News, views, notes, and quotes

4 June 2015  •  No. 24

¶ Invocation. “I am, you anxious one. / Don’t you sense me, ready to break / into being at your touch? / My murmurings surround you like shadowy wings. / Can’t you see me standing before you / cloaked in stillness? / Hasn’t my longing ripened in you / from the beginning / as fruit ripens on a branch?
        “I am the dream you are dreaming. / When you want to awaken, I am that wanting: / I grow strong in the beauty you behold. / And with the silence of stars I enfold / your cities made by time.” —Rainer Maria Rilke

Last week's announcement that the US State Department has removed Cuba from its list of "state sponsors of terrorism" is one more significant step in reestablishing normal diplomatic relations. To celebrate, take a few minutes to view the grandeur in these photos: “Unseen Cuba: First aerial photographs reveal island's spectacular beauty.” Lithuanian aerial photographer Marius Jovaisa was the first artist to receive government permission to fly over the country and photograph it from above.

Hymn of praise. “Come, Spirit, set our lives afire, With hopeful dreams of earth renewed / With us abide, with us conspire, For wrath’s demise, all death subdued.” —new lyrics by Ken Sehested to “All People That On Earth Do Dwell

¶ At right, His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa getting their groove on in an April visit to the Upper Tibetan Children’s Village School in Dharamsala, India. Photo/Tenzin Choejor/OHHDL.

¶ "Work like you don't need the money. Love like you've never been hurt. Dance like nobody's watching.” —legendary American Negro League and Major League Baseball pitcher Satchel Paige

"Hope is hearing the melody of the future. Faith is to dance to it." —Brazilian theologian Rubem A. Alves

After reading a piece in The Guardian about how the Federal Bureau of Investigation violated its own policies while investigating Keystone XL pipeline opponents, I asked a friend in East Texas (whose congregation had become a gathering place for pipeline resisters) if he knew about this. Here’s his response:
        “I have heard about it but hadn’t seen this. Most of us who were close to the blockaders have an idea of who [the FBI plant] might have been and yes, that person was in church for several Sundays. We already knew that whenever there were meetings at church, even if they were not related to the blockade (church council, children's committee, etc.) the local police had a patrol car come through our parking lot about once an hour, usually slowing down to look at license plates. A civil rights attorney told us that we needed to assume that the church's phone was tapped. . . .
        “Funny thing about all that police surveillance of our church. We had a substantial number of church members who, though they did not care for the pipeline, they were also very shy about us hosting and housing blockaders. But when they were getting out of their cars on Sunday morning with their children to go into church and a police cruiser came through the parking lot taking photos of car license plates, they changed their tunes and became more supportive of the blockaders.”

Busy times for Causes of the Saints. “Just weeks after official announcement [11 March] of the beatification of murdered Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero, the Vatican has reportedly given a green light for the beginning of the sainthood process for another Latin American bishop known for radically calling on the church to stand with the poor. The Vatican's Congregation for the Causes of the Saints has reportedly approved the start of the path to sainthood for the late Brazilian Archbishop Dom Hélder Câmara [who died in 1999], a key Catholic leader during his country's military dictatorship, known as the bishop of the slums." —National Catholic Reporter

At right: Art by Ricardo Levins Morales, ©RLM Art Studio.

¶ “People are hungry for faith. They are hungry for conviction that isn’t mean-spirited and triumphalist. They are hungry for healthy families, healthy workplaces, healthy neighborhoods. They know that the darkness is fighting them tooth and nail.” —Tom Ehrich, “A Cure for mile-wide, inch-deep religion,” Religion News Service

You may not know his name, but you (almost) certainly play his game. We don’t know the exact date of Adam Smith’s birth, but it was shortly before his recorded 5 June 1723 baptism in Kirkcaldy, Scotland. He was a moral philosopher and pioneer of political economy, sometimes referred to as the “father of modern economics,” laying the foundation of classical free market economic theory in his 950-page-long The Wealth of Nations.

Wait—didn’t Adam Smith invent laissez-faire capitalism? Yes . . . and no. He did articulate the rationale for “free markets,” but he was also deeply critical of the threat of predator capitalism. For instance:
        "Civil government, so far as it is instituted for the security of property, is in reality instituted for the defence of the rich against the poor, or of those who have some property against those who have none at all.”

