Signs of the Times • 18 November 2016 • No. 97
¶ Processional. “Lift Us Up: A Song for America,” by Peter Yarrow, performed by Bethany Yarrow & friends.
Above: Zhangye Danxia National Geological Park in Gansu, China
Special issue on banks and beggars
In October Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf resigned in the backlash over earlier news that “thousands of Wells Fargo employees secretly opened two million fraudulent accounts without customers’ permission or knowledge, and were incentivized by the company to do so.”
(See Rose Berger’s excellent reporting and evaluation, “Piracy and Puritanism at Wells Fargo,” Sojouners.)
The scandal not only throws a light on the chicanery of large banks and other mega-corporations but documents such problems are not simply the result of a handful of devious individuals. Berger illustrates the structural incentive for fraud.
The fine levied on Wells Fargo may seem steep to most of use wage-earners: $190 million. But that figure is but $100 per felony committed—and the bank admits to no guilt.
As it turns out, the suspicion over banks’ concentrated wealth has been voiced by political leaders for a very long time. This issue of “Signs of the Times” features this legacy of warning.
¶ Invocation. “A Change Is Gonna Come,” Sam Cooke.
¶ “I have two great enemies, the Southern Army in front of me and the bankers in the rear. Of the two, the one at my rear is my greatest foe." —President Abraham Lincoln
¶ Profit is "always highest in the countries which are going fastest to ruin." —Adam Smith, considered the “father” of modern capitalism
¶ You don’t necessarily think of Forbes Magazine (“reliable business news and financial information”) as the place to turn to for prophetic economic critique, as in Drew Hansen’s “Unless It Changes, Capitalism Will Starve Humanity By 2050.”
¶ Call to worship. “Speak peace to the nation, to every relation, to each hollow and meadow, every inch of creation. Let mercy defend, and gracefully mend; each stranger, each straggler, welcome and befriend.” —continue reading Ken Sehested’s “Go to the hallowed abode,” a litany for worship inspired by Psalm 122
¶ “And Now, For Some Good News. In states and municipalities across the country, voters showed strong support for getting big money out of politics and empowering ordinary citizens,” —Frances Moore Lappé & Adam Eichen, commondreams.org
¶ Iceland’s answer to banking fraud. “Iceland, which became a gold standard for corporate accountability in the wake of its 2008-2011 financial crisis, has found nine bankers guilty for market manipulation in one of the biggest cases of its kind in the country's history.” No sentencing has been made, but one former bank president got 5+ years in prison. —Nadia Prupis, CommonDreams
¶ “I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies.” —President Thomas Jefferson
¶ In 2010 Wachovia Bank settled a suit brought by the US Justice Department for laundering $378.4 billion for a Mexican drug cartel. The bank paid a $50 million fine (2% of its profits for the year). No one went to jail—where we routinely send kids caught with a dime bag of pot. —Ed Vulliamy, The Guardian
¶ Hymn of praise. “How Great Thou Art.” Oldie update, a cappella, 5-part harmony, by Home Free. (Thanks Matt.)
¶ “How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? . . . A new tyranny is thus born, invisible and often virtual, which unilaterally and relentlessly imposes its own laws and rules. . . . The thirst for power and possessions knows no limits." —Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”), 2013 apostolic exhortation
¶ “Do not say to yourself, 'My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.'” —Deuteronomy 8:17
¶ Souls severed from bodies. “When the pope criticizes an entire economic system and is negative about it, he is indulging in politics, and I don’t think he should. I personally do not want my spiritual life mixed up with my political life. I go to church to save my soul.” —Stuart Varney, Fox news commentator criticizing Roman Catholic Pope Francis’ “Evangelii Gaudium”
¶ “If the environment were a bank, it would have been saved by now.” —Bernie Sanders
¶ An economic literacy primer in under eight minutes. Three short videos by Robert Reich, economist and former Secretary of Labor:
• “The 7 Biggest Economic Lies.” (2:47)
• “What are the 3 biggest economic myths propagated by the moneyed interests? (2:34)
• “The war on the poor and working families.” (2.25)
¶ Suspect outrage. “But even while Republicans are outraged by Wells Fargo’s wrongdoing, all the Republican senators who spoke against the bank at today’s hearing have gone on record at various times in calling for the full repeal of President Obama’s financial regulation law—which would mean eliminating the agency that uncovered the wrongdoing and levied the biggest fines.” —Matthew Yglesias, “Republican senators outraged by Wells Fargo’s fraud want to eliminate the agency that uncovered it,” Vox
¶ "Now as through this world I ramble / I see lots of funny men / Some rob you with a six gun / And some with a fountain pen." —Woody Guthrie in "Pretty Boy Floyd"
¶ Confession. “In those years, people will say, we lost track / of the meaning of we, of you / we found ourselves / reduced to I / and the whole thing became / silly, ironic, terrible. . . . / But the great dark birds of history screamed and plunged / into our personal weather.” —Adrienne Rich, “In Those Years.” Listen to a reading of the poem by Chelsea Tobin.
¶ “[The banks’] objective isn’t to control [war’s] conflict. It’s to control the debt that the conflict produces. You see, the real value of a conflict, the true value is in the debt that it creates. You control the debt, you control everything. You find this upsetting, yes? But this is the very essence of the banking industry, to make us all, whether we be nations or individuals, slaves to debt. —banking executive advice in “The International,” a film starring Clive Owen and Naomi Watts
¶ “We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob.” —President Franklin D. Roosevelt
¶ “‘[Martin Luther] King is so hot these days [because of his criticism of capitalism] that it looks like Marx coming to the White House,’ complained President John F. Kennedy in 1963.” —Zaid Jilani, “Martin Luther King Jr. Celebrations Overlook His Critiques of Capitalism and Militarism”
¶ Hymn of lamentation. “Padded with power here they come / International loan sharks backed by the guns / Of market hungry military profiteers / Whose word is a swamp and whose brow is smeared / With the blood of the poor/” —Bruce Cockburn, “Call It Democracy” (Thanks Randy.)
