News, views, notes, and quotes

Signs of the Times  •  20 December 2018 •  No. 179

Processional. Flash Flash – Jerusalem during the Christmas Tree Lighting party.” (Thanks Dick.)

Above: A face-on view of spiral galaxy NGC 4911, located deep within the Coma Cluster of galaxies, 320 million light-years away, lined with long clouds of dust and gas. These are seen in silhouette against glowing newborn star clusters and iridescent pink clouds of hydrogen, the existence of which indicates ongoing star formation. Hubble also captured the fainter outer spiral arms of NGC 4911, along with thousands of other galaxies of varying sizes in the background.
        Each day from 1-25 December an extraordinary Hubble Space Telescope photo will be posted at The Atlantic. (Thanks Mandy.)

Introduction to this issue of Signs of the Times

In light of the Prophet Isaiah’s placement of a child as marshal in the Age to Come’s inaugural parade
(see 11:1-9), and Jesus’ privileging of a child’s faith posture (see Mark 9:33-37 and 10:14, with
parallel stories in Matthew 18 and Luke 18), the bulk of this issue is devoted to recent
hopeful upsurges among the young, especially as earth advocates.

Invocation. In the Bleak Midwinter,” Sheku Kanneh-Mason, Isata Kanneh-Mason – Holst (with apologies to those in the southern hemisphere).

Call to worship for Advent.

        “The breakthrough of God is happening. It is happening in the midst of the dark night of the soul, when no one can see clearly, and our fears are magnified. God is creating in the darkness of the womb of this world.

        “We are Zechariah, saying our prayers in the congregation, carrying our own disappointments in prayers unanswered. We are stunned into silence by God’s promise of new life.

        “We are Elizabeth, having given up our dreams to our own barrenness. We are shocked that we are not too old or too forgotten for God to remember us with new life.

        “We are Mary, not prepared for big assignments with our too-young selves. We are surprised that we have been chosen to carry in our wombs the hope of peace. We burst forth in song, of the peculiar submission that leads to revolt, a longing for the tables to turn, for a world safe and merciful and just for our baby.” —continue reading “The breakthrough of God is happening: An Advent call to worship,” Nancy Hastings Sehested

Hymn of praise.The First Noel,” performed by the children of Public School 22 Chorus, Staten Island, NY, and Leslie Odom Jr. (Especially for those who enjoy watching singers as well as listening.)

Confession. “The absence of lament in the liturgy of the American church results in the loss of memory. We forget the necessity of lamenting over suffering and pain. We forget the reality of suffering and pain.” —Soong-Chan Rah

Hymn of supplication. “O why should I wander, an alien from Thee, / Or cry in the desert Thy face to see? / My comfort and joy, my soul’s delight, / O Jesus my Savior, my song in the night.” —Richar Zielinski Singers, “My Song In the Night

Listen to Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg’s (age 15) dramatic and outspoken denunciation of climate change apathy has been much in the news. Here are two short video clips of her commentary.

         • A Democracy Now short report on Greta Thunberg at the UN climate summit in Poland (5:25).

         • Also at COP 24 climate conference in Katowice, Poland (2:15).

¶ “A group of young people (left) can sue the federal government over its climate change policies, the Supreme Court said Friday. Since it was first filed in 2015, the government has requested several times that Juliana v. United States be dismissed.” The climate change lawsuit inspired this rally in Seattle, along with ones in Portland and Eugene, Ore. (photo by Elaine Thompson / AP) —Jacob Pinter, National Public Radio

More good news. “Patagonia’s CEO is donating company’s entire $10M Trump tax cut to fight climate change.” —Leo Shvedsky, upworthy

¶ “On a chilly fall day several weeks ago, volunteers from five Maryland congregations [part of a five-year old organization, Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake] came together in the Cherry Hill neighborhood of Baltimore to plant 90 trees. The planting was unique for two reasons: It drew a team of Catholics, Baptists, Presbyterians and Conservative Jews. And in the space of three hours, they managed to get all the saplings into the ground and hold an interfaith service, too.” This project is one component of a larger watershed regeneration effort. —Yonat Shimron, Religion News

Words of assurance. “The trumpet child will blow his horn / Will blast the sky till it's reborn / With Gabriel's power and Satchmo's grace / He will surprise the human race.” —Over the Rhine, “The Trumpet Child” (Thanks Greg.)

