News, views, notes, and quotes

Signs of the Times  •  21 February 2019 •  No. 187

Processional.Baba Yetu” (“Our Father,” a rendition of The Lord’s Prayer in Swahali, performed by the Gospel Choir in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

Above: Half Dome in Yosemite National Park, by noted landscape photographer and environmentalist Ansel Adams on the 20 February anniversary of his birth in 1902.

Special edition
Many delightful, some distressing, all poignant, all instructive

Invocation. “Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, / the world offers itself to your imagination, / calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting — / over and over announcing your place / in the family of things.” —Mary Oliver

Word. “If they don't give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.” —Rep. Shirley Chisholm, first African American woman elected to congress

¶ “Fifty years after she became the first black woman elected to Congress, Shirley Chisholm is finally being put on a pedestal amid a wider re-examination of her achievements and significance. New York City will erect a statue of Chisholm—also the first black person and the first woman to run for the Democratic presidential nomination—outside Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, officials recently announced.” Erin Durkin, Guardian

Residents in a Newton, Massachusetts neighborhood hired a tutor to teach them sign language so they could communicate with a hearing-impaired toddler on their block. (2:43 video. Thanks Roger.) —CBS Sunday Morning

Especially for Black History Month. Watch this short (3:09) video interview of Paul Robeson, blacklisted by McCarthyites in the 1950s for fighting for fairness and equality.

Extraordinary personal story of moving through tragedy to compassionate advocacy. It took a while to move through the grief after her son died of an opioid overdose, but eventually she did; and now Agnes Mckeen helps others through “Out of the Darkness,” a project of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Watch this short (6:09) video, “Love is Looking for a Place to Go,” Aspen Institute

On 20 February 1895, the famous abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass arrived home, eager to tell his wife about a dramatic moment patching his fractured relationship with leaders of the woman’s suffrage movement and, particularly, with Susan B. Anthony. She had personally greeted him at the door of women’s rally, ushered him to the stage, receiving a vigorous round of applause.

        Some historians refer to the “Great Schism” within the ranks of the 19th century human rights movement in the US, creating rancor between the abolitionists and suffragettes. This one occasion would not resolve this complex conflict, and other fractures would later emerge along the expanding front of multiple human rights struggles, emerging from conflicting analyses and strategic goals. But the story about this day—20 February—and the bright hope it represents, needs to be told over and again in the midst of our work.

        Another reason to remember: Frederick Douglass suffered a fatal heart attack shortly after his animated report to his wife. —kls

        For more see Steve Hendrix, “Frederick Douglass died Feb. 20, 1895, just hours after his public makeup with Susan B. Anthony,” Washington Post  and Ta Nehisi Coates, “The Great Schism: From their onsets, suffragists and abolitionists shared many of the same values, so what caused the movements to split apart?The Atlantic.

Ever hear of the “The Deaf Princess”? The amazing tale of Princess Alice, the deaf British royal who sheltered Jews in her home during the Holocaust.  Accidental Talmudist (2:40 video. Thanks Connie.)

¶ This is the story our children are hearing. “Why do we build the wall,” written by Anaïs Mitchell, sung by Greg Brown

Read columnist David Brooks’ story about Weave: The Social Fabric Project. “The first core idea was that social isolation is the problem underlying a lot of our other problems. The second idea was that this problem is being solved by people around the country, at the local level, who are building community and weaving the social fabric. How can we learn from their example and nationalize their effect?

        “We’re living with the excesses of 60 years of hyperindividualism. There’s a lot of emphasis in our culture on personal freedom, self-interest, self-expression, the idea that life is an individual journey toward personal fulfillment. You do you. But Weavers share an ethos that puts relationship over self. We are born into relationships, and the measure of our life is in the quality of our relationships. We precedes me.” —“A Nation of Weavers: The social renaissance is happening from the ground up,” New York Times

In response to the severe refugee crisis prompted by the Syrian civil war, architect Abeer Seikaly designed a tent that can collect rainwater and store solar energy (pictured at right), while still being easy to assemble and transport. Mirna Abdulaal, Egyptian Streets

¶ “Black Lives Matter Is Making Single Moms Homeowners: In Louisville, the group is purchasing vacant homes for low-income families to promote stability in the community and fight gentrification.” —, Yes! Magazine

Army Sergeant Joshua Casteel “walked out of the interrogation room and told his superiors that if they wanted to continue interrogating this man, it would have to be done by someone else.

        “He went on scheduled leave to Qatar, where he shot off emails to family and friends. “So, I just experienced why it is I am here in Iraq,” he began one email. “Other than all the struggles I’ve been wrestling with. . . . I just ‘met’ my reason—a young foreign jihadist who said he might kill me if he had the chance (that is, as long as I am a U.S. soldier in Muslim lands). The Gospel came out of his mouth unwittingly, while trying to convert me to Islam. It was beautiful.” —Jennifer Percy, “The Priest of Abu Ghraib: Inside Iraq’s most notorious prison, an Army interrogator came face to face with a shocking truth about the war—and himself,” Smithsonian

¶ “In an environmentally historic vote, the European Parliament has moved to ban single-use plastic products across Europe. This ban outlaws plastic bags, straws, plates, cups, drink stirrers and cotton swabs.” Heather McElhatton, MPRNews (Thanks Linda.)

The rural/urban (coastal/heartland) divide in our body politic may not be the most damaging, but—proportionately—it gets the least attention. Here’s a one especially grievous example of the trouble at the distress at the origin of the food chain affecting us all:

        “Hard times for farmers got tougher with President Donald Trump’s trade war. Now Midwestern farmers are filing the highest number of bankruptcies in a decade, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of federal data. Mary Papefuss, Yahoo News  ALSO: “The suicide rate for farmers is more than double that of veterans.” —Debbie Weingarten, “Why are American farmers killing themselves?” Guardian

Hymn of intercession. “Mercy Now,” Mary Gauthier.

