News, views, notes, and quotes

30 April 2015  •  No. 19

Invocation. “In the book of love's own dream, where all the print is blood / Where all the pages are my days, and all my lights grow old / When I had no wings to fly, you flew to me, you flew to me.” —“Attics of My Life,” performed by the Levon Helm band, written by the Grateful Dead’s Robert Hunger and Jerry Garcia

In case you missed last week’s 25th anniversary commemoration of the Hubble Space Telescope, view a few of its spectacular images.

Call to worship. A seven-year-old’s recitation of “All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small.”

Speaking of creatures great and small. There are an estimated 100,000,000,000 galaxies in the universe. Of those, our own—the Milky Way—is some 90,000 light years across and contains some 200,000,000,000 stars. The average human body has about 37,200,000,000 cells.
       Extra credit question: If each of these heavenly bodies housed about the same number of human beings as does Earth, calculate the total number of cells.

This is “the greatest threat to the Grand Canyon in the 96-year history of the park.” —Grand Canyon National Park Superintendent Dave Uberuaga, speaking of plans for Escalade, a private developer’s massive housing development, strip malls and tourist resort near the Canyon’s southern border. The prospect of jobs and economic development has divided the Navajo Nation in that area and provoked angry responses from nearby Hopi and Zuni Nations.
        “My mother was told by my great-grandmother, ‘You don’t go to the rim without a serious reason. You don’t go there just to look. You go there to pray.’” —Renae Yellowhorse, Navajo reservation resident

Hymn of praise. John Rutter’s musical rendition of “A Gaelic Blessing” sung by Millennium Youth Choir.

Not so woolly-headed after all: Realistic thinking about nonviolent struggle. A 12+ minute talk by Erica Chenoweth at TEDxBoulder about the success of nonviolent civil resistance.

Of everything I’ve read on the death of Freddie Gray while in Baltimore police custody, “Why Freddie Gray ran,”  an editorial in the Baltimore Sun, is the best. Also recommended, “The problem with wanting ‘peace’ in Baltimore,” by Kazu Haga, Waging Nonviolence.

Why the rest of the world is incredulous at Americans grousing over the “sluggish” US economy, now in the eight year of recovery from the Great Recession. Bets on this week’s professional boxing match between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao could reach the $100 million mark. Secondary market ringside seats are averaging $10,500 each, some as high as $30,000. The single event record for Vegas betting was $119+ million for 2014’s Super Bowl between the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks.

In better sporting news. Lydia Ko, the world’s top woman golfer, announced this week she will donate all her prize money from an upcoming tournament to earthquake relief efforts in Nepal. Should she win, the contribution would be $195,000.

“2 Americans killed on Everest.” Headline in USA Today. At last count, 6,000+ non-Americans also died in the devastating earthquake in Nepal (now counting 4 US citizens). Want to contribute? Here is a site profiling numerous reputable, engaged humanitarian relief organizations if you want to contribute to relief efforts.

Lection for Sunday next. If you’re willing to jump the lectionary tracks on Mother’s Day (10 May), consider focusing on the evocative character of “Wisdom” in Proverbs 8-9.

We are all meant to be mothers of god. What good is it to me if this eternal birth of the divine Son takes place unceasingly but does not take place within myself? And what good is it to me if Mary is full of grace if I am not also full of grace? What good is it to me for the Creator to give birth to [God’s] Son if I do not also give birth to him in my time and my culture. This then is the fullness of time: When the Son of God is begotten in us.” —Meister Eckhart

Right: Design by Ken Sehested.

Speaking of Mother’s Day, see “A Brief History of Mother’s Day” and “Mother’s Day,” a litany for worship drawn from the words of Julia Ward Howe

Bread and Roses.”  “As we go marching, marching, we bring the greater days. / For the rising of the women means the rising of us all. / No more the drudge and idler, ten toil where one reposes. / But a sharing of life’s glories, bread and roses, bread and roses.” —The 1912 textile workers strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts, is referred to as the “bread and roses” strike. Some say the phrase came from a James Oppenheim poem; others, from union organizer Rose Schneiderman. The poem was set to music by Carolina Kohisaat and, later, a different version by Martha Coleman.

This week marks the second anniversary of the Rana Plaza garment factory collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh, killing 1,129, the majority of them women. It is the deadliest structural failure in modern history. Garments made there supplied numerous retailers in the US. Such costs are not factored in to calculations of “free” trade.

Song of lament.Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child,” Sweet Honey in the Rock.

Discerning vocation. I recently had reason to respond to a friend’s ache and confusion over the apparent collapse of her aspired career: I think you already know there’s no getting around the discomfort—just never forget that the Discomforter’s purpose is to guide and not to punish.

