News, views, notes, and quotes

16 April 2015  •  No. 18

Invocation. “Earth's crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God; But only he who sees, takes off his shoes….” —Elizabeth Barrett Browning

In memoriam. Award-winning journalist and author Eduardo Galeano died this week at his home in Montevideo, Uruguay. He was best known for his critique of colonialism, Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent, which was banned for years by military dictatorships in Chile, Argentina and Uruguay, which arrested and exiled him in 1973.

Connecting the calendar dots. 22 April is Earth Day. Shortly thereafter, on 27 April, the United Nations begins a scheduled review of the 1970 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (commonly referred to as NPT, “Non-Proliferation Treaty”) to assess progress toward its goal of a nuclear weapons-free world. Then, in August, marks the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
        One hundred ninety-one nations have signed the treaty. India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan and South Sudan have not.
        Much has been made of the NPT as the basis of US negotiations with Iran over its nuclear capacities. What is often forgotten, however, is that Article VI of the treaty requires "Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations [toward the goal of] nuclear disarmament."
        In a dramatic 2009 speech, President Obama called for a non-nuclear world, and the citations in his Nobel Peace Prize mention his efforts to this end. Yet a September 2014 investigation by the New York Times reveals that the Pentagon has plans to modernize the US nuclear capacity, with as much as $1 billion in projected spending over the next three decades

Connecting more dots. “The movements that persevere are those that find a form of hope, even in dark times.” Attention to changing our personal carbon footprints, weatherizing buildings and put solar panels on roofs “is useful and important work, but, as the history of the climate movement demonstrates, this obsession over consumer behavior has limited benefit and tends to reinforce the mindset that created the problem in the first place. We got to this point of environmental crisis by buying into the notion that our value as people lies in our role as consumers. Furthermore, this focus on consumer activism naturally becomes a rich person’s movement. The mantra of ‘vote with your dollars’ means that those without many votes (dollars) don’t matter very much. —Tim DeChristopher, “This Activist Went to Prison for the Climate. Now He Wants Churches To Take Moral Leadership” 

The American Friends Service Committee, in partnership with the Peace & Planet Mobilization for a Nuclear-Free, Peaceful, Just, & Sustainable World, have created this rousing two-minute video linking peace, justice and ecological sustainability in preparation for the 24-26 April conference and mobilization in New York City (including an interfaith convocation on Sunday morning, 26 April).

Earth Day resources on the web from numerous denominational bodies.

See on this site, “The Earth is the Lord’s: A collection of biblical texts which reveal the non-human parts of creation responding to God’s presence, provision and purpose.”

Art (right) by Ken Sehested.

Suggested texts for an Earth Day observance: “In the book of Genesis, the narrative records this blessing given by Isaac to his son: ‘May God give you of the dew of heaven and of the fatness of the earth, and plenty of grain and wine’ (27:28). But the promise of plenty mutates to a point almost beyond recognition, as recorded in this complaint of the Psalmist (73:6-9) against inconsequential living: ‘[P]ride is the necklace [of the wicked]; violence covers them as a garment. Their eyes swell out with fatness, their hearts overflow with follies. They scoff and speak with malice; loftily they threaten oppression. They set their mouths against the heavens, and their tongue struts through the earth.’" —Ken Sehested

"Creation, we are taught, is not an act that happened once upon a time, once and forever. The act of bringing the world into existence is a continuous process. God called the world into being, and that call goes on. There is this present moment because God is present. Every instant is an act of creation." —Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

Preach it. [The book of] “Amos does not conceive of the world as having components that are neatly separable into discrete categories: moral, physical, social, religious. Israel’s political disorder is a disturbance of creation itself.” —Ellen Davis, Scripture, Culture, and Agriculture: An Agrarian Reading of the Bible

Hymn of assurance. Among my all-time favorite recordings is Bobbie McFerrin’s harmonic (and he sings all the parts) rendition of Psalm 23. If you’ve not heard it before, the pronouns will startle at first—but then you’ll be tempted to say, “I think this version was the original.”
        While you’re at it: If you’ve never seen the 4+ minute video of McFerrin using his voice to sound like an organ recital of Bach’s Prelude No. 1 while his performance audience sings Charles Gounod’s “Ave Maria” over the top . . . well, it’s just amazing.

¶ “In a determination that could have far-reaching implications for the agro-chemical giants like Dow Chemical and Monsanto, the research arm of the World Health Organization has declared that glyphosate—the key ingredient of widely-used herbicides such as Roundup—should now be categorized as a "probable carcinogen" for humans. —“Glyphosate, Favored Chemical of Monsanto & Dow, Declared 'Probable' Source of Cancer for Humans,” Jon Queally

Earth Day good news. A majority of Americans believe they are "morally obligated" to fight climate change, a new poll by Reuters/IPSOS has found. Of the 2,827 people surveyed in the poll, 66% said world leaders are ethically bound to reduce carbon emissions, while 72% believed that responsibility lay with themselves as well. In addition, 64% believe that rising greenhouse gases, which drive climate change, are caused by human activity. —Nadia Prupis, “Majority of Americans Agree Fighting Climate Change a “Moral Obligation"

Art (right) by Ken Sehested.

