News, views, notes, and quotes

Signs of the Times  •  25 October 2018 •  No. 176

[graphic id. Data from The Leadership Conference Education Fund (PDF) and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Photo credit: Brutal Deluxe / Wikimedia

Processional. Dance of the scarves. Brooklyn artist Daniel Vurtsela. (2:47 video. Thanks Wendy.)

Above: photo by Muntazeri Abdi, among the recipients of the 2018 Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards.

Invocation. “Happy are those who walk in the Way of Beauty, harnessed in the Bridle of Mercy and according to the Weal of Justice. In this Law I delight! May it rule soul and soil and society alike.” —continue reading “In this Law I delight,” a litany for worship inspired by Psalm 119

Call to worship. “O blooming branch, / you stand upright in your nobility, / as breaks the dawn on high: / Rejoice now and be glad, / and deign to free us, frail and weakened, / from the wicked habits of our age; / stretch forth your hand / to lift us up aright.” —English translation of “O frondens virga” (“O blooming branch”) lyrics by Hildegard von Bingen, performed by Chanticleer

Special edition


        How quickly we forget that the US Constitution is silent about voting rights. For decades the privilege was reserved for property-owning white men—then, about 6% of the country’s population. Some states also had religious restrictions. It wasn’t until the 1850s that property requirements were dropped. It would be well over a century before women were granted the right; and another half century still before the majority of African Americans secured the right.

        Consider this (widely-shared) opinion of John Adams, signer of the Declaration of Independence and later president, who wrote in 1776 that no good could come from enfranchising more Americans:

        “Depend upon it, Sir, it is dangerous to open so fruitful a source of controversy and altercation as would be opened by attempting to alter the qualifications of voters; there will be no end to it. New claims will arise; women will demand the vote; and every man who has not a farthing, will demand an equal voice with any other, in all acts of state. It tends to confound and destroy all distinctions, and prostrate all ranks to one common level.”

¶ “To my friends who question the value of voting, or have ethical qualms about choosing between the lesser of two evils: Vote, or don’t. Its significance will always lie somewhere between essential and useless. None of us is allowed to assess any action as ultimate—but that’s no license for skepticism or despondence.

        “Voting is such a small part of our commonwealth duty. I spend more time in grocery store lines every month than in polling stations every year. Elections are but the end result of an advocacy for the common good that starts in each watershed.” —continue reading “Vote, or don’t: The issues are larger than elections

Hymn of praise. “In God alone my soul can find rest and peace, in God my peace and joy. Only in God my soul can find its rest, find its rest and peace.” —Taizé chant, “In God Alone,” music by Jacques Berthier

Money doesn't just talk, it votes. “[T]he gap between voters and non-voters breaks down strongly along class lines. In the 2012 election, 80.2% of those making more than $150,000 voted, while only 46.9% of those making less than $10,000 voted.” —Sean McElwee, “The Income Gap at the Polls,” Politico

¶ “Just 15 groups were responsible for more than 75% of dark money political spending from 2010 to 2016, and together poured more than $600 million—out of a total of $800+ million—into campaigns in the wake of the landmark Citizens United” [2010 Supreme Court case that removed most of the few remaining obstacles to the influence of wealth in elections]. Jessica Corbett, Alternet

The US trails most developed countries in voter turnout. Among the 32 wealthier democracies, the “leader of the free world” ranks #26. Drew DeSilver, Pew Research Center

Confession. “It is with careless ease that we say, ‘Bless God, for all life is good,’ when the sun shines during our outings, when no strain threatens our budget. It takes little faith to acknowledge God’s goodness when terror remains at a distance. Bring us into the presence of widows whose faith is stronger than famine. Send Elijah to accompany us to the place where hope outstrips horror.” —continue reading “Elijah and the widow,” a litany for worship inspired by 1 Kings 17:8-24

VOTER FRAUD incidence: 0.0003% – 0.0025%. —“Debunking the Voter Fraud Myth,” Brennan Center for Justice

        • Between 2001–2014: 31 incidents out of more than one billion ballots cast.

