News, views, notes, and quotes

5 March 2015 • No. 12

¶ Invocation. “It happens often among us that praise is either escapist fantasy, or it is a bland affirmation of the status quo. In fact, doxology is a darling political, polemical act that serves to dismiss certain loyalties and to embrace and legitimate other loyalties.” —Walter Brueggemann (See Ken Sehested’s “The Work of Praise”  posted on this site.)

¶ Not just a pretty face. National Geographic researchers say in 1996 there were one billion monarch butterflies making their annual trek from the US to wintering grounds in Mexico. By 2004 that number was cut in half. Now the estimate of surviving Lepidoptera is about 33 million. In mid-February the US Fish and Wildlife Service announced a $3.2 million grant to conversation efforts. This week the Natural Resources Defense Council sued the US Environmental Protection Agency in an attempt to get stronger restrictions on the chemical glyphosate, the main ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide.

¶ Radio for great music and greater stories. If you’ve never caught an "eTown"  radio broadcast, look for it (or listen to past programs on your computer). Begun 24 years ago by Nick and Helen Forster, the weekly program has a lineup of live music—and each week they give an eChievement award (nominations come from listeners) to someone making positive social change in their community, with a 6-7 minutes live or telephone interview with each week’s recipient each week. These are the kinds of small, courageous stories from which large movements begin.

This week’s Call to Worship: “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around,”  This Saturday is the 50th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday,” when horse-mounted sheriffs, local police and state troopers waded into 600 unarmed marchers on the Edmund Pettus bridge in Selma, Alabama, demanding the right to vote. Few remember that Dr. King was absent—in fact he had become discouraged that the struggle in Selma would accomplish anything. Two weeks later King would lead the successful Selma-to-Montgomery march that caught the attention of the nation. Some other memorabilia include:
        •A video clip from that confrontation.
        •A USA Today story, “Remembering the martyrs of Bloody Sunday.”
        •Some background to the song “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around.”
        •National Public Radio story on the man after whom the Edmund Pettus Bridge  was named

¶ King would be preaching about this. “In less than two years, if current trends continued unchecked, the richest 1% percent of people on the planet will own at least half of the world's wealth. That's the conclusion of a new report from Oxfam International stating the rate of global inequality is not only morally obscene, but an existential threat to the economies of the world and the very survival of the planet. ‘Do we really want to live in a world where the one percent own more than the rest of us combined?’ asked Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam International.” —“Richest 1% Percent To Have More Than Rest of Humanity Combined,” Jon Queally, Common Dreams

¶ Confession. “C.S. Lewis abominated religious triumphalism. In ‘The Four Loves,’ for instance he laments the crimes committed by Christians, summoning us to make ‘full confession . . . of Christendom’s specific contribution to the sum of human cruelty and treachery. Large areas of the World will not hear us till we have publicly disowned much of our past. Why should they? We have shouted the name of Christ and enacted the service of Moloch.’” —Ralph Wood, review of “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” movie adaptation of Lewis’ “Chronicles of Narnia,” Christian Century

¶ Words of assurance. “When someone love you, the way they say your name is different. You know that your name is safe in their mouth.” —Billy, age four, from Breathing Together, edited by Richard Kehl

A few notes from the Department of Justice’s recently released report on the Ferguson, Missouri’s police department. While 67% of the city’s population is African American, that community received, over a three-year period studied by investigators:
       •85% of traffic stops, 90% of tickets
       •93% of arrests
For minor incidents like jaywalking, blacks made up
       •95% of the cases
       •92% of disturbing the peace charges
       •were twice as likely to have their vehicles searched, but 26% less likely to have contraband
       •all victims of 14 cases of the department’s K9 unit bite incidents were African American.

¶ Intercession: When prayer and care intersect. “In the face of suffering, one has no right to turn away, not to see. In the face of injustice, one may not look the other way. When someone suffers, and it is not you, they come first. Their suffering gives them priority. . . . To watch over another who grieves is a more urgent duty than to think of God.” —Elie Wiesel

The summer before my senior year of college, my parents adopted a cat. When they found him he was covered in dirt and matted fur. He hung his head low and did not purr. When you ran your hand over him, he was skin and bone to the touch. Then my parents took him to the vet where he was groomed. They took him into a home where he received nourishment and love. Day by day, he became more confident and started to reveal more of his personality. He began to purr. He was like a brand new cat.
        “Some weeks later, my step-dad brought up this transformation. Speaking to the condition in which he was originally found, he said, ‘If being in those conditions does that to a cat, imagine what it does to a human being.’”  —Alison Paksoy, “Unsettled by truth: A border awareness experience,” reflecting on a BPFNA-Bautistas por la Paz “Friendship Tour” in El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, Mexico

For more about immigration, see Out of the House of Slavery: Bible Study on Immigration,”  by Ken Sehested.