Less good news. If everyone in the world generated as much trash as the average US citizen, we would need 4.1 more planets the size of earth to hold it all. Which may be related to the fact that we have more shopping malls than high schools.

The photo at left of a sanitation truck captures our dilemma: “Waste Pro,” a large American flag, and the politically pious phrase “God bless the USA.”

Which may explain why we need more guns: The US has nearly as many gun dealers (129,817) as gas stations (143,849). As one of my own state’s legislators said it recently: “The more guns we have in society, the politer society will be.”  That would be Rep. George G. Cleveland, sponsor of one of several bills in the North Carolina legislature that loosen gun buying and concealed weapons restrictions.

Intercession. “Galileo was bluffing / It’s just a mess out here / There’s no compass to guide us / Through the flashes of violence and fear.” “Sweet Disaster,” Whitehorse

Sam Cooke’s 1963 classic “A Change Is Gonna Come,” written after his own run in with racism, became something of an anthem for the Civil Rights Movement.
        Change is coming, too, in US-Cuban relations. President Obama’s announcement on Tuesday that Cuba will be dropped from the State Department’s list of “state sponsors of terrorism,” together with his decision in December to normalize diplomatic relations, needs to be framed in light of this Friday’s anniversary of the Central Intelligence Agency’s ill-fated “Bay of Pigs” invasion of Cuba in 1961.
        The move allows some loosening of economic relations, but most such restrictions are still governed by US legislation enforcing a widespread economic embargo of the country. Given Republican control of Congress, legislation ending the embargo isn’t likely to happen soon. Eventually, though, US businesses interest in access to 11 million new consumers will erode Republican opposition.

Which makes me remember a conversation in Camagüey some years ago with a member of our “partner” congregation. We asked Alexi, a computer programmer and lay leader in the church, if he thought the US embargo of Cuba would ever end. He thought for a minute, then said, “Yes, it will happen eventually.” He then looked away, awkwardly, and continued saying “What I fear, though, is that when it does, your country will simply buy my country.”

At left: Atlanta Falcon cheerleaders boost enhanced interrogators' morale at Guantánamo Bay.

Gitmo still a brutal reality.  "As Americans, we have a profound commitment to justice—so it makes no sense to spend $3 million per prisoner [per year] to keep open a prison that the world condemns and terrorists use to recruit," US President Barack Obama said in his January 2015 State of the Union address. "I will not relent in my determination to shut it down. It's not who we are. It's time to close Gitmo." Shortly after taking office in 2009 Obama signed an executive order requiring the close of the detention facilities. Its continuing operation is testimony to the resistance against such a move.

The military prison at Guantánamo Bay Naval Base on Cuba’s southeastern shore was opened 11 January 2002. A legal invention by President George W. Bush’s lawyers claimed that since the detainees were not on US soil, they would be considered “enemy combatants” and thus denied basic protections guaranteed by the US Constitution. White House counsel Alberto Gonzalez called the Geneva Conventions (on the wartime treatment of civilians and soldiers) "quaint." These are the same lawyers that invented euphemisms like “enhanced interrogation techniques” for things like waterboarding.
        •780 prisoners have been incarcerated there. Between 17-22 were under the age of 18. The current inmate total is 122.
        •Only 5% of detainees were captured by US forces. 86% were turned over by others in exchange for bounties.
        •Total operating expense of the prison to date: more than $5 billion
        •Wikileaks documents revealed the Pentagon considered at least 150 detainees were completely innocent.
        •Only nine detainees have been convicted of any crime.

Call to the table. “Finish, then, Thy new creation; / Pure and spotless let us be; / Let us see Thy great salvation / Perfectly restored in Thee.” —"Love Divine, All Loves Excelling," Charles Wesley (transcribed for classical guitar and performed by Jeffry Hamilton Steele)

Right, hundreds of origami birds forming art at the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum.

The US assumed control over Guantánamo Bay, a 45-square-mile naval base, in 1903 as part of a transition agreement (including a US-authored Cuban Constitution which guaranteed the right of intervention in Cuba affairs) following the Spanish-American War, when the US gained control of Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines and Guam.

Ongoing saga. Given the attention to yet another police shooting of an unarmed black man—this one by a volunteer deputy in Tulsa, Oklahoma, while the victim was laying face down on the ground—news of settlement in an older case went largely unnoticed. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel this week announced that the city has agreed to provide $5.5 million in reparations to victims of former Police Commander Jon Burge who for two decades, beginning in the early ’70s, tortured more than 100 people, all but one African American men. The city has already spent $100 million on this case in settlements and legal fees. Burge, who spent less than four years in prison, still receives his pension.

Altar call: Why we need to know hard things. “The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them.” —Ida B. Wells (1862–1931), African-American journalist, newspaper editor, suffragist, sociologist, and anti-lynching activist

At left, cover of Ida B. Wells’ 1892 "Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases."

Benediction.One Love,” Bob Marley

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Featured this week on prayer&politiks:

“Poisoned sea, impoverished soul: A litany of lament over a despoiled ocean”

“The Earth is the Lord’s: A collection of biblical texts which reveal the non-human parts of creation responding to God’s presence, provision and purpose”

“The Earth is the Lord’s,” a litany for worship

“Holy Obedience: One Christian’s story of civil disobedience (calling for the closure of Guantánamo Bay prison)”


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