¶ Among the projects of BeLoved Asheville, a community ministry center, is training “street medics” to tend emergency medical needs among the homeless. Watch this brief (1:21 video) story of one of their volunteers.

¶ “Hindu monastic order is reclaiming transgender people’s status in Indian society.” Soumya Shankar, Religion News

The world’s most effective prisons don’t make punishment their goal. (1:16 video. Thanks Linda.) —World Economic Forum

Dan Buttry’s “Blessed Are the Peacemakers” is now available as an e-book. “Will you find yourself waiting for an appointment this week? Then, just pull out your smartphone, tablet or e-reader—and soon your spirits will be lifted by reading one of these accounts of peacemakers who risked everything to make the world a better place.”

Right: Exorcism—Roman Catholics celebrate mass at the US-Mexican border.

A crew of women—sailors, scientists, writers, and activists—is taking samples from the north Pacific gyre, known as the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” a swirling mass of trash 2X the size of Texas, in order to analyze how the plastic waste might pic up other pollutants. Eve Andrews, Grist

Preach it. “Writer and social activist Grace Paley once said in a workshop that the first step for writers who want to make a difference in the world ‘is to get over yourselves. The duty of a writer is to listen to the stories of the powerless and tell those stories to the powerful.’” —David Oliver Relin

Another icon of degrading history removed. Recently a statue in San Francisco, erected in 1894 depicting a Native American lying at the feet of a Spanish cowboy and a Roman Catholic missionary, was taken down. Watch this brief (0:58 video) for details. (Thanks Amy.)

Short story. “I saw a desert and I saw a woman coming out of it. And she came to the bank of a dark river; and the bank was steep and high. And on it an old man met her, who had a long white beard; and a stick that curled was in his hand, and on it was written Reason. And he asked her what she wanted; and she said, "I am woman; and I am seeking for the land of Freedom."

        And he said, "It is before you."

        And she said, "I see nothing before me but a dark flowing river, and a bank steep and high, and cuttings here and there with heavy sand in them."

        And he said, "And beyond that?"

        She said, "I see nothing, but sometimes, when I shade my eyes with my hand, I think I see on the further bank trees and hills, and the sun shining on them!"

        "That is the Land of Freedom."

        "How am I to get there?"

        "There is one way, and one only. Down the banks of Labour, through the water of Suffering. There is no other.

        “. . . . I dreamed I saw a land. And on the hills walked brave women and brave men, hand in hand. And they looked into each other’s eyes, and they were not afraid.

        And I saw the women also hold each other’s hands. And I said to him beside me, “What place is this?

        And he said, “This is heaven.”

        And I said, “Where is it?”

        And he answered, “On earth.”

        And I said, “When shall these things be?

        And he answered, “IN THE FUTURE.”  —continue reading South African novelist Olive Schreiner’s story, “Three Dreams in a Desert,” #V. in her book, "Dreams"

How the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) minimizes Jesus’ command to love enemies. “[Eric] Lemonholm’s most striking example [of missing and disconnected texts in the RCL] is “love your enemies.” The RCL actually assigns both Matthew’s version of that text and Luke’s. But in both cases it’s slated for the seventh Sunday after Epiphany, one of the Ordinary cycle’s odd benchwarming weeks—used only when the liturgical calendar’s stars align.  Week seven didn’t make it into the Year A or C calendar between 2001 and 2011. “A ten-year absence of Jesus’ command to love our enemies occurred,” says Lemonholm, “during the first ten years of the war on terror.” —Steve Thorngate, “What's the text: Alternatives to the revised common lectionary,” Christian Century

Benediction. “May you go out in joy and be led back in peace, the hills bursting in song, the trees in applause!” —continue reading “Go out in joy,” a litany for worship

Recessional. It’s hard to describe Bruce Springsteen’s performance (6:26 video) at the [2018] Tony Awards. It’s a combination of spoken word and singing (from “My Hometown”) as he describes both the beauty and the heartache of every hometown. There is no one without the other. Root yourself; find companions; turn your face into whatever wind—fair or foul—is blowing. In everything give thanks, resting in the assurance, which only a heart of faith can access, that in the end goodness will outdistance hardship. —kls

Lectionary for this Sunday.

• If you’re going to preach from the Luke 6:27-38 lection, you must read Walter Wink’s essay,  “Jesus’ Third Way.”

• “Pace yourself,” a litany for worship inspired by Psalm 37

Lectionary for Sunday next.Go out in joy,” a litany for worship

Lent begins on 6 March, Ash Wednesday.

        • “Ash Wednesday: The only counter cultural holiday we have left

        • “Plastic Jesus: A Lenten meditation on plastic

Just for fun. A pastor in Oklahoma City was preaching about the depersonalizing of modern life, even shopping. “Instead of going to Walmart and interacting with other humans, one need only say, ‘Alexa, order toilet paper.’” An online listener then heard a soft voice from her electronic assistant device say “OK, I’ve added it to your cart.” Erik Tryggestad, Religion News

#  #  #

Featured this week on prayer&politiks

• “Pace yourself,” a litany for worship inspired by Psalm 37

• “Go out in joy,” a litany for worship

• “Public reasoning and ekklesial reckoning: Commentary on the Vatican conference calling for “spirituality and practice of active nonviolence” to displace church focus on just war,” an essay
Other features

• “Plastic Jesus: A Lenten meditation on plastic”

©Ken Sehested @ Language not otherwise indicated above is that of the editor, as are those portions cited as “kls.” 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.

Feel free to copy and post any original art on this site. (The ones with “” at the bottom.) As well as other information you find helpful.

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. You can reach me directly at