News, views, notes, and quotes

20 August 2015  •  No. 34

Early New Year’s resolution? One year from now, August 2016, marks the centennial of the National Park Service. If you haven’t already (or even if you have), begin planning to spend some time in one of the parks. One resource to get started is the PBS series, “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea,”  by producer Ken Burns. Go here for more views of spectacular national park photos. (Photo above: Storm in Arches National Park in Utah, Anthony Quintano/Flickr)

Coincidentally, attention to national park history offers the chance to be aware of moral ambiguity in human affairs. Former US President Theodore Roosevelt was arguably our greatest environmental president, not to mention his courageous resistance to corporate wealth’s influence in public affairs. But he was, arguably, our most imperial and racialized president when it came to our nation’s role in global affairs. (Re. the latter, see “The Imperial Cruise: A secret history of empire and war” by James Bradley.) Awareness of this ambiguity is essential for any attempting to mount a morally-high horse.

Invocation.  Listen to Wendell Berry read his short poem, “The Peace of Wild Things.”

Call to worship. Wish we could occasionally start church like this or this. When I read the 2 Samuel 6:14 account of David “dancing before the Lord,” clogging comes to mind.
        Clog dancing (aka “buck” or “flat foot” dancing) is native to my part of the world here in the southern Appalachian mountains, growing from the cultural interactions of Scots-Irish, African Americans (the banjo is an African instrument) and Native Americans. Near to where I live, the Mars Hill College Bailey Mountain Clogs have been national clog champions a couple dozen times. In its origins the dancing was not choreographed or uniformed—individuals or groups improvised a wide array of steps and styles.

Audaciously hopeful news you likely won’t hear about. The Republic of the Marshall Islands, a nation of 70,000 citizens in the north Pacific (about half-way between Hawaii and Australia), has filed a lawsuit with the International Court of Justice in the Hague and US federal court against nuclear weapon holding countries demanding they comply with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty’s requirement of nuclear disarmament. From 1946-1958, the US exploded 67 nuclear weapons in the region. In 1956, the United States Atomic Energy Commission regarded the Marshall Islands as "by far the most contaminated place in the world.”

Overlooked in the political dust storm kicked up by the nuclear arms deal with Iran is the larger context of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1970, signed by the US and 190 other nations. The treaty’s preamble calls for “the cessation of the manufacture of nuclear weapons, the liquidation of all their existing stockpiles, and the elimination from national arsenals of nuclear weapons and the means of their delivery . . .”

The Obama administration's 2016 budget calls for a $348 billion investment over the next 10 years to initiate a rebuilding of the entire US nuclear arsenal. The National Defense Panel, appointed by Congress, found that the price tag over 30 years could be as much as a $1 trillion.

¶ “Here’s a wild thought. What if [the terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty’s Article VI] were recited aloud every Sunday in churches and other public spaces across the nation, the way congregants at my parents’ church recited the Apostle’s Creed when I was a boy? Each word, slowly uttered, welled up from the soul. The words were sacred. Isn’t a world free of nuclear weapons—and beyond that, free of war itself—worth believing in?” —Robert C. Koehler, “A Wedge for Nuclear Disarmament”

Call to confession. “Force is as pitiless to the man who possesses it, or thinks he does, as it is to its victims; the second it crushes, the first it intoxicates.” —Simone Weil

Japanese artist Isao Hashimoto created this mesmerizing visual timeline (14+ minute video), showing each of the 2,053 nuclear explosions which have taken place between 1945 and 1998. Beautiful and chilling at the same time.

Hymn of praise. “I give thanks to the waves upholding me, hail the great winds urging me on, / Greet the infinite sea before me, sing the sky my sailor’s song. / I was born upon the fathoms; never harbor or port have I known. / The wide universe is the ocean I travel, and the earth is my blue boat home. —Peter Meyer, “Blue Boat Home,” sung to the tune Hyfrydol

More hopeful news. “For one day last week, 78% of Germany's power was generated by renewables like solar and wind. The country is spending €200 billion [US$223 billion] to move away from fossil fuels permanently. . . . Economists predict the renewable industry will create upwards of 80,000 jobs. . . . In 2011, Germany made headlines when the small agricultural village of Wildpoldsried in the state of Bavaria produced 321% more energy than it needed." —Araz Hachadourian, Yes Magazine

Related news, closer to home. “With the amount of wind-generated power in the US reaching record highs and its cost dropping to new lows, two Department of Energy reports released Monday suggest that the renewable energy revolution might be upon us. According to the “2014 Wind Technologies Market Report,” wind saw the most growth of any power source in the U.S. last year with total installed wind power capacity reaching a total of 65.9 gigawatts in 2014—enough capacity to power over 17.5 million homes.” —Lauren McCauley, “With Wind Prices at a Record Low, Is the Clean Energy Revolution Upon Us?

