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Signs of the Times  •  16 February 2021 •  No. 211

Processional. “Forked-tongued pharaoh, behold he comes to speak / Weeping in the Promised Land / Hissing and spewing, it's power that he seeks / Weeping in the Promised Land / With dread in their eyes, all the nurses are crying / So much sorrow, so much dying / Pharaoh keep a-preaching but he never had a plan / Weeping in the Promised Land.” —John Fogerty, “Weeping in the Promised Land”

Above: Baobab trees in Botswana, photo by Beth Moore

Invocation. “Have mercy upon us, O Lord. Our soul has had more than its fill of the scorn of those who are at ease, of the contempt of the proud.” (Psalm 123:3-4)

        In the end, if we are left to our own devices—to our own amalgam of brains and brawn, of ingenuity and charisma, sleight of hand and strength of arm, in mobilizing sufficient force to bend the will of others to our own, in accordance to self-ordained vision masquerading as fate’s foreordained history—then nothing is forbidden. All authority is subsumed in the will to power. —continue reading “Another Word is in the wind: A psalm of complaint and avowal

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Hymn of praise. “Rejoice in heaven, all ye that dwell therein. / Rejoice on earth, ye saints below. / For Christ is coming, Is coming soon. / For Christ is coming soon.” —“E’evn So, Come Quickly Lord Jesus,” Paul Manz, performed by the Cambridge Singers

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“Nerve us up”: Two texts for Lenten resolve
Shrove Tuesday 2021

This past Sunday one of our members, Stan Wilson, offered the “call to the table” in our congregation’s zoom worship screen-gathering. He led with a suggestion that was equivalent, in my hearing, to a thunderclap.

“How about for Ash Wednesday this year we give up Donald Trump?”

It was a table invitation (we celebrate the Eucharist every week) and an altar call rolled into one. And it certainly had my name on it.

The last four years in the US have been a national demolition derby, a Three-Stooge-esque comedy of incompetence and disrepute, a racketeer’s paradise and grifter’s playpen—only with real-world torment, particularly for those here and abroad with little shelter from the abuse.

At the conclusion of the Senate’s farcical impeachment verdict, I felt like breaking big things and throwing little ones.

I need a decompression. Stan’s suggestion came at the right moment.

This does not mean—and what follows are my words—retreating into a shell of blissful ignorance and private cheeriness. Nor will I become a devotee of the Biden administration’s governing posture, though nonetheless it is a great relief.

What I will do, though, is follow Frederick Douglass’ admonition: “Let us look at the other side [of the rule of injustice] and see if there are not some things to cheer our heart and nerve us up anew in the good work of emancipation.”

In his long, parting soliloquy recorded in John’s Gospel, Jesus urges his disciples to “be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world” (16:33). The predicate to this encouragement, though, was the warning that “in the world you will face persecution.” That reality has not changed.

Even now we must “see if there are not some things to cheer our hearts and nerve us up anew.” This year these texts will frame my Lenten prayers. —KLS

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Hymn of intercession. “My Help Is In the Name of the Lord,” The Hillbilly Thomists.

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Lenten woe, leaning toward Easter’s weal
A fantastical dream

Introduction. I composed the following note to a friend after he was defrauded and defamed by someone who should know better—and as I began to write, an eschatological vision emerged. (Apologies in advance for the colloquial references.)

Oh, I hatehatehate this. You already know (but
sometimes it’s hard for the heart to hear from
the head) that there are dumb-*ss people in the
world, even that part of the world that’s supposed
to be cordial and well-mannered, that there’s

really nothing you can do but endure them, and
count on Jesus to take them to the woodshed
for a good whuppin’ when the time comes, even
though that won’t make you feel better, or Jesus
for that matter, and maybe the Holy Spirit

intervenes in all this craziness and reminds
Jesus, and this dumb-*ss, about what’s what,
and the Great Jehovah God shows up, laughing
and laughing and laughing (you’d swear it was
just like Mac Bryan’ cackle) and everyone gets

the giggles and start a food fight, only it’s ice
cream, ice cream is flying everywhere, all your
favorite flavors, with pauses for a little Havana
Club rum, and everyone gets tipsy, and the ice
cream is just good-good, and then someone

brings in a platter of tostonies [fried plantains]….
—continue reading “Lent's woe yielding to Easter’s weal

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Hymn of resolution. “If I had the wings of a snow white dove / I'd preach the gospel, the gospel of love / A love so real, a love so true / I've made up my mind to give myself to you.” —Bob Dylan, “I’ve Made Up My Mind to Give Myself to You"

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A march in Baghdad

Eighteen years ago today [15 February] I remember huddling near a shortwave radio trying to catch the news of the day’s extraordinary set of marches around the world in opposition to the threatened US invasion of Iraq. There was a room full of us, members of the Iraq Peace Team, who had carried on a constant presence in Baghdad for more than seven years. I had led in the last group of short-term volunteers, arriving in the second week of February.

Right: March in Baghdad. Ken Sehested is at far right.

That morning more than 200 of us—40 member of the Iraq Peace team, more from other solidarity organizations—marched through Baghdad carrying banners of all sorts, in opposition to the war. The BBC broadcast was reviewing the astounding accounts from around the world of the February 15 marches protesting the war on Iraq—between 6-10 million people, in more than sixty countries. It is still considered the largest protest event in human history.

I cannot recall ever having such a viscerally jubilant response to a journalistic report. Truth is, I was scared. In an earlier group discussion many of us were beginning to feel the invasion was close. We knew full-well the implications of “shock and awe.” I've been in war zones; but there's no duck-and-cover in the fact us Cruise missiles.

These reports, combined with the previous day’s account of Chief U.N. Weapons Inspector Hans Blic’s report—to the Security Council, casting further doubt on the U.S. Administration’s claims regarding weapons of mass destruction—brought a measure of confidence that the invasion would be further delayed. The anti-war movement was mobilizing like never before.

But the war came anyway. Not long after I left.

But US troops are still there. In fact, the children of those who took part in “Shock and Awe” are now in the pool of those available for a tour of duty in Iraq.

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Benediction. “You know I got a made up mind / And I don't mind if I lose any blood on the way to salvation / And I'll fight with the strength that I got until I die. . . . / I go to prepare a place for you.” —Cynthia Erivo, “Stand Up

Can’t make this sh*t up. “We did not send him there to do the right thing.” —Bill Bretz, chair of the Republican Party in Washington County, Pa., strongly criticized one of the state’s senators, Pat Toomey (R) for voting to convict former President Donald Trump, MSN

Just for fun. “Know The Signs: How to tell if your grandparent has become an antifa agent,” Alexandria Petri, Washington Post

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