis Since World War II.”

¶ “For years, the European Union kept refugees out of sight and out of mind by paying Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi's government to intercept and turn back migrants that were heading for Europe. Gadhafi was something like Europe's bouncer, helping to bar refugees and other migrants from across Africa. His methods were terrible: Libya imprisoned migrants in camps where rape and torture were widespread. But Europe was happy to have someone else worrying about the problem. When Libya's uprising and Western airstrikes ousted Gadhafi in 2011, Libya collapsed into chaos.” —Max Fisher and Amanda Taub, “The refugee crisis: 9 questions you were too embarrassed to ask

¶ “Those who died in war were better off than those who died later, who starved slowly to death, with no food to keep them alive.” —Lamentations 4:9

The gospel of our times. “In San Francisco, a billboard for an e-trading firm proclaimed, ‘Make love not war,’ and then—down at the bottom—‘Screw it, just make money.’” —Barbara Enrenreich

Preach it. “There is no respectable Christian argument for fortress Europe, surrounded by a new iron curtain of razor wire to keep poor, dark-skinned people out. Indeed, the moral framework that our prime minister so frequently references . . . is crystal clear about the absolute priority of our obligation to refugees. For the moral imagination of the Hebrew scriptures was determined by a battered refugee people, fleeing political oppression in north Africa, and seeking a new life for themselves safe from violence and poverty.” —Giles Fraser, "Christian politicians won’t say it, but the Bible is clear: let the refugees in, every last one," British priest and contributor to The Guardian

Lection for Sunday next. Ancient economic analysis of the roots of war: “Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts.” —James 4:1-2

For the savvy investor, conflict can be profitable. “Let’s paint a picture of the world right now,” Epstein says. “You’ve got the Europeans worried about what the Russians are doing in their backyard; we’ve got our hands full right now in Iraq; you’ve got the Israelis with their hands full in their region; and then you have the Chinese and Japanese in the South China Sea. As an investor [in the defense industry], with this much regional conflict in the world . . . that can’t be bad.” —Bank of America analyst Ronald Epstein in Tory Newmyer, “The war on ISIS already has a winner: The defense industry

Just for fun. Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash sing “Girl From the North Country

Altar call. “When I closed my eyes so I would not see / My Lord did trouble me / When I let things stand that should not be / My Lord did trouble me / When I held my head too high too proud / My Lord did trouble me / When I raised my voice too little too loud / My Lord did trouble me?" —“Did Trouble Me,” Susan Werner

Benediction.Total Praise” by Richard Smallwood.

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Featured this week on prayer&politiks:

• “We Shall Not Be Moved,” a litany inspired by Psalm 1

•”Multiply Their Presence,” a litany inspired by Psalm 1

•”Bound to this freedom,” a litany inspired by Psalm 1

•”Reversal of fortunes: What if schools enjoyed pork-barrel largesse and the military depended on corporate charity?

•”In the valley of the shadow: Reflections on the trauma of 11 September 2001

•”Our job is not to end war: A collection of texts on war

•”Out of the House of Slavery: Bible study on immigration

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