Muslim leaders and scholars from 20 countries made a joint declaration Aug. 18 at a conference in Istanbul, calling on Muslims and all nations worldwide to address climate change. “Our species, though selected to be a caretaker or steward (khalifah) on the earth, has been the cause of such corruption and devastation on it,” the statement says. —SojoNet

Words of assurance. “You have drunk a bitter wine with none to be your comfort. / You who once were left behind will be welcome at love’s table. / You have come by way of sorrow; you have made the long way home; / But the love that waits for you, you will someday come to know.” —Julie Miller, “By Way of Sorrow,”  sung by the Wailin’ Jennys

An aftereffect of the 17 July massacre at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, was recovery of a forgotten history: use of the Confederate battle flag in Southern culture was in fact a political response to the modern civil rights movement. Here in North Carolina residents are just now learning that construction of the majority of Confederate monuments in the state—82 out of 98—occurred after 1898, decades after the Civil War when white supremacy campaigns seized power by force and took the vote from black North Carolinians. For stories of a different sort, read Timothy Tyson’s “Commemorating North Carolina’s Anti-Confederate heritage, too.”

Claims that the South is the source of racial (among other) ills is “crude regional stereotypes [that] ignore the deep roots such social ills have in our shared national history and culture.” —Thomas J. Sugrue, “It’s Not Dixie’s Fault

Oscar-nominated filmmaker Matthew Cooke has produced “Race Baiting 101”  (11 minute video). Essential viewing, summarizing several hundred years of history and presented in a visually engaging way.

¶ “Almost everything [since Barack Obama’s election] has made it clear that in America, the patterns that began in the 17th century are still all-too-much with us, and will be with us, until we figure out what it means . . . [as] Martin King [was] constantly saying to us, ‘America, you must be born again!’" —Vincent Harding, “We Are Creating a New River,” interviewed by Lucas Johnson

Preach it. “A nation that will keep people in slavery for 244 years will "thingify" them—make them things. Therefore they will exploit them, and poor people generally, economically. And a nation that will exploit economically will have foreign investments and everything else, and will have to use its military to protect them. All of these problems are tied together.  What I am saying today is that we must go from this convention and say, 'America, you must be born again!'” —Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Centennial of the lynching of Leo Frank . . . and the struggle over the meaning of freedom. In August 1913 the body of 14-year-old laborer Mary Phagan was found in the basement of the National Pencil Company in Atlanta. The company’s Jewish-American superintendent, Leo Frank, was eventually convicted of the crime and sentenced to death by hanging. Two years later a last-minute commutation of the sentence to life imprisonment sent Frank to a prison farm. On the night of 16 August 1915 a group of men from Marietta, Georgia (Phagan’s hometown), abducted Frank and drove him to Marietta for a public lynching. (Continue reading Ken Sehested’s “Centennial of the lynching of Leo Frank.” )

In case you missed it: Richard Blanco, son of Cuban immigrants to the US, was asked to write and deliver a poem on the occasion of the US Embassy’s reopening in Havana, Cuba, Friday 14 2015. Listen to his performance of “We All Belong to the Sea Between Us.”

A CBS News poll the week after Obama’s 17 December 2014 announcement about reestablishing relations with Cuba revealed that 77% of US citizens that the ban on travel to Cuba should be lifted. That result was confirmed days later by a Washington Post-ABC News poll showing 74% support, including 64% of Republicans.

Photo at right by Stan Dotson, of a bridge over the Rio San Juan which empties into the Bay of Matanzas on Cuba’s north shore almost due south of Key West, Florida.

Example of how headline writers subtly shape information. Compare these two coverage headlines of the 14 August ceremony officially opening the US embassy in Havana, Cuba: CNN: “US Flag Raised Above Embassy in Cuba.” MSNBC: “US Flag Flies Over Cuba.”

Lectionary for Sunday next: What is pure religion? (Hint: see James 1:27.)

Just for fun. Hot Scots drum line. Five guys, in kilts, entertaining antics and stunning rhythm (3+minutes).

Call to the table. “God is the tallest woman on earth with curly red hair all the way down to her toes, and she has really yummy, yummy hands." —Kenzie B., age 4

¶ “I think the United States has the potential of being a true superpower on earth. . . . But the measure of it is if we are a champion of peace. And a champion of human rights. And a champion of democracy and freedom. And a champion of environmental quality. And a champion of being generous to people in need. Those are the marks, in my opinion, of a superpower for which we should be striving.” —former US President Jimmy Carter, interview in The Atlantic magazine, 13 July 2015

Altar call. “Life’s journey is not to arrive at the grave safely in a well-preserved body but rather to skid in sideways, totally worn out, shouting “Holy sh*t . . . what a ride!” —Hunter S. Thompson

Closing hymn.Genuine Negro Jig,” Carolina Chocolate Drops.

Art by Ricardo Levins Morales, ©RLM Art Studio

Benediction. “The hardest spiritual work in the world is to love the neighbor as the self—to encounter another human being not as someone you can use, change, fix, help, save, enroll, convince or control, but simply as someone who can spring you from the prison of yourself, if you will allow it.” —Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World

#  #  #

Featured this week on prayer&politiks:

• “Centennial of the lynching of Leo Frank . . . and the struggle over the meaning of freedom

• “Give wisdom to legislators,” a litany for worship inspired by Psalm 72

• “By the Word of Truth,” a litany for worship inspired by James 1:17-27

©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.

Your comments are always welcomed. If you have news, views, notes or quotes to add to the list above, please do. If you like what you read, pass this along to your friends.