News, views, notes, and quotes

21 May 2015  •  No. 22

Invocation. "This old world is mean and cruel, / But still I love it like a fool, this world, / This world, this world." —Malvina Reynolds, “This World”

Right: ©Julie Lonneman

Call to Worship. “Send Me,” a litany drawing from Isaiah 6:1-8.

¶ Let’s begin with birthday remembrances of three lesser-known faces among the cloud of witnesses: Bayard Rustin (17 March), Rachel Carson (27 May) and Malcolm X (19 May).

Bayard Rustin (17 March 1912 – 24 August 1987) is among the least well-known key leaders of the modern US Civil Rights Movement. Mostly because he was a gay black man.
        It didn’t help that he was also a pacifist—before, during and after World War II—and served three years in a federal penitentiary, beginning in 1943, for his refusal of military service.
        It also didn’t help that for a few years, before Joseph Stalin came to power in the Soviet Union, Rustin was a member of the Communist Party. He never looked back on that affiliation; in fact, he later became an outspoken critic of Soviet aggression. But he always considered himself a socialist.
        At various times Rustin was a brilliant strategic planner for the American Friends Service Committee (he was a lifelong Quaker), the Fellowship of Reconciliation, the Congress on Racial Equality, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and the War Resisters’ League. Many would say his signature accomplishment was as the organizing strategist for the 1963 March on Washington.

Right: Design by Ken Sehested.

¶ Here are some media sources on Rustin’s life for more information:
        •Watch this stirring 4-minute clip from the film, “Brother Outsider—The Life of Bayard Rustin.”
        •Here is a 4-minute video, “Bayard Rustin in Pictures
        • Read this extraordinary brief essay, “Nonviolence vs. Jim Crow” by Bayard Rustin, about his 1942 arrest on a bus trip.
        •Want more? Here’s a 53-minute audio program, “State of the Reunion,” profiling of Rustin’s life.

Can’t you just imagine Rustin’s angelic smile today when he heard the news that Boy Scouts of America President Robert Gates called for an end to the group’s blanket ban on gay adult leaders?

“I remembered Bayard Rustin, a conscientious objector who had served time in prison during the Second World War and then became a leader in the civil rights movement, saying that being a pacifist is one-tenth conscientious objection and nine-tenths working to do away with the things that make for war." —David Hartsough with Joyce Hollyday, Waging Peace: Global Adventures of a Lifelong Activist

“My activism did not spring from my being gay, or for that matter, from my being black. Rather it is rooted, fundamentally, in my Quaker upbringing and the values that were instilled in me by my grandparents who reared me.” —Bayard Rustin, I Must Resist: Bayard Rustin’s Life in Letters, edited by Michael G. Long

Rachel Carson (27 May 1907 – 14 April 1964) was a marine biologist and conservationist. Her 1962 book, The Silent Spring, documenting the poisonous effects (on birds, especially) of widespread use of pesticides, is considered by many to have launched the modern environmental movement.
        As you might imagine, chemical companies mounted fierce resistance, including threatened legal action and a disinformation campaign (sound familiar?), to discredit the book. One industry biochemist called Carson “a fanatic defender of the cult of the balance of nature." A former US Secretary of Agriculture said that because Carson was unmarried despite being physically attractive, she was “probably a Communist.” Her signature accomplishment was the successful campaign to ban the use of DDT. Her enduring legacy was recalled in the creation, under President Nixon in 1970, of the US Environmental Protection Agency; and, in 1980, President Carter posthumously awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Left: ©Ricardo Levins Morales, RLM Art Studio.

¶ "All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident." —Arthur Schopenhauer, 19th century German philosopher

Malcolm X (19 May 1925 – 21 February 1965) was born Malcolm Little (also known as el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz). By age 20 he was in prison, where he converted to the Nation of Islam. Afterward he quickly became a leader in the movement and was known for his black supremacy message and frequent criticism of civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King Jr., for their integrationist vision. (On choosing “X” for a last name, he said, “For me, my ‘X’ replaced the white slave master name of ‘Little’ which some blue-eyed devil named Little had imposed upon my paternal forebears.”) He later became disillusioned with the Nation of Islam, spurred in part by his growing international connections in the Muslim world and conversion to Sunni Islam. As his vision of the future became more expansive, King’s was becoming deeper. Many have speculated that, had they lived, their respective trajectories might have led to some form of collaboration. (For a fuller exploration of their differences and similarities, see James Cone’s monumental work, Martin, Malcolm & America: A Dream or a Nightmare.)

On the 50th anniversary of the publication of The Autobiography of Malcolm X.
        Malcolm X’s Autobiography was the first book that scared me. Here I was, in the transition from adolescence to young adulthood, secretly abandoning my pietist-revivalist rearing in favor of the more verdant fields of liberalism, and here’s this guy, who I now am ready to befriend, sharply critical of liberal integrationists! (continue reading Ken Sehested's essay)

An encouraging word. “I am one of 450,000 hospice volunteers in the United States. Hospice programs now care for 60% of all dying patients each year, a total of 1.5 million. . . . I’ve purchased lottery tickets and fetched bialys from Zabar’s, the specialty grocery store on Broadway. I’ve scored weed in the Village for an 80-year-old doctor with lung cancer and schlepped it by subway to the Upper West Side. I rolled its sticky green leaves into a thin joint and watched her relax for the first time since I met her. I’ve read all 150 chapters of Psalms in one sitting and written tactful letters to childhood friends. I’ve bought Champagne for last birthdays and white carnations, their smell harking back to some unstated but precious memory from years gone by. Once, when Hostess briefly discontinued Twinkies, I scoured a dozen delis in Brooklyn for the cream-filled, spongy yellow cakes. I finally found a carton on eBay.” —Ann Neumann, “Their Dying Wishes,” New York Times

