News, views, notes, and quotes

9 April 2015  • No. 17

Invocation. “ Love is / The funeral pyre / Where I have laid my living body. / All the false notions of myself / That once caused fear, pain, / Have turned to ash / As I neared God.” —Hãfez, 14th century Persian poet whose work is regarded as a pinnacle of Persian literature

A novice once came to Abba Macarius in the monastery at Scete, eager to excel quickly in his quest for holiness. “I’ve got three days to spend here,” he said. “I want to learn how to be a Desert Father just like you.” The abbot’s amused response was to send him to a nearby cemetery, instructing him to make all manner of accusations against those buried there. Though confused by the instruction, the novice complied.
        The next day the abbot issued an even more unusual assignment to the novice. This time, he instructed the novice, go to the cemetery and utter the most profound praises to those buried in these same graves. The novice dutifully complied. But at the end of the day he reported back that not a single one among the dead had replied either to curses or praises.
        Macarius responded, saying that they must be holy people indeed. “You insulted them and they did not answer; you applauded them and they said nothing. Go and do likewise.” —cited in Belden Lane’s “Backpacking with the Saints”

Left: Venerable Macarius the Great of Egypt

Call to worship.Rain in the Valley,”  Steel Wheels

“He who would do good to another must do it in Minute Particulars,” said William Blake. An example I heard recently: A wig shop owner in our city specializes in providing care for women undergoing chemotherapy. She makes space in her store for special parties, with friends of one losing her hair gathering for a ritualized head-shaving and selection of a wig, then a group photo to mark the moment. Catching courage from each other, in all sorts of circumstances, is among the most common forms of practicing resurrection.

¶ Lamentation confounded. Can you understand why those on the margin take little comfort when those in the mainstream pray for “peace”? “I’m praying for peace.” —North Charleston, South Carolina, Police Chief Eddie Driggers in a news conference following the shooting of Walter Scott, an unarmed black man by Michael Slager, a police officer. Slager fired his weapon eight times as Scott was running away. The scene was caught on cell phone video by a bystander.

Right: Artwork ©Julie Lonneman

¶ I recently wrote a brief thank-you note to Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Leonard Pitts (one of our best, in my opinion) for his 28 March 2015 commentary on the Starbucks’ “race together” campaign, where he points out that before we can have a meaningful conversation on race we must first have meaningful education (on how we got to where we are).
        Turns out Pitts has compiled a top-10 list of books recommended for just this purpose (plus a “p.s.” on other works): “For a quick list of books folks should read before assaying a discussion on race, try this (in no particular order):”
       Before the Mayflower by Lerone Bennett, Jr.
       Been In the Storm So Long by Leon F. Litwack
       Trouble In Mind by Leon F. Litwack
       The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. DuBois
       The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
       Slavery By Another Name by Douglas Blackmon
       From Slavery To Freedom by John Hope Franklin
       The Warmth of Other Sons by Isabel Wilkerson
       Parting The Waters by Taylor Branch
       Pillar of Fire by Taylor Branch
       At Canaan's Edge by Taylor Branch
        “P.S. I've never read The Miseducation of the Negro by Carter G. Woodson, but am tempted to include it on its towering reputation alone.  Also, the reader should note that this is designed to be a foundational list, i.e., a list designed to give someone a good overview.  For that reason, it doesn't include biographies of important figures (Malcolm X, Martin Luther King), seminal works of literature (no James Baldwin, Claude Brown, Richard Wright or Maya Angelou) or some books that I consider just great reads (Hellhound On His Trail by Hampton Sides, This Was Harlem by Jervis Anderson).”

 ¶ If I were to venture one addition to the above list, it would be Cornel West’s Race Matters. What about you? If you would add one to the list, what would it be? (Post your nomination on the “reader comments” option at bottom.)

The recently agreed framework for continuing negotiations with Iran over its nuclear production program is among the most hopeful turn of events on the international scene in a very long time. This agreement is the latest step in the “Geneva Agreement” (or “Joint Plan of Action”) begun November 2013. These talks resume in June, when it is hoped that specific commitments will be made by Iran on scaling back its capacities and sanctions by the US (and others) will be loosened or abandoned.

Right: Photo from a 2009 Fellowship of Reconciliation trip to Iran.

        Western governments’ negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program has been ongoing for a dozen years. In 2003 France, Germany and the United Kingdom first initiated conversations designed to attain a “mutually-agreed long-term comprehensive solution that would ensure Iran's nuclear programme will be exclusively peaceful.”
        In 2006 they were joined by China, Russia and the US, which together are now referred to at the P5+1. (“P5” is shorthand for the five permanent members of the permanent United Nations Security Council; the “1” is France.) The group’s meetings are chaired by Catherine Margaret (Baroness) Ashton, a Brit serving as the European Union’s foreign affairs and security secretary.
        The recent 17-20 March diplomatic breakthrough on Iran’s nuclear program is not itself an accord; but it does represent a significant step forward as the framework for a detailed compliance accord which addresses the security needs of all parties.

The agreement sent Iranian citizens into the streets to celebrate and Republican leaders (and some significant Democrats) into lock-and-load mode.

Photo: Streets of Tehran celebrations. Atta Kenare/Getty.

During a Senate speech on 24 March, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) urged Israel to make a unilateral strike against Iran: “On the Iranian nuclear deal, [Israel] may have to go rogue.” Rep. Louis Gohmert (R-TX) was more blunt: “I think it’s time to bomb Iran.” On Monday Israel’s Minister of Intelligence confirmed that such a move is possible, saying "It [attacking Iran] was on the table. It's still on the table. It's going to remain on the table."

