News, views, notes, and quotes

8 December 2014, No. 2

Correspondence. It’s gratifying to get words of encouragement from prayer&politiks readers. And also instructive. One friend  (thanks, Dave) wrote to say love your stuff, but added will you include some positive notes in “signs of the times”? It’s among the most common of human tendencies, to highlight the hard news and skirt the hopeful. Our letters to editors tend to be complaints more than compliments. We all tend to begrudge red lights more than we appreciate the green. Providentially, the same day I got the one note, another friend (thanks, Marty) sent a story of note (below).

Indigenous groups in Guatemala won a rare victory against corporate encroachment when the country’s legislature voted 4 September 2014 to repeal the “Monsanto Law” which would “have given the transnational chemical and seed producer intellectual property rights to crop seeds. . . . The law put in place stiff penalties for any farmer that was caught selling seed to another farmer without the proper permits.” You can find the full story at 

There was a different age. After Dr. Jonas Salk developed the polio vaccine in 1955, he was asked by reporter Edward R. Murrow: "Who owns the patent on this vaccine?" Responded Salk, "Well, the people, I would say. There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?" —Paul Buchheit, “The Carnage of Capitalism”

Another reader exchange was equally illuminating. In response to a note of thanks for “Chaos or community: Which way? Advent commentary on grand jury findings” (see the “blog” section of this site), I concluded a response with “There is agony in the air, and we must listen for the sounds of angel wings.” He wrote back immediately: “Nor, alas, dare we ignore the flailing of devils’ tails.” No truer word. (Thanks, Ed.)

Church-lawn Christmas manger scenes routinely censor the presence of Herod’s assassins. To my knowledge, the only Christmas carol reference to the “slaughter of the innocents” story in Matthew 2 is the “Coventry Carol,” performed in Coventry, England, author unknown, dating from the 16th century, which concludes:
            Herod, the king, in his raging, / Charged he hath this day / His men of might, in his owne sight, / All young children to slay. / That woe is me, poor Child for Thee! / And ever mourn and sigh, / For thy parting neither say nor sing, / Bye, bye, lully, lullay.
            The song was featured in a Christmas 1940 BBC broadcast from the bombed-out ruins of the city’s Cathedral, which was later rebuilt and dedicated to the ministry of reconciliation. (See the fascinating story of this ministry at:

[New lyrics  lyrics to “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”]

AWEsome. To mark the first anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s passing, Yes! magazine posted a grocery-store flash mob video honoring the occasion in music. This is three minutes of ecstasy:

¶ “This is not Sunday school. This is interrogation. This is rough stuff.” So said former US Senator Trent Lott in a 2004 news conference responding to reporters question about abuse depicted in photos from the Abu Graib prison in Iraq. Any day now the long-awaited 500-page “executive summary” of the Senate’s 6,000-page report on torture practiced by the Central Intelligence Agency is scheduled for release. Critics of the anticipated release, like Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Michigan), chair of the House Intelligence Committee, say releasing the report on violence and deaths “will cause violence and deaths.” Senator Mark Udall (D-Colorado), on the other hand, said in an Esquire magazine interview, “People will abhor what they read. They’re gonna be disgusted. They’re gonna be appalled. They’re gonna be shocked at what we did.”

White privilege. This week one of our best syndicated columnists, Leonard Pitts, wrote a piece with the most succinct accounting of white privilege I’ve ever seen, contrasting two viral videos.
         First, “play the video of Joseph Houseman, a 63-year-old white man who, back in May, stood with a rifle on a street in Kalamazoo, Michigan. When police arrived, he refused to identify himself, grabbed his crotch, flipped them the bird and cursed. They talked him down in an encounter that lasted 40 minutes. Houseman was not arrested. The next day, he got his gun back.”
         Then “play the video of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old black boy who, last month, was playing with a realistic-looking toy gun in a Cleveland park. When police arrived, an officer jumped out of the car and shot him at point-blank range. There was no talking him down. Indeed, the entire encounter, from arrival to mortal wounds, took about two seconds.”

Youth ministers. Starting preparing for Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday anniversary. There are many videos of his 18-minute “I Have a Dream” speech on the web. But then tack past the “dreamy” piety that has tamed King’s vision. One idea: The A.J. Muste Memorial Institute <> has attractively published pamphlets containing three of Dr. King’s most famous sermons: “Loving Your Enemies,” “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” and “Declaration of Independence from the War in Vietnam.” Order enough for each of your youth. Maybe partner with a youth group from another congregation whose racial makeup is different from yours. Plan a discussion of these sermons sometime around the holiday.

[Worship planners: Search for “Martin Luther King” in the litanies section of this site for several items appropriate for a service commemorating Dr. King.]

The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s 2014 annual report documented what’s been true for decades: On average, US citizens give about 3 percent of their income to charitable organizations. And the trend of lowering rates among the wealthy accelerated: Between 2006-2012, those earning $200,000 or more annually reduced their charitable gifts by 4.6 percent. Those earning less than $100,000 increased their giving by 4.5 percent, despite the fact that they earn less in 2012 than they did six years earlier. The poorest—those who took home $25,000 or less—increased their giving by nearly 17 percent.
            In the Washington Post, Philip Bump wrote: “One would expect that, as the effects of the recession increased, charitable giving would likely drop. As The Chronicle pointed out, though, that's not what happened. . . . States that saw lower poverty increases versus the national average were more likely to see declines. States that saw high poverty increases versus the national average—that is, more poor people—were more likely to see increases.”

Language abuse. “There’s something soothing, spiritual” about our home, speaking of their 7,000 square foot home (whose living room décor is changed with the season) on a 60-acre site, a horse barn of similar size, and an outdoor pool with its own recreation room pool house. —homeowners featured in the “Home of the Week” section of the Asheville Citizen-Times newspaper

Is there a teacher in the house? Kentucky Republican state Senator Brandon Smith, who happens to own a coal mine, offered the following comment during the lawmakers’ discussion of new federal carbon emissions regulations: “I’ll simply point out that I think in academia we all agree that the temperature of Mars is exactly as it is here. Nobody will dispute that. Yet there are no coal mines on Mars.” Turns out, the average Martian temperature is minus-81°. (That’s just short of -63° for Celsius readers.)

OMG. “Christian Jewelry: Ancient Symbols Of Faith Are Hot New Styles: The true heart of Christianity lives within us all. With Christian jewelry we are able to elegantly express the faith of our hearts. The ancient symbols and crosses of Christianity are the perfect way for us all to show our faith in an elegant and personal fashion. Perhaps this is why the ancient symbols of faith are the hottest new styles.” —web surf

¶ “Isn't it just a little nuts that ‘Baptist Pastor wants to emphasize God's Love of All People’ gets a headline?” —Rev. Stan Wilson, pastor, Northside Baptist Church, Clinton, Mississippi, whose public support of the Human Rights Campaign’s work on behalf of the lgbt community in Mississippi was widely publicized in newspapers and other media sources. Reported by LeDayne McLeese Polaski, Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America.

Incarnation. “Holy persons draw to themselves all that is earthly.” —Hildegard of Bingen

In these darkening days, it’s good to recall Emily Dickinson: “Valor in the dark is my Maker’s code.”


©Ken Sehested, Language not otherwise identified above is that of the editor.