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Signs of the Times  •  3 July 2018 •  No. 166

Processional. “There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me. / The sign was painted, said ‘Private Property.’ / But on the backside, it didn’t say nothing.  / This land was made for you and me.” —Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, “This Land is Your Land

“Purple Mountains Majesty” photo by Russ Bishop

Special edition

Invocation. “In seasons of dark desire eyes strain for Eden’s refrain and flickered light ’mid the fright of earth’s travail. Oh, Beloved, unleash your Voice of Pardon from wrath’s consuming reign. Speak peace to the hungered of heart.” —continue reading “Speak peace to the hungered of heart,” a litany for worship inspired by Psalm 85

Call to worship.This Land Is Your Land,” Woody Guthrie.

Good news. Amazing story of 10-year-old Sarah Haycox recovered a forgotten story in her town’s history and successfully lobbied to give it prominence. —CBS Sunday Morning (2:52 video. Thanks Abigail.)

Hymn of praise. “This is my song, O God of all Nations / A song of peace for lands afar and mine / This is my home, the country where my heart is / Here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine / But other hearts in other lands are beating / With hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.” —Indigo Girls, with Michelle Malone, “Song of Peace (Finlandia)”

¶ “Over the past 15 years the aphorism ‘freedom is not free’ has become a popular patriotic refrain. But we forget that, in 1953, Army Chief of Staff General Matthew Ridgeway used the phrase to identify the difference between those who torture their captives and those who, like us, believe the disavowal of torture is among the “self-evident truths” dating from our Republic’s founding. The ‘cost’ of freedom entails moral accountability.” —continue reading, “The cost of freedom entails moral accountability: The need for truthtelling about the CIA’s torturing practices

One hundredth birthday of “God Bless America.” We forget that this popular tune was penned by a refugee—Irving Beilin, who changed his name to Berlin. “The first reference to the song in The New York Times describes a performance at a dinner sponsored by the National Conference of Christians and Jews, where religious leaders repudiated the “doctrine of race and hate” in totalitarian Europe and urged Americans not to let it happen within their own communities. In a 1940 leaders of a joint Ku Klux Klan and the pro-Nazi German American Bund rally called for a boycott of the song.

        Listen to the radio star Kate Smith’s first performance of the song.

        Woody Guthrie’s song, “This Land Is Your Land,” was originally written as a sarcastic comment on the Berlin song and was titled “God Blessed America for Me.” First recorded in 1944 by Moses Asch, this controversial verse was not included and, in fact, forgotten until 1997 when Smithsonian archivist Jeff Place heard it while digitizing the acetate master: “There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me. / The sign was painted, said 'Private Property.' / But on the backside, it didn't say nothing. / This land was made for you and me.”

        The song wasn’t released until 1951, when McCarthyism was on the rise and Cold War politics became dominant.

        Guthrie never recorded another controversial verse, one that expressly calls out the church: “One bright sunny morning in the shadow of the steeple, / by the relief office I saw my people.  / As they stood hungry,  / I stood there wondering if God blessed America for me.” —For more see Sheryl Kaskowitz, “’God Bless America’: 100 Years of an Immigrant’s Anthem,” New York Times; and Nick Spitzer, “The Story of Woody Guthrie’s ‘This Land Is Your Land,’” NPR (audio version 13;00)

Confession. “This nation is founded on blood like a city on swamps / yet its dream has been beautiful and sometimes just / that now grows brutal and heavy as a burned-out star. —Marge Piercy, in “Circles on the Water”

¶ “I would suggest that such practices as the designation of 'In God We Trust' as our national motto, or the references to God contained in the Pledge of Allegiance can best be understood as a form of 'ceremonial deism,' protected from Establishment Clause scrutiny because they have lost through rote repetition any significant religious content. . . ." —US Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan, Lynch v. Donnelly (1984)

Hymn of supplication. “I was walking with my brother / and he wondered what's on my mind / I said, What I believe in my soul / ain't what I see with my eyes / And we can't turn our backs this time /  And the river opens for the righteous.” —Jackson Browne, “I Am a Patriot” (Thanks Thom.)

Words of assurance. “I raised my head and set myself / In the eye of the storm, in the belly of a whale / My spirit stood on solid ground / I'll be at peace when they lay me down.” —Loretta Lynn & Willie Nelson, “Lay Me Down” (Thanks Marsha.)

¶ “This year, five state legislatures passed laws mandating that every public school prominently display the U.S. motto, ‘In God We Trust.’ The addition of Arkansas, which passed such a law in 2017, brings to six the number of states with public school mandates, including Alabama, Florida, Arizona, Louisiana and Tennessee. Those laws, mostly sponsored by legislative prayer caucuses in about 30 states, were inspired by the foundation’s 2017 manual known as Project Blitz [a project of the Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation], a 116-page guide for state legislators listing 20 model bills of which ‘In God We Trust’ is the first.” Yonat Shimron, Religion News Service

Professing our faith. “Because our virtues as a nation are considerable, we tend to think our vices unremarkable. Such is not the case. At the same time, this is the case: If you do not love your land you cannot participate in its healing.

       “If we are to rightly interpret our condition, listening for the Word that is needed, we simply must take seriously the whole story—its glory and its shame.” —continue reading “Of Thee I Sing: An Independence Day meditation

Hymn of resolution. “I’d hammer out a danger, I’d hammer out a warning, I’d hammer out a love between my brothers and my sisters, all over this land.” —Peter, Paul & Mary, “If I Had a Hammer

Quotes on patriotism.