        • After the 2016 election, the Washington Post analyzed reported cases of fraud and found a grand total of 4 credible cases (out of 135 million votes cast).

        • “It is more likely that an individual will be struck by lightning than he will impersonate another voter at the polls.” Ali Velshi, MSNBC

        • In my own state of North Carolina: The State Board of Elections released in April 2017 an audit of the 2016 electoral results. Of 4,769,640 votes cast, only one would have been avoided with a voter ID law. Charlotte Observer

        • “Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach implemented his own statewide effort, using the prosecutorial powers of his office to attempt to uncover a conspiracy of noncitizen voters. He netted a grand total of nine convictions . . . just one conviction of a noncitizen voter.” —Vann R. Newkirk, “Voter Suppression Is the New Old Normal,” The Atlantic 

VOTER SUPPRESSION. The best brief survey I’ve seen of widespread voter suppression efforts is Timothy Smith’s review essay of Carol Anderson’s One Person, One Vote: How Voter Suppression Is Destroying Our Democracy. Post

        • After Barack Obama’s election in 2008, “Republicans faced a quandary: How should they deal with the rising demographic tide of minority voters? In 1992, nonwhites represented just 13 percent of the voting population — by 2012, they were 28 percent. Republicans had a choice: They could change their policies to appeal to new voters or find a way to suppress their votes.”

        • “In 1867, just after the Civil War, more than 65% of newly enfranchised blacks registered to vote in Mississippi; by 1955, that figure had plummeted to 4.3%. The same dismal story was repeated all across the South.”

        •“Voter suppression had now gone nationwide as it became a Republican-fueled chimera that by 2017 gripped 33 states and cast a pall over more than half the American voting-age population.”

        • “Since 2013, more than 1,000 polling places have been closed in nine Republican-dominated states alone.”

Words of assurance. “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast. . . . The shroud that is cast over all peoples will be destroyed; and God will swallow up death forever. All tears will be dried, all disgrace removed.” —Isaiah 25:6-9 slightly adapted

        • In Georgia, Secretary of State Brian Kemp—the Republican candidate for governor—has closed polling locations in a third of the state’s counties, three-quarters of whom are disproportionately non-white. And as of 9 October, Kemp has set aside 53,000 voters, 70% of them African American, under his “exact match” policy.

RIGHT: Printed in March 1812, this political cartoon was drawn in reaction to the newly drawn state senate election district of South Essex created by the Massachusetts legislature to favor the Democratic-Republican Party candidates of Governor Elbridge Gerry over the Federalists. The caricature satirizes the bizarre shape of a district in Essex County, Massachusetts, as a dragon-like "monster". Federalist newspaper editors and others at the time likened the district shape to a salamander, and the word gerrymander was a blend of that word and Governor Gerry's last name.

        • “In sum, the 2018 report of the nonpartisan US Commission on Civil Rights concluded that in states like Georgia “cuts to polling places resulted in decreased minority-voter access and influence.” Jay Michaelson, Daily Beast

        • “In the five years since the US Supreme Court struck down key parts of the Voting Rights Act, nearly a thousand polling places have been shuttered across the country, many of them in southern black communities.” Matt Vasilogambros, Pew Trust

        • For a quick survey of the states that have approved voter suppression laws since 2010, see “New Voting Restrictions in America,” Brennan Center for Justice

Hymn of supplication. “Hear O Lord, the sound of my voice. Hear O Lord and have mercy.” —Pam Hall, “Hear O Lord


        • “If there is one silver bullet that could fix American democracy, it’s getting rid of gerrymandering—the now commonplace practice of drawing electoral districts in a distorted way for partisan gain.” —Brian Klaas, “Gerrymandering is the biggest obstacle to genuine democracy in the United States. So why is no one protesting?” Washington Post

        •Because of gerrymandering, 84% of congressional districts are noncompetitive. —watch this brief (2:26) video, “Gerrymandering Explained

        •In the 2016 election, some 35 million North Carolinians voted for Republican candidates; 32.1 for Democrats. Yet in the State Assembly, Democrats won only 38% of the House seats; only 30% in the Senate. Politifact