¶ Sweet news. Random House announced recently it will publish three new “Dr. Seuss” books based on materials found in 2013 by the good doctor’s widow and his long-time secretary while cleaning his office space. The author, whose real name was Theodore “Ted” Seuss Geisel, died in 1991 at the age of 87. First up, scheduled for this July, is What Pet Should I Get. My personal favorite Seuss tale is The Butter Battle Book.

¶ Even sweeter news. Surely there discussions to be had with “millennials” (generally those born in the two decades after 1980), including questions around the “hook up” culture of sexual relations, along with that age group’s general suspicion of covenant ties of any kind, including the none habits of religious affiliation. I’m no partisan of steepled religion; but religious communities are among the few intergenerational institutions left in our culture which foster communal support in the forming of virtues.
        Yet there is ample, and generally overlooked, news of substantial vision and conviction in this generation for the common good, particularly around racial justice, climate change and income inequality.
        Recently my own city’s newspaper featured a front-page, above-the-fold feature story reporting significant involvements by students in several local colleges, “A new wave of activism: Young people fight for justice.” See the “Student Activism” website for the bigger picture.

¶ Fossil fuel investments skid. In the same newspaper, different section, was a story about how another student group in our region influenced the school’s board of directors to divest holdings in fossil fuel stocks. (I’m proud to say my seminary, Union of New York, did this last year.)
        Now comes a report from the prestigious Bank of England saying that “As the world increasingly limits carbon emissions, and moves to alternative energy sources, investments in fossil fuels . . . may take a huge hit.”
        The report, in the Guardian, also quotes former US Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, who said in 2014: "When the credit bubble burst in 2008, the damage was devastating. We’re making the same mistake today with climate change. We're staring down a climate bubble that poses enormous risks to both our environment and economy."

¶ Speaking of community-formed values. Ethicist Willis Jenkins "believes we stand little chance of significantly addressing a problem like climate change by simply being the moral voice or trying to change someone’s worldview. He writes in The Future of Ethics that we need instead a ‘view of culture in which morality is learned in bodies, carried by practices, and formed into repertories that teach agents how to see and solve problems.’ There is more hope, then, in our liturgies, our songs and our works of charity than in any finger-wagging or attempts at the moral conversion of oil company executives.” —Ragan Sutterfield, “Prayers with feet: Faith and hope at the People’s Climate March,” Christian Century

¶ Lection for Sunday week. “For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed” (John 3:20).

¶ Hear the word. “There is a crack, a crack in everything; that's how the light gets in.” —Leonard Cohen, “Anthem

¶ Altar call. Conservatives are exactly right, of course, to ask liberals about the integrity of moral posture shorn of personal risk.
        “It is hard to know, even in one's own case, whether a commitment that costs nothing has any substance. Doubt is aroused particularly by a consideration of American liberals in a global setting. If the wealth of the entire world were redistributed according to the requirements of equal justice, most American liberals would suffer a large and unpleasant change in circumstances. The fact that any such redistribution, within the foreseeable future, is not even a remote possibility, is precisely what makes the moral posture of liberals so questionable. Deploring the poverty of the common people in Asia and Africa is for most of us morally invigorating and at the same time agreeably inexpensive. —Glenn Tinder, "Liberals and Revolution," The New Republic, 1979

¶ Billionaire industrialists and conservative patrons Charles and David Koch recently announced they will donate $889 million for the 2016 political campaigns, double what they funneled into the 2012 elections. This new gravy bowl total will likely eclipse the amount raised by the Republican Party as a whole—and the latter has to be publicly disclosed where the former does not. Now, of course, the Democrats will beat the bushes for their own deep-pocket patrons, and thus the campaign finance dance ups the beat.
        Remember: It was the former Italian dictator and “father of Fascism” Benito Mussolini who said, “Fascism should more properly be called corporatism, since it is the merger of state and corporate power.”

¶ Benediction. “In the face of death, live humanly. In the middle of chaos, celebrate the Word. Amidst babel, speak the truth. Confront the noise and verbiage and falsehood of death with the truth and potency and efficacy of the Word of God. Know the Word, teach the Word, preach the Word, defend the Word, incarnate the Word, do the Word, live the Word. And more than that, in the Word of God, expose death and all death's works and wiles, rebuke lies, cast out demons, exorcise, cleanse the possessed, raise those who are dead in mind and conscience.” —William Stringfellow, An Ethic for Christians and Other Aliens in a Strange Land

                                                                                                                Artwork at right ©Julie Lonneman

Featured on the prayer&politiks site this week:
      •“The Work of Praise,” a poem about "worship, where questions of worth are determined and competing claims of power are decided"
      •"Out of the House of Slavery: Bible Study on Immigration"
      •"Buttered hot biscuits," a litany for worship

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