 “I remember the first time I encountered the image of God as a laboring woman. I was reading Isaiah” for a seminary class. When I got to the “middle of chapter 42, I was stopped cold: ‘For a long time I have held my peace, I have kept still and restrained myself; now I will cry out like a woman in labor, I will gasp and pant’ (v. 14). What came to mind was an old photograph, “grainy, black-and-white” of “a woman in a hospital bed . . . her face knotted in agony. . . . You could practically hear a low, loud groan emerging from her throat.
            “So there I was sitting on my sofa, reading Isaiah picturing . . . God’s face contorted in struggle; God groaning the way that a laboring woman groaned . . . and I felt profoundly uncomfortable. I felt disturbed.” (In addition to depicting God as a laboring woman, Isaiah also likens God to a midwife and a nursing mother.)
        These images “compel me in their suggestion of a divine body that suffers, changes, swells, and leaks. For me, a divine body that leaks is also a divine body that discomfits.” —Lauren F. Winner, “Divine contractions,” The Christian Century

Photo at right by Jennifer Loomis, from her book “Portraits of Pregnancy: The Birth of a Mother.”

“. . . and his arms were made agile . . . by El-Shaddai [“the Almighty”] who will bless you with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that lies beneath, blessings of the breasts and of the womb.” —Genesis 45:24-25

“Only those with wombs of welcome . . . can magnify God heal the earth.” —Ken Sehested, “Annunciation

“There'll be icicles and birthday clothes / And sometimes there'll be sorrow.” Mother’s Day is not always happy. In 1964 at age 21, singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell’s boyfriend left her, pregnant. She kept it a secret from her family and gave her daughter up for adoption. Her 1970 song “Little Green” speaks to that experience. This grief is also behind her song “River”: “Oh, I wish I had a river so long / I would teach my feet to fly / I made my baby say goodbye.”
       She and her daughter reunited in 1997. Sometimes joy catches up from behind.

Joni Mitchell, by Mardeen Gordon, embroidered replica of Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” cover painting.

If you buy flowers in the days leading up to Mother’s Day, there’s a 70% chance they come from Colombia, which has the dubious distinction of having the world’s longest-running civil war (since 1948, deepened further in 1964) as well as the country with the largest population of internally displaced persons. These realities sustain the paltry income of flower industry workers (about $250 per month), and the intentional removal of import duties by the US on Colombia flower imports as one element in it “war on drugs” campaign make for a thriving cash crop economy. Colombia receives more US military assistance than any other country in the western hemisphere.
        •The Mennonite Central Committee annually sponsors Days of Prayer and Action for Colombia,” which includes extensive worship and advocacy materials for local congregations.
        •Since 2012 the government of Cuba, supported by the Norwegian government, has sponsored peace negotiations between the Colombian government and Colombia’s largest insurgent group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.
        •The US war on drugs has had a host of unintended consequences, including the killing of an American missionary Veronica Bowers and her infant daughter when their plane, suspected to be smuggling drugs, was shot down over Peru. Watch this dramatic five-minute video of CIA pilots tracking the plane arguing that the Bowers plane “does not fit the profile.”

Hymn of Assurance.All the Weary Mothers of the Earth.” —Joan Baez

Preach it. An inspiring 50-second video of Colombians saying, “La Paz de Mañana Empieza Hoy (Tomorrow’s Peace Starts Today)"

Former Wall Street slave market. “Walk down the canyon of Wall Street and you'll come across several of Lower Manhattan's 38 historical markers, most of them celebrating achievements in fields like finance and skyscraper-building. But soon a new marker will raise a more ominous subject: how New York City was built on the backs of slaves. It will be the city's first acknowledgement on a sign designed for public reading that in the 1700s New York had an official location for buying, selling, and renting human beings,” beginning in 1626. —Jim O’Grady, “City to Acknowledge It Operated a Slave Market for More Than 50 Years,” WYNC News

Harper's Magazine illustration of the New York City slave market in 1643. Harper's/Wikipedia Commons.

        The forerunners of some of the same financial institutions now ensconced in the area—like Aetna, New York Life and JPMorgan Chase—bankrolled the Southern plantation economy even after these Manhattan slave markets disappeared. (Though, one could argue, it's now just a different kind of slavery—fully as legal, morally justifiable, and socially acceptable as the other kind once was. We need a new breed of abolitionists.)

Seasoned Supreme Court observers report that Tuesday’s oral arguments over same-sex marriage revealed mixed opinions. Judge Anthony Kennedy wondered if the topic needs more time for public discussion, saying the consensus on one-man-one-woman marriage arrangements has been in place for millennia.
        Of course, the same is true for polygamy (not to mention slavery), a practice limited to the wealthy who could afford extensive property holdings, which included women. It’s right there in the Bible. Exodus 20-21 has multiple references to women on lists of property, including the last (20:17) of the Ten Commandments.
       But Judge Kennedy's comment illustrates what we often forget: Lasting social change requires shifts both in public policy and in public consensus. At least half of the work doesn't happen in DC. It happens on streets whose signs are familiar to you.

Call to the table. “We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure, but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of the world. To make injustice the only measure of our attention is to praise the Devil. If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down, we should give thanks that the end has magnitude.” —Jack Gilbert, “A Brief for the Defense

Art at left ©Julie Lonneman.

Benediction. The Brooklyn Rider string quartet’s “Walking on Fire” is emotive rehearsal for what lies just outside the sanctuary door—and for which the sanctuary is not an escape but a preparation. Cf. Isaiah 43:2.

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Featured this week on prayer&politiks:

“A brief history of Mother’s Day”

Mother’s Day,” a litany for worship

Netting the Absurd: Fishing on the other side of what we think possible,” a sermon by Nancy Hastings Sehested


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