News, views, notes, and quotes

26 March 2015  •  No. 15

Invocation. It’s not the Muslim, not the Jew, but it’s me, O Lord, standing in the need of prayer. —old spiritual, new verse

Amazing. Renewable energy sources “now generate nearly half of Nicaragua's electricity, a figure that government officials predict could rise to 80 percent within a few years. That compares to just 13 percent in the United States. . . . There is so much untapped energy in Nicaragua that it's planning to export electricity to its Central American neighbors.” —John Otis, "Nicaragua's Renewable Energy Revolution Picks Up Steam

The message from Eduardo came with the asunto [subject] line “First time ever!!!!” followed by several photos, taken at the Cuban Institute of Friendship with the People office in Ciego de Avila, where the St. Paul, Minnesota-based Global Volunteers delegation presented an American flag as a gesture of hope for reconciliation. Rev. Eduardo Gonzalez (at left, center, back row), pastor of Iglesia Bautista Enmanuel, served as the local host.
        A gringo friend, Stan Dotson, currently teaching in Cuba who’s been able to travel throughout the island nation, reports that US President Barack Obama’s 17 December 2014 announcement reestablishing diplomatic ties with Cuba has been received with enthusiasm by people across the political spectrum (including the politically indifferent).

Several pieces of legislation have been submitted in the US Senate and House calling for an end to US-Cuba travel restrictions and the US embargo. See this summary by the Washington Office on Latin America.

Intercession. “There are things that can be seen only with eyes that have cried.” —Roman Catholic Archbishop Christophe Munzihirwa, former bishop in the Democratic Republic of Congo, killed in the war there in 1996

Words of assurance. In 1971 music producer Gavan Bryars was working on a film about people living on the street in London, recording their songs of all sorts. One, by a man whose frail voice sang “Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet.” Bryars eventually turned those 13 bars of music into a loop, slowly adding Tom Waits’ voice on top and in harmony, then slowly adding orchestral accompaniment. It is a haunting tune (especially for a Tom Waits fan like myself) to which I’ve listened numerous times as a kind of extended meditation.
        There are versions on the web in several lengths, including a four-minute version , a 20-minute version, and a one hour 14-minute version (the latter available on CD).
       For more of the intriguing story behind this music, see Matthew Archbold’s “The True Story Behind One of the Most Beautiful Hymns I’ve Ever Heard.”

Foot washing. Some years ago, in a visit to our partner congregation in Cuba, our hosts asked us to plan and lead their Wednesday worship service. We chose to focus on the Gospel of John’s “Lord’s Supper” account, where there is no ritual bread and wine observance, only Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. We asked Iglesia Getsemani leaders if we might do a foot washing ritual and found out they had been previously been discussing this. (Pictured at right are two of our members washing the feet of Rev. Angela Hernandez, Iglesia Getsemani’s pastor.)

Lection for Maundy Thursday. “Jesus, knowing that the Abba had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet. . . . After he had washed their feet . . . he said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you?’” —John 13:3-5, 12

Foot washing will alter your point of view. “It remains an experience of incomparable value that we have for once learnt to see the great events of world history from below, from the perspective of the outcasts, the suspects, the maltreated, the powerless, the oppressed and reviled, in short from the perspective of the suffering.” —Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison

“Christ Washing the Feet of the Apostles” by Meister des Hausbuches, 1475, Gemäldegalerie art museum, Berlin, Germany

Preach it.Maundy means commandment; it’s Commandment Thursday. Jesus expression should be serious.” Unfortunately, “the lectionary gives us only the beginning of Jesus’ farewell discourse. His later words in chapter 14-17 clarify the provocative washing of feet and declaring of a new commandment. He speaks of joy: ‘I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete’” [15:10-11]. —David Keck, “Living the Word,” The Christian Century

Disingenuous confession. The modern form of evasive apology by public figures gives the appearance but not the substance of confession. All are variations on the theme of “I’m sorry if my comments offended anyone,” which is to slyly say it’s your fault if you were offended. (See Edwin Battistella’s “The Art of the Political Apology” for more on this topic.)
        Case in point: This week’s “apology” by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his Election Day race-baiting broadcast that “Arab voters are coming in droves to the ballot boxes” and that “left-wing NGOs [non-governmental organizations] are bringing them in buses.” Then, back-tracking on Monday after his reelection, he said “I know the things I said . . . offended some of Israel’s citizens, hurt Arab citizens. I had no intention whatsoever that would happen.” [Approximately 20% of Israel’s citizens are Arab.]
        He also said his election-eve vow to block the creation of a Palestinian state was misunderstood. However, the Likud Party (Netanyahu is its elected leader) Platform states that “The Government of Israel flatly rejects the establishment of a Palestinian Arab state west of the Jordan river.”

Regret is not repentance. Rather, “regret” is often a self-centered sentiment designed to draw attention away from the situation of harm and blind to the requirements of repair.