¶ “Money has no motherland; financiers are without patriotism and without decency; their sole object is gain.” —Napoleon Bonaparte, Emperor of France, 1815
¶ “An infectious greed seemed to grip much of our business community,'' said Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan in 2002. ''It is not,'' he added, ''that humans have become any more greedy than in generations past. It is that the avenues to express greed had grown so enormously.'' —quoted in Floyd Norris, “The Markets”
¶ Words of assurance. “I Know Who Holds Tomorrow,” Alison Krauss.
¶ Capitalism is the extraordinary belief that the nastiest of men, for the nastiest of reasons, will somehow work for the benefit of us all." —economist John Maynard Keynes
¶ Short story. Several centuries ago a Roman pope who was an avid patron of the arts is said to have surveyed the vast artistic riches he had amassed and to have gloated: "No longer can the Church of Jesus Christ say 'Silver and gold have I none.'" "True, Sire," a subordinate replied, "but then neither can she now say, 'Rise up and walk!'"
¶ "The proposal of any new law or regulation of commerce which comes from merchants and manufacturers should always be listened to with great precaution, and ought never to be adopted till after having been long and carefully examined with the most suspicious attention." —Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations
¶ Hymn of intercession. “Like a bird on the wire, / like a drunk in a midnight choir / I have tried in my way to be free. / Like a worm on a hook, / like a knight from some old fashioned book / I have saved all my ribbons for thee. / If I, if I have been unkind, / I hope that you can just let it go by.” —Johnny Cash singing Leonard Cohen’s “Bird on a Wire”
¶ “Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures, the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge, has marked the upward surge of mankind and greed, you mark my words, will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA.” —stockebroker Gordon Gecko, fictional character played by Michael Douglas, in his 1987 film “Wall Street”
¶ When only the blues will do. “I got me a fearless heart / Strong enough to get you through the scary part / It's been broken many times before / A fearless heart just comes back for more.” —Stevie Earl, “Fearless Heart”
¶ "Capitalism has defeated communism. It is now well on its way to defeating democracy." —David Korten
¶ Preach it. “A friend called last week to ask “What on earth are you going to say [about the election outcome]?” I responded, ‘Don’t know yet—still sorting through my own emotional reactions . . . something between flamethrowing and fetal crouch.’ Those are typically our immediate reactions to threat.” —Ken Sehested, “New secrets, waiting to be found,” a post-election sermon. Or view a video of the sermon.
¶ Can’t makes this sh*t up. “PEACE OF MIND: Now available at a great rate. 3.00% APY 47-month CD/CD IRA.” —a 2003 Wachovia Bank ad
¶ Call to the table. “O see the darkness yielding / That tore the light apart / Come healing of the reason / Come healing of the heart.” —Leonard Cohen, “Come Healing”
¶ "We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings." —Ursula K. LeGuin
¶ The state of our disunion. “Oxford Dictionaries, standard-bearer for English language usage, has named “post-truth” as its international word of the year.“ —Alison Flood, The Guardian
¶ Best one-liner. “The issue which has swept down the centuries and which will have to be fought sooner or later is the people versus the banks.” —Lord Acton, 19th century British politician and historian
¶ Millennia before Karl Marx posited wealth as the principle influence on human behavior, Jesus said “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” —Matthew 6:21
¶ For the beauty of the earth. “A Bird ballet” (2:32 video), a starling flock’s aerial choreography, filmed by Neels Castillon, with Alt-J’s “Hand-made” musical background.
¶ Altar call. “Come close, sisters and brothers, all you who have journeyed to this House of Memory, to this Table of Delight. All you anear, welcome!. All from afar, ¡bienvenido!” —continue reading Ken Sehested’s “Adelante—Keep Moving Forward,” a litany for worship
¶ Benediction. The profession of Jesus-oriented faith is hinged on the conviction that the future belongs to an insurgency against the rancorous reign of wealth. If next Sunday’s benediction doesn’t imply this mandate, ask why. —Ken Sehested
¶ Ten years ago. Maybe the most overlooked recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize was Muhammad Yunnis, the 2006 recipient, along with the Grameen Bank he founded in Bangladesh to give small loans, especially to women, to foster economic self-development. His example is important because of it indicates that economic justice must be part of peacebuilding work; and that on the small scale, free enterprise can be an engine for redemptive social change. Just recently Yunnis challenged president-elect Donald Trump to build bridges instead of walls.
¶ Recessional. World Dance Federation, 2014 World Formation (This is worth the 8:14).
¶ Lectionary for Sunday next. Engraving of Isaiah 2:4 (left) in the Ralph Bunche Park across from the United Nations building in New York City. The park is named for Mr. Ralph Bunche, US diplomat who received the 1950 Nobel Peace Prize.
¶ Just for fun. “10+ People Who Turned Log Piling Into An Art Form,” Šarūnė Mac , boredpanda.com (Thanks Sally.)
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Featured this week on prayer&politiks
• “Go to the hallowed abode,” a litany for worship inspired by Psalm 122
• “Adelante—Keep Moving Forward,” a litany for worship
• “Watching and Waiting in a Half-Spent Night,” a sermon based on Matthew 24:36-44
• “New secrets, waiting to be found,” a post-election sermon. Or view a video of the sermon.
• “Advent & Christmas resources for worship,” litanies, poems, sermons and new lyrics to old hymns
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