Professing our faith. “At first glance, through modernity’s eyes, Mary’s encounter with the angel’s natal announcement—and her annunciating response—appears to be a form of self-subjugation.

       Is Luke’s story a case of a colonized mind? Did she actively concede to her own binding and bonding? Should we insist on a more assertive, individuated figure to front the Christmas story? “I, for one, think not.” —continue reading “The renewing significance of Mary’s Magnificat

¶ Beginning Tuesday, 20 November, the youth-led Sunrise Movement (photo at right) began a series of 350 meetings with sitting and incoming House Democrats seeking support for the “Green New Deal,” a bold set of proposals aimed at investing in green infrastructure, technology, and jobs to both curb the fossil fuel emissions fueling the climate crisis and strengthen the U.S. economy. —Julia Conley, CommonDreams

        Also: Listen to this brief (2:09) admonition, by 18-year-old Jeremy Ornstein, a leader of the “Sunrise Movement” supporting the “Green New Deal” agenda to dramatically reduce carbon emissions.

For more information about the “Green New Deal,” see Osita Nwanevu, “Creating a Road Map for a ‘Green New Deal,’” New Yorker

Hymn of resolution. “We are Christmas, we are God’s hands  / To care for one another in these war torn lands  / We are Christmas, the love that we share  / Will carry one another ‘til we understand  / We are Christmas.” —Spellman College Glee Club, “We Are Christmas

Short story. “I am fed up . . . and fired up!” That's Moral Monday arrestee and Civil Rights Veteran Rosanell Eaton (left, at age 92) speaking at the 11th Wave Moral Monday rally at the North Carolina General Assembly. Watch to this short (6:13) video of her remarks. Eaton died this past Saturday at age 97. Read more about this unsung hero in Robert D. McFadden’s “Rosanell Eaton, Fierce Voting Rights Advocate, Dies at 97” (New York Times). Also, watch this short (5:07) video tribute to Eaton.

Word. “Advent invites us to awaken from our numbed endurance and our domesticated expectations to consider our life afresh in light of new gifts that God is about to give.” —Barbara Brown Taylor

Short take. “I used to think that top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. I thought that thirty years of good science could address these problems. I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy, and to deal with these we need a cultural and spiritual transformation. And we scientists don’t know how to do that.” —Gus Speth, co-founder of the Natural Resources Defense Council

Preach it. “[T]he political landscape of Luke’s gospel demonstrates the fact that the evangelist locates Jesus firmly within the context of contested territory, temporal powers, political machinations, despotic leadership and disputes about the rightful kings. That the gospel progresses in a political vein, moving towards the execution of Jesus as a pretender to the throne (23:2–5, 38) confirm to us that political reality is at the heart of the gospel of Luke, not a mere backdrop.” —Pádraig Ó Tuama, “The Political Reality at the Heart of the Gospel,” Radical Discipleship

¶ On Friday, 30 November, “Canadian youth occupy MP [Member of Parliament] offices across the country calling for climate action.” (See photo at right) National Observer

Can’t makes this sh*t up.

        • Heather Nauert is President Trump’s nominee for the US Ambassador to the UN. Recently, as spokeswoman for the US State Department, she referenced the US’ “strong relationship with the German government.” The two examples she mentioned: the Marshall Plan and the D-Day invasion. Nauert’s previous job? Reporter for Trump’s favorite news program, Fox’s “Fox & Friends.” —MSNBC

        • “Iowa is granting permits to acquire or carry guns in public to people who are legally or completely blind. No one questions the legality of the permits. State law does not allow sheriffs to deny an Iowan the right to carry a weapon based on physical ability.” —Jason Clayworth, USAToday

¶ “This is a group art project (see art at left) from my church [Jeff Street Community at Liberty, Louisville, KY] several years ago . . . the Star of Christmas, created using a collage of Christmas season/Black Friday advertisements encouraging people to buy more junk they don't need. Subverting commercialism for a remembrance of the story of poor immigrants being guided to a safe sanctuary in the midst of dodging a government out to harass and kill them. Happy Subversive Holy Days, all you subverts!” —Dan Trabue

Call to the table.Mary, Did You Know?” from Langston Hughes’ “Black Nativity.”