Lectionary for Sunday next. “For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption” as “heirs of God and joint heirs in Christ.” —Romans 8:15

Grandmas can be tough when they need to be. “Keromela Anek tossed her naked body back and forth in the roadway, blocking a government convoy in the remote village of Apaa, Uganda which was to be redistricted to help facilitate the sale of the peoples’ land to South African investor Bruce Martin, who hoped to use the heavily forested, currently-populated area for sports game hunting.” —Phil Wilmot, “Meet the Ugandan peasant grandmother who terrifies her president

A new survey report of the financial service industry in the US and the United Kingdom documents what many suspect: unethical or illegal behavior is endemic to the financial services industry. Released Thursday by University of Notre, the study shows that a third of those making $500,000 annually “have witnessed or have firsthand knowledge of wrongdoing in the workplace.” Nearly one in five feel unethical or illegal activity essential for success. And half believe regulatory agencies are ineffective.
        •“The pattern of bad behavior did not end with the financial crisis, but continued despite the considerable public sector intervention that was necessary to stabilize the financial system,” William C. Dudley, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, said in a speech late last year on Wall Street culture. “I reject the narrative that the current state of affairs is simply the result of the actions of isolated rogue traders or a few bad actors within these firms.”
        •Many of those surveyed said they had signed (or been asked to sign) a confidentiality agreement that would prohibit them from reporting illicit activity to regulatory authorities. —Andrew Ross Sorkin, “Many on Wall Street Say It Remains Untamed
Surprise, surprise. “The day after the above report was issued, news came that five global financial institutions agreed to plead guilty to multiple crimes and pay about $5.6 billion in penalties for manipulating foreign currencies and interest rates.” Attorney General Loretta Lynch called the crimes “a brazen display of collusion” causing “pervasive harm.” —Deidre Fulton, “Latest Guilty Pleas Prove Big Bank Criminality ‘Rampant,’ But Jail Time Non-Existent”

Numb-ers. In 2013 the cumulative earnings of the top 25 hedge fund managers ($21.1 billion-with-a-b) was 2.5 times the income of every kindergarten teacher in the country combined.

And. . .Just the annual bonuses for just the sliver of Americans who work just in finance just in New York City dwarfed the combined year-round earnings of all Americans earning the federal minimum wage." —Nicholas Kristoff, “Inequality Is a Choice,” New York Times

Quotes to stir reflections. Collecting quotes has been an important way to deepen my own thinking, to remember keen insights—a kind of compost for the soul. The “quotable quotes”  section on this site is one repository. Here are two (free) electronic sources of daily insights to which you can subscribe: Inward/Outward from The Church of the Saviour and The Daily Dig, from Plough, a ministry of the Bruderhof Community. And another favorite source of quotes is Spirituality & Practice.
        Have sources of your own? Post those in the reader comments section at bottom.

Intercession. “Now, I don’t know much but I can tell when something’s wrong, and something’s wrong, but some holy ghost keeps me hangin’ on.” —Mavis Staples, “Holy Ghost

The thrill is gone. Years ago, after moving to Memphis (Tennessee, not Egypt), I dubbed it “the city where two Kings died”—Elvis and Martin. With the “King of the Blues’” recent passing, make that a trinity. Born in the Mississippi Delta, Riley B. (later “B.B.” for “Blues Boy”) King’s first recordings were produced by Sam Phillips, who later founded the famous Sun Records in Memphis.
        My one personal connection with King came when my wife performed the wedding of King’s tour manager and Ruby Wilson, “Queen of Memphis” and a regular performer at B.B. King’s Blues Club. King was the best man. That evening, using a stage door pass, we were escorted to the front table at his club on Beale Street, feet away from the man-his-own-self.
        King’s Grammy Award-winning “The Thrill Is Gone”  was playing in my mind when writing “Oh foofaraw,” a call to worship. Ruby Wilson’s rendition of “Just a Closer Walk With Thee”  is my favorite. (Ruby blew out the sound system in our church when she sang for us one Sunday.) If you want a New Orleans-style version of that old hymn, listen to Joshua Stewart & The Bourbon Street Stompers.

Hymn of confession.I Need Thee, O, I Need Thee,” Sam Robson—nine-part harmony, and he does them all.

On the theme of “calling.” Béla Fleck, arguably the world’s greatest banjo player, grew up in a home with minimal music. But he came enchanted with the sound of the banjo after hearing Earl Scrugg’s theme song to the television sitcom “Beverly Hillbillies.” You never know where revelation will strike, sometimes like dry lightning from rainless skies.

Hillbilly Bach. This Béla Fleck banjo rendition of Bach’s Violin Partita #3 will scramble your genre brains.

Preach it. “In what historian Daniel Rodgers has termed our ‘age of fracture,’ the individual self has become the locus of liberation, and the shopping mall and smartphone the sites of redemption.” —Robert Westbrook, The Christian Century

Call to the table.There is room at the table for everyone,” Carrie Newcomer.

Right: Fritz Eichenberg, “The Lord’s Supper”

Hymn of commitment.The Race,” The Steel Wheels

Benediction. “Nothing is exempt from resurrection.” —Kay Ryan, “Waste”

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Featured this week on prayer&politiks:

• “After the ecstasy, the laundry,” a sermon Isaiah 6:1-8; Psalm 29; John 3:1-17

• “Lovers in Dangerous Times, a sermon on Romans 8:12-25

• “Send Me,” a litany for worship inspired by Isaiah 6:1-8

• “Oh foofaraw,” a litany for worship inspired by Jeremiah 15:16-19

• “On reading Malcolm X’s Autobiography,” an essay marking the 50th anniversary of its publication

©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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