        • “Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.” —Samuel Johnson

        • “A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government.” —Edward Abbey

        • “Patriotism is when love of your own people comes first; nationalism, when hate for people other than your own comes first.” —Charles De Gaulle

        • “The love of one's country is a splendid thing. But why should love stop at the border?—Pablo Casals

        • “Patriots always talk of dying for their country and never of killing for their country.” —Bertrand Russell

        • “Born in iniquity and conceived in sin, the spirit of nationalism has never ceased to bend human institutions to the service of dissension and distress.” —Thorstein Veblen

        • “American history is longer, larger, more various, more beautiful, and more terrible than anything anyone has ever said about it.” —James Baldwin

        • “When a nation is filled with strife, then do patriots flourish.” —Lao Tzu

        • “Patriotism is the virtue of the vicious.” —Oscar Wilde

Hymn of intercession. “What makes a gringo your smart aleck lingo / When he stole this land from the Indian way back when / Don't he remember the big money lender / That put him a lincoln parked where his pinto had been / The almighty peso that gives him the say so / To dry up the river whenever there's crops to bring in / Such a good neighbor to take all his labor / Chase him back over the border till he's needed again.” —Merle Haggard, “The Immigrant

¶ “Every year the major networks compete on this evening for viewers tuned in for the liturgical assurance of patriotic songs, “bombs bursting in air,” celebrity cameos, and the inevitable heroizing of troops. The latter urge is understandable, given the agonizing affect of hundreds of veteran suicides every month." —continue reading “This Land Is Your Land: Independence Day in light of Woody Guthrie’s enduring question about to whom the land belongs

¶ “The devil lies to the kings and gets them blind drunk on his wine of Patriotism and they fill their subjects with the same stuff and tell them that their fatherland is in danger and they must fight to protest it. That is a lie of the Devil.

        “The highest type of patriotism is to refuse to fight with carnal weapons and stand by Him who taught us to love our enemies and put up the sword.

        “O Reader, don't let the devil fool you on this false notion of patriotism. . . . Will we, followers of the Prince of Peace, dedicate our bodies to the god of war to murder or butcher our fellow man? God forbid!” —W.S. Craig, writing in the “Repairer” publication, April 1918, rooted in the Free Methodist tradition

Offertory.Unforgettable,” Bill Waltrous (RIP – 1938-2018).

Preach it. “When faith is completely replaced by creed, worship by discipline, love by habit; when the crisis of today is ignored because of the splendor of the past; when faith becomes an heirloom rather than a living fountain; when religion speaks only in the name of authority rather than with the voice of compassion—its message becomes meaningless.” —Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

Can’t makes this sh*t up. “. . . we have the right and obligation to protect what others have fought and died for.” —letter to the editor, Asheville Citizen-Times, of a motorcyclist rejecting calls for stricter enforcement of vehicular noise regulations

Call to the table. “Lovers of the world unite / Bound to Creator’s vision, bright / That even these, our darkest nights / Become the light, become the light." —Alana Levondoski, “Hope Beyond All Hope

The state of our disunion, from the world of gazillionaire athletes. Superstar basketball player LeBron James left a $35.6 million contract offer from Cleveland on the table; and then, a few days later, signed a new one with the Los Angeles Lakers for $38.5 million per year. Let’s do the math.
        The National Basketball Association regular season schedule is 82 games per year. So, LeBron’s salary comes to a wee bit over $1,878,000.00 per game (a bit less per game if they reach the playoffs).

Best one-liner. “Nobel Prize now a near-certainty for Trump after he does the impossible: Unites Canada.” Paul Duncan (Thanks Linda—and a belated happy Canada Day to friends north of the 49th.)

For the beauty of the earth. Time-lapse video (1:15) of cactus blooms unfolding. (Thanks Lori.)

Altar call. “I want our nation to listen to a poet who dares to unchoke love from bellowing patriotism. One who will resuscitate the word with the sharp rib-cracking pressure of truth, so that the gasp of the future may rush into our lungs, that we might breathe together and survive our broken hearts.” —Rivera Sun, “Sing the Body Politic, Electric,” CommonDreams

Benediction. “Tend your sick ones, O God. Rest your weary ones. Bless your dying ones. Soothe your suffering ones. Embrace your afflicted ones. Shield your joyous ones. Grace your shamed ones. May the love that abides and never dies stay secure in us, around us, and beyond us, forever and ever. Amen.” —continue reading “Call to prayer and pastoral prayer,” Nancy Hastings Sehested (adapting a prayer from St. Augustine)

Recessional. “From the north to the south / from the west to the east / hear the prayer of the mothers / bring them peace / bring them peace.” —Yael Deckelbaum & Prayer of the Mothers, “This Land” (English translation of Hebrew and Egyptian Arabic lyrics), a 14-member ensemble of Jewish, Arab and Christian women

Lectionary for this Sunday.Good pleasure,” a litany for worship inspired by Ephesians 1:3-14

Lectionary for Sunday next.Strangers we were,” a litany for worship inspired by Ephesians 2:11-22

Just for fun. The Sunday when Bart Simpson switched the hymn. (1:23 video. Thanks Sally.)

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Featured this week on prayer&politiks

• “Of Thee I Sing: An Independence Day meditation

• “Good pleasure,” a litany for worship inspired by Ephesians 1:3-14

• “Strangers we were,” a litany for worship inspired by Ephesians 2:11-22

• “Call to prayer and pastoral prayer,” Nancy Hastings Sehested

Other features

• “The cost of freedom entails moral accountability: The need for truthtelling about the CIA’s torturing practices

• “Speak peace to the hungered of heart,” a litany for worship inspired by Psalm 85

• “Colin Kaepernick, national anthems, and flag-flown piety: Commentary on what is and is not sacred

• “This Land Is Your Land: Independence Day in light of Woody Guthrie’s enduring question about to whom the land belongs

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