        • In 2012, Michigan voters cast nearly 53% of their votes for Democrats. Nevertheless, Republicans won 9 of the state’s 14 seats in the House of Representatives. —Ginger Strand, “Among the Gerrymandered,” Pacific Standard

        • In 2017 a federal court ruled that the North Carolina General Assembly, controlled by Republican super-majorities in both chambers, illegally redrew election districts diluting African American voters “with almost surgical precision.” Sam Levine, Huffpost

Professing our faith. "You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith and hope." —Thomas Merton

Hymn of intercession. “Soon it will be done / Trouble of the world / Going home to live with God.” —Mahalia Jackson, “Trouble of the World,”

Word. “If the Gods Had Meant Us to Vote They Would Have Given Us Candidates.” —Jim Hightower book title

By the numbers. Money raised for the 2018 congressional election cycle is projected to surpass the $5 billion mark, nearly 20% higher than the two previous record setting cycles—in 2016 and 2010, adjusted for inflation—of giving to congressional candidates. OpenSecrets, Center for Responsible Politics

Flawed democracy. In January “The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), a unit under the aegis of The Economist magazine, released its annual Democracy Index report, which seeks to understand and measure the state of democracy around the world. Every country on Earth is rated on a 0 to 10 scale. . . .

        “In the EIU report, the US received an overall score of 7.98, ranking second in the “flawed democracy” category, tied with Italy. South Korea ranked slightly higher in the same category, and Japan ranked third.” Nicole Karlis, Salon

Preach it. “The world is always going to be dangerous, and people get badly banged up, but how can there be more meaning than helping one another stand up in a wind and stay warm?” —Anne Lamott, “Stitches”

Can’t makes this sh*t up. “In 1980 Paul Weyrich, who many insiders credit with founding the modern conservative Christian political movement, said this to a group of conservative evangelical activists: ‘I don’t want everybody to vote. … Our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.’” —Bruce Gourley, Nurturing Faith

Call to the table. “Christians don't simply learn or study or use Scripture; we assimilate it, take it into our lives in such a way that it gets metabolized into acts of love.” —Eugene H. Peterson

The state of our disunion. “Database Tracks History Of U.S. Meddling In Foreign Elections.” NPR's Ari Shapiro talks to Carnegie Mellon University researcher Dov Levin about his historical database that tracks U.S. involvement in meddling with foreign elections over the years. National Public Radio  (For more background on “US meddling in other countries’ elections,” see the special edition of “Signs of the Times,” 19 July 2017, #128.)

Best one-liner. “Be a lamp, or a lifeboat, or a ladder.” —Rumi

For the beauty of the earth. Brief (1:52) video of the Valley of the Gods, in southeastern Utah. CBS Sunday morning

Altar call. “Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life: such a way as gives us breath, / Such a truth as ends all strife, such a life as conquers death.” —Blackfriars Music, “Come, My Way

Benediction. “Let your religion be less of a theory and more of a love affair.” —G.K. Chesterton

Recessional.Carska jektenija” (“The Royal Ektenia, or “Litany of Peace”), performed by Vila, a Serbian Orthodox Singing Society.

Lectionary for this Sunday.In this Law I delight,” a litany for worship inspired by Psalm 119.

Lectionary for Sunday next. “Elijah and the widow,” a litany for worship inspired by 1 Kings 17:8-24.

Just for fun. Amazing Cirque de Soleil jump rope artist. (2:55 video)

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Featured this week on prayer&politiks

• “Vote, or don’t: The issues are larger than elections,” commentary on the present electoral season

• “In this Law I delight,” a litany for worship inspired by Psalm 119

• “Come home,” a litany for worship inspired by Psalm 146

Resources for All Hallow’s Eve and All Saints Day

• “Hallowed Week: A call to worship for All Hallows Eve and All Saints Day,” Abigail Hastings

• “All Saints,” an All Saints Day call to worship and pastoral prayer, Nancy Hastings Sehested

• “All Saints Day,” a litany for worship

• “For All the Saints: New lyrics for an old hymn

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