According to Scott Rider, former Marine intelligence officer, later head of the United Nation’s nuclear weapons inspector team in Iraq (1991-1998), says "The high-profile criticism coming from Israel and Congressional Republicans channel the most extreme examples of the last weapons of mass destruction witch-hunt—involving Iraq—which culminated in a war that killed thousands, cost trillions, and destabilized and further radicalized a region of the world essential to international prosperity.”

Speaking Tuesday night at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, Central Intelligence Agency Director John O. Brennan criticized as “wholly disingenuous” Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s claim that the framework agreement with Iran represents a “pathway to a bomb.” Brennan went on to say he was “pleasantly surprised” that the Iranians had given up as much as they had.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll of US citizens on Wednesday revealed that 31% of Republicans favor a new nuclear deal with Iran. Another 30% of Republicans oppose the pact, while 40% are not sure. Among Democrats, 50% support the plan, 10% oppose it, and 39% are unsure. Among independents: 33% support it, 21% oppose and 45% are unsure.

¶ As far as I can find, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s lead negotiator, has been interviewed by only one US media outlet. However, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s criticisms of the deal have aired dozens of times.

What most US citizens don’t know about the history of US relations with Iran.
        •In August 1953 the US Central Intelligence Agency planned and executed a violent overthrow of Iran’s democratically elected government of Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh, installing in his place Mohammad-Reza Shah (“king”) Pahlavi, an absolute monarch. The CIA admitted in August 2013 its leadership in the coup. Access to Iran’s substantial oilfields was the motivating factor.
        •Twenty-six years later, in 1979, the Shah was overthrown, a theocratic-republican constitution was approved, and exiled leader Ayatollah Khomeini was installed as “supreme leader.”
        • In 1985, in what become known as the Iran-Contra Affair, several high-ranking officials in US President Ronald Reagan’s administration were convicted of selling arms to Iran (then under a US arms embargo) to support its war against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, the weapons delivered by Israel in hopes of securing the release of American hostages in Lebanon, with the money raised to provide illegal support of the “Contra War” against Nicaragua. Then-Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger was among those convicted, but all had their convictions vacated on appeal or were pardoned.
        •At least five Iranian nuclear scientists have been assassinated since 2007. Israel is widely believed to be behind the murders, with tacit US approval. In 2012 an NBC News report concluded that "deadly attacks on Iranian nuclear scientists are being carried out by an Iranian dissident group that is financed, trained and armed by Israel's secret service."
        •An active cyberwar has been going on since 2007, when the US (and, maybe, Israel) launched “Stuxnet,” a software “worm” which infected Iran’s nuclear facilities. (A 2013 article in “Vanity Fair”  magazine documents this ongoing skirmish.)

“Leadership” = warmongering? “The world is starving for American leadership. But America has an anti-war president,” House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said during a Capitol Hill press conference last Thursday.

In case you missed it, or want a second helping, here’s Jon Stewart’s Daily Show comedic take (7+ minutes) on the recent agreement with Iran

"The Middle East is the biggest regional market and there are $110 billion in opportunities in coming decades." —Been Moores, senior defense analyst at HIS Aerospace, Defense and Security which tracks worldwide spending on “defense.” In 2014 global expenditures were more than $64.4 billion, a 13.4% increase from the previous year. These figures do not include the cost of small arms, munitions and surveillance equipment.

It is one of the many paradoxes of the Islamic Republic of Iran that this most virulent anti-Israeli country supports by far the largest Jewish population of any Muslim country. —Barbara Demick, “Iran: Life of Jews Living in Iran”

And there’s this irony. Sixth century Persian (part of modern Iran) Emperor Cyrus the Great is named by the prophet Isaiah (45:1) as “YHWH’s messiah (“messiah,” “anointed one,” and “shepherd,” terms later used in the New Testament to describe Jesus). It was Cyrus who, after conquering Babylon, released the Jews from their Babylonian exile, and then finanzed the refurbishing of the Temple in Jerusalem (Ezra 5:13-15).

Words of assurance. “Ever since happiness heard your name, it has been running through the streets trying to find you.” —Hãfez

Preach it. “Be ignited, or be gone.” —Mary Oliver

Luckily, some crosses are ceremonial and can be put in storage for another year—like this one, carried by prayer&politiks author/editor Ken Sehested, following Easter Sunday's service. Photo by Marc Mullinax.

Lection for Sunday next. “Why is everyone hungry for more? / ‘More, more.’ / I have God’s more-than-enough, / More joy in one ordinary day / Than they get in all their shopping sprees.” —Psalm 4:6-7, The Message, Eugene H. Peterson

Call to the table. “While love is dangerous / 
let us walk bareheaded / beside the Great River. / Let us gather blossoms / under fire. —Alice Walker

Altar call. "We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spike into the wheel itself." —German pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonoeffer. Today is the 70th anniversary of his execution in a Nazi prison.

Benediction. “I have come into this world to see this: the sword drop from men's hands even at the height of their arc of rage because we have finally realized there is just one flesh we can wound.” —Hãfez

# # #

Featured this week on prayer&politiks:

• “We Say No,” a congregational statement (from 2007, renewed in 2012) against war with Iran

• “That friggin Lexus,” a litany for worship

• “Sorry, sorry, sorry,” a poetic indictment of “collateral damage”


©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.