The state of our disunion.

        • “Sears execs to split $25 mil in bonuses after telling workers no severance because of bankruptcy.” —Walter Einenkel, Daily Kos

        • “The Trump administration’s top environmental official for the Southeast [Trey Glenn] was arrested Thursday on criminal ethics charges in Alabama reported to be related to a scheme to help a coal company avoid paying for a costly toxic waste cleanup.” —Michael Biesecker, Associated Press

        • In the midst of reporting on the devastating fires in California, you may have heard that one famous couple, Kim Kardashian and Kanye West, in the Southern California ritzy neighborhood threatened by the fires paid for private firefighters to protect their $60 million home. That’s not as uncommon as you might think. Insurance companies such as AIG provide wildfire mitigation services. —“Rich People Pay for Private Firefighters While the Rest of Us Burn,” Motherboard

Testify. Renowned primatologist Dr. Jane Goodall, “What is so important is hope,” short excerpt (1:04 video) from her 2017 at the UN on International Day of Peace. (Thanks Linda.)

Best one-liner. “Pessimism born of cynicism is a luxurious avoidance of engagement.” —John Paul Lederach

New essay. “Righteousness—whether conceived in religious or secular terms—cannot be had short of a commitment to truth telling. The habit of severing personal kindness from public justice is a delusion.

        “There’s no way around the fact that truth telling will be impolite. Our history as a nation contains both humane and heinous impulses. Because our virtues as a nation are considerable, we tend to think our vices unremarkable. Such is not the case. And if we are to rightly interpret our condition, we simply must take seriously the whole story.” —continue reading “The contentious legacy of George H.W. Bush as mirror of our conflicted national soul

For the beauty of the earth. Human divers record close encounters with humpback whales. (2:47 video. Thanks Javoslav.)

Altar call. “A private faith that does not act in the face of oppression is no faith at all.” —William Wilberforce (1759-1833), British politician, philanthropist and evangelical Christian who led the fight for the abolition of slavery

Benediction. “Darkness deserves gratitude. It is the alleluia point at which we learn to understand that all growth does not take place in the sunlight.” —"Uncommon Gratitude," Joan Chittister & Rowan Williams

Recessional. “May the angels lead you into paradise / May the martyrs receive you / In your coming / And may they guide you / Into the holy city, Jerusalem / May the chorus of angels receive you / And with Lazarus once poor / May you have eternal rest.” —Gabriel Fauré, “Requiem: In Paradisum

Lectionary for this Sunday. “Your power is sufficient to baffle the aims of the arrogant. Imperial might trembles at the sound of your approach; but the prison yards and the sweatshops and the slaughterhouses erupt in jubilation! With your arrival, the bailout bounty will flow to the hourly wage-earners; the stock-optioned executives will apply for food stamps.” —continue reading “My soul magnifies you,” a contemporary midrash on the Magnificat, inspired by Luke 1:46-55

Lectionary for Christmas Eve and Day. “Then an angel stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around, and they were terrified. As are we, in the face of torturing headlines and threatening news.” —continue reading “Keeping watch,” a litany for worship inspired by Luke 2:8-15 and Lamentations 21:8-9, 14-1

Lectionary for Sunday next.

        • “Friends, of all the things we believe or disbelieve, only this is sure: We are a delight to the One who crowns the earth with sky. . . . Because of this jubilant news, clothe yourselves with royal attire.” —continue reading “Only this is sure,” a litany for worship inspired by Colossians 3:12-17

        • “Commentary on Colossians 3:12-17,” from Feasting on the Word.

Just for fun. "TXTMAS 2018: Nativity Scene,” by txtstories.

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Featured this week on prayer&politiks

• “The contentious legacy of George H.W. Bush as mirror of our conflicted national soul,a new essay

•  “The breakthrough of God is happening: An Advent call to worship,” by Nancy Hastings Sehested

• “The renewing significance of Mary’s Magnificat

• “The treasures of darkness,” a poem for Advent

• “Only this is sure,” a litany for worship inspired by Colossians 3:12-17
Other features

• “Advent & Christmas resources for worship: Litanies, poems, sermons and new lyrics to old hymns

• “Commentary on Colossians 3:12-17

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