Other quotes from Adam Smith:
        •Smith wrote this description of merchants as those “whose interest is never exactly the same with that of the public, who have generally an interest to deceive and even to oppress the public, and who accordingly have, upon many occasions, both deceived and oppressed it."
        •“No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable.”
        •“When the regulation, therefore, is in support of the workman, it is always just and equitable; but it is sometimes otherwise when in favour of the masters.”
        •“It is not very unreasonable that the rich should contribute to the public expense, not only in proportion to their revenue, but something more than in that proportion.”
        •“As soon as the land of any country has all become private property, the landlords love to reap where they never sowed, and demand a rent even for its natural produce.”
        •“With the greater part of rich people, the chief enjoyment of riches consists in the parade of riches.”
        •“Our merchants and masters complain much of the bad effects of high wages in raising the price and lessening the sale of goods. They say nothing concerning the bad effects of high profits. They are silent with regard to the pernicious effects of their own gains. They complain only of those of other people.”
        •“People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.”
        •“Though our brother is upon the rack, as long as we ourselves are at ease, our senses will never inform us of what he suffers.”

Wall Street Scripture. “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures, the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge, has marked the upward surge of mankind and greed, you mark my words, will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the U.S.A.” —Stockbroker Gordon Gecko, fictional character played by Michael Douglas, in he 1987 Olive Stone film “Wall Street”

"Trying to reason with an institution is like pissing on a turtle." —lawyer Chuck Morgan, character in Will Campbell's novel, Brother to a Dragonfly

Prayer of confession. “Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don't need. . . . The things you own end up owning you.” —Tyler Durden, character in the Chuck Palahniuk, “The Fight Club”

Words of assurance. “I’ve reason to believe we shall be received in Graceland.” —Paul Simon, “Graceland

“We can't let little countries screw around with big companies like this—companies that have made big investments around the world.” —Chevron oil company lobbyist, speaking anonymously in 2008, regarding a lawsuit brought on behalf of thousands of Indigenous Ecuadorian peasants over the dumping of billions of gallons of toxic oil wastes into their region's rivers and streams, reported by Michael Isikoff,  Newsweek, “Chevron Lobbyist: 'We Can't Let Little Countries Screw Around With Big Companies.'”

Left: Artwork by Ken Sehested.

''It is not that humans have become any more greedy than in generations past. It is that the avenues to express greed had grown so enormously.'' —former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan in July 2002 testimony to the Senate banking committee

“Stingy spenders hold back growth.” So reads the title of a recent USA Today business section story reporting that “penny-pinching consumers tainted” otherwise robust economic indicators.
        Is it a trivial matter to complain about such screamer headlines? Think about it for a minute. This is how propaganda works— [continue reading]

Oppression and atheism ride in tandem. The Psalmist protests: “Fools say in their hearts, ‘There is no God’” (53:1). Three verses later these “perverse” fools are identified as those “who eat up my people as they eat bread.”

Turning tide? In April 2014 the US Senate quietly stripped a provision in the intelligence operations bill requiring the President to publicly disclose information about drone strike casualties. Now, though, a May 2015 Pew Research survey found that the public has “become much more likely to voice their disapproval over the US drone assassination program.” —Buddy Bell, Voices for Creative Nonviolence

Lectionary for Sunday next. Might there be a universe of difference, depending on how you read it, in what it means to be “in Christ”? Is it “s/he is a new creation” or “there is a new creation”?

Preach it. “In the land of the proud and free  / You can sell your soul and your dignity / For fifteen minutes on TV  / Doin’ time in Babylon / So suck the fat, cut the bone  / Fill it up with silicone  / Everybody must get cloned  / Doin' time in Babylon.” —Watch the Emmylou Harris performance of “Time in Babylon.”  This song partly inspired Walter Brueggemann’s book “Out of Babylon.”

Altar call. “Power always thinks it has a great soul and vast views beyond the comprehension of the weak and that it is doing God’s service.” —John Adams, second president of the United States



Featured this week on prayer&politiks:

• “Parable of the Sower,” a litany for worship

• “There is a new creation: The Apostle Paul’s vision of the ministry of reconciliation

• “Are the poor ‘always with us'? Brief commentary on a fatalistic reading of an ancient text

• “All People That On Earth Do Dwell,” new lyrics to an old hymn

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