¶ “Godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation and brings no regret, but worldly grief produces death.” —2 Corinthians 7:10

This, on the other hand, is more like a real confession, though there’s no mention of repairing the damage and though the change isn’t as great as some of us would like. “The former president of Bob Jones University (BJU), one of the nation’s bastions of Christian fundamentalism, has apologized for comments he made in 1980 that gays and lesbians should be stoned to death.”
       “I cannot erase [those words], but I wish I could,” said Bob Jones III (grandson of the school’s founder), who retired in 2005, in response to a petition by an informal network of 2,000 LGBT alumni/ae and their supporters asking him to recant his 1980 statement. —Religious News Service

When Roger Williams, founder of the first Baptist congregation on the American continent, was banished by his fellow Puritan leaders from the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1635, the first of four charges against him was that he held "that we have not our land by patent [land grant] from the king, but that the natives are the true owners of it, and that we ought to repent of such a receiving of it by patent."

There’s no getting over a certain foreboding in Holy Week liturgies (the “Triduum” of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday), including a dimly-lit Tenebrae (literally, “shadows”) service which typically ends in total darkness and silent recessional. We need a reminder that Jesus didn’t die of a heart attack; that he sweat blood trying to figure out an alternative to what by now seemed inevitable; that his closest friends deserted him. He was executed, in the most publicly shameful manner available, as the Roman Empire’s terror-inspiring warning against all insurgent aims.
        If Holy Week’s schedule gets wearisome, take an irreverent break to ponder God’s burden in abiding our pontifical attention: a new poem, "Raucous."

Cross at left hand-painted by artists at the Kairos Community Center, Matanzas, Cuba.

Preparations for Holy Week and Easter. The brutal violence afflicting citizens of Aleppo, Syria, brings to mind another, even longer-standing (and sometimes violent) conflict within the church: When to celebrate Easter? That conflict is based on differing opinions regarding the lunar calendar, dates of the Jewish Passover observance, and a 16th century switch in the Western church from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar. Most years, the Eastern and Western churches observe Easter on different Sundays—often a week apart, sometimes as much as a month, and occasionally on the same day (as in 2010, 2011, 2014, not again until 2017).

In 1997 the World Council of Churches sponsored a parlay in Aleppo in hopes of uniting the global Christian community’s observance. Easter would be defined as the first Sunday following the first astronomical full moon following the astronomical vernal equinox, as determined from the meridian of Jerusalem. This reform has not yet been implemented. (Maybe because it’s too confusing?)

Egad! “Fistfights broke out yesterday between Christians gathered [at the church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem], the site of the crucifixion and burial of Jesus Christ,” according to a 2004 story in The Guardian. There was lots of hitting going on. Israeli police called in to quell the minor riot were hit. “There were a lot of people with bloodied faces.” Theological-ecclesial competitors (does this sound familiar?) have resorted to fisticuffs before and since. Here’s a video of a monk-brawl at the Holy Sepulcher in 2008.

Don’t be surprised when you walk down the aisle of your local CVS to find that the company has decided to do its part in supporting our troops. For $3.99, you can buy a package of camouflage-colored Easter eggs, with matching green and white armed plastic soldiers—the “toy prizes” are just like the jellybeans of Easters past and, according to CVS, “Perfect for Easter egg hunts.” —Nancy Aykanian, “CVS Makes War on Easter,” Common Dreams

Hard to stay focused. On Easter Sunday 2013 the Baylor University (mascot: bear) women’s basketball team played in the NCAA quarterfinals for the national championship. The Waco, Texas, Grace Baptist Church sign that day read: “He is risen /  Go Lady Bears.”

Hershey’s wants a piece of Easter action, too, with a milk chocolate cross. (I didn’t see a fair trade dark chocolate option.)

In the movie Son of God, Jesus is played by Diogo Margado “who plays the title role with a gleaming smile and a surfer-dude vibe.” —USA Today movie review

¶ “As E.B. White watched his wife Katherine planning the planting of bulbs in her garden in the last autumn of her life, he wrote, ‘there was something comical yet touching in her bedraggled appearance . . . the small hunched-over figure, her studied absorption in the implausible notion that there would be yet another spring, oblivious to the ending of her own days, which she knew perfectly well was near at hand, sitting there with her detailed chart under those dark skies in dying October, calmly plotting the resurrection.’
       "Katherine was a member of the resurrection conspiracy, the company of those who plant seeds of hope under dark skies of grief or oppression, going about their living and dying until, no one knows how, when or where, the tender Easter shoots appear, and a piece of creation is healed." —Robert Raines

¶ “Get an Exclusive Coupon on this Cute ALLYOU Easter Craft Kit.”

¶ "To preach to the powerful without denouncing oppression is to promise Easter without Calvary, forgiveness without conversion, and healing without cleansing the wound." —"From What We Have Seen and Heard: A Pastoral Letter on Evangelization From the Black Bishops of the United States," 1984

Altar call. “It is likely that there can be no resurrections by proxy. Each person and each generation may be called to stand anew at the river.” —Vincent Harding, Hope and History: Why We Must Share the Story of the Movement

Art at left ©Julie Lonneman

Closing hymn.There ain’t no grave can hold my body down.” —Johnny Cash

Benediction. “As Tashi Johnson [in Alice Walker's novel Possessing the Secret of Joy] goes to the firing squad, punishment for fighting the edicts of history, her sisters unfurl a banner before the soldiers can stop them. ‘Resistance is the secret of joy,’ it says in huge block letters. 'There is a roar as if the world cracked open and I flew inside,' says Tashi upon seeing the banner. ‘I am no more. And [am] satisfied.’” —Rose Berger, “Pursuing the Secret of Joy,” Sojourners magazine

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