News, views, notes, and quotes

Signs of the Times  •  1 March 2018 •  No. 154

Processional.Adiemus,” composed by Karl Jenkins and performed by the Angel City Chorale. (There are no lyrics as such, instead the vocalists sing syllables and "words" invented by Jenkins.)

Above: A small sea horse grabs onto garbage in Indonesia. California nature photographer Justin Hofman snapped the picture late last year off the coast of Sumbawa, an Indonesian island in the Lesser Sunda Islands chain.
        “Hofman said he wishes the picture ‘didn’t exist’—but it does; and now, he said, he feels responsible ‘to make sure it gets to as many eyes as possible.’” This photo was a finalist for the Wildlife Photographer of the Year. Lindsey Bever, Washington Post

Special issue on


        “I don't care if it / Rains or freezes / As long as I've got my / Plastic Jesus / Ridin' on the dashboard / Of my car.“ —Gal Holiday & the Honky Tonk Revue, “Plastic Jesus.”
        My wife’s eyebrows first raised, then furrowed, when I answered her question, “What’s your column focus for this week?
        “Plastic,” I said.
        I knew immediately from her response that I needed to do some explaining as to why, in the middle of Lent, plastic is a relevant topic. . . . —continue reading “Plastic Jesus: A Lenten meditation on plastic

Invocation. “After fleeing Pharaoh’s slavery through / the Red Sea’s baptism, the people of the / Most High assembled in covenant assembly / at the mountain of promise for instruction / in freedom’s demands.” —continue reading “Instruction on freedom’s demands,” a litany for worship, inspired by Exodus 20

Call to worship. “No guilt in life, no fear in death / This is the power of Christ in me / From life's first cry to final breath / Jesus commands my destiny / No power of hell, no scheme of man / Can ever pluck me from His hand / Till He returns or calls me home / Here in the power of Christ I'll stand.” —Page CXVI, “In Christ Alone

¶ “Can the ‘largest cleanup in history’ save the oceans?” Twenty-one-year-old Lourens Boot, and Ocean Cleanup, thinks it’s feasible. Terrence McCoy, Washington Post. Photo at right courtesy of the Ocean Cleanup.

New take on Lent. “The Church of England, which has about 25 million members worldwide, exhorted the faithful to participate in the Lent Plastic Challenge forgoing single-use plastic containers.” Tara Isabella Burton, Vox

Good news. “France has passed a new law to ensure all plastic cups, cutlery and plates can be composted and are made of biologically-sourced materials.” Shehab Khan, Independent (Thanks Linda.)

Fast facts about plastic.

        •160,000 plastic bags are used globally every second!

        •Only 1-3% of plastic bags are recycled worldwide.

        •It takes 12 million barrels of oil to produce the amount of plastic bags the US uses per year.

        •5 trillion plastic bags are produced yearly. Side by side, they can encircle the world 7 times.

        •The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which is a floating landfill of garbage in the Pacific twice the size of Texas, is mostly composed of plastic.

        •In 2008, a sperm whale was found beached in California. It died due to the more than 22 kilos [48.5 pounds] of plastic found in its stomach.

        •Plastic will only start degrading after 700 years and will only fully degrade in 1000 years. This means that all the plastic that has ever been produced has not degraded yet.

        •Plastic bags remain toxic even after it breaks down. It doesn’t biodegrade, it photo-degrades. It means that after it degrades, it breaks down into smaller and smaller toxic bits of itself—and bleeds and contaminates the environment.

Right: Indonesian surfer Dede Surinaya catches a wave in a remote but garbage-covered bay on Java, Indonesia, the world’s most populated island. Photo by Zak Noyle

        •Nearly 90% of the debris in our oceans is plastic.

        •Scientists estimate that every square mile of ocean contains about 46,000 pieces of floating plastic. —for more information see “Interesting Facts About Plastic Bags

No one meant to do this: An example of structural sin. “One of the world’s most remote places, an uninhabited coral atoll, is also one of its most polluted. Henderson Island, a tiny uninhabited landmass in the eastern South Pacific, has been found to have the highest density of anthropogenic [human created] debris recorded anywhere in the world, with 99.8% of the pollution plastic.” Elle Hunt, The Guardian

Hymn of praise (in a Lenten minor key). “And I can't understand / And I can't pretend / That this will be all right in the end / So I'll try my best / And lift up my chest / To sing about this . . . joy, joy joy!” —Page CXVI, “Joy

Good news. “With such an abundance of plastic (literally) floating around, entrepreneur Gregor Gomory knew there had to be a way to put it to use. Gomory created RePlast, a material comprising plastic sourced from the oceans and machine-compressed into the dimensions of a typical concrete masonry unit.” Selin Ashaboglu, ecobuilding

More good news. After watching his childhood beach devastated by trash, Afroz Shah took matters into his own hands. What started off as a personal mission turned into the largest beach cleanup in the world. (3:13 video. Thanks Abigail.)

The city of Durham, North Carolina, has declared the month of March a “No Straws Month” in an attempt to call attention to the environmentally destructive presence of plastics. Numerous other cities have done so previously: do a web search for “no straw month.” —see Joe Johnson, Herald Sun

¶ “Some of the world's deepest living sea creatures have been found to have eaten microscopic pieces of plastic. Researchers at the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS) in Oban sampled starfish and snails from the Rockall Trough off the Western Isles. Tiny pieces of plastic were found in 48% of the sample animals that live more than 2,000m (6,561.8ft) down.” BBC

Confession. “The sea holds our sin. / As levels rise, / as ice melts, / as whales and birds wash up on shores / dead from the plastic and metal in their bellies, / as people wash up on shore / dead from desire for safety, / and our refusal to give shelter. / The sea holds our sin.” —continue reading Liza Neal’s “Holding and Looking” poem

¶ “Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” video (2:57) produced by Lucie Barnett using Adele’s “Hometown Glory.” The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is the world’s largest trash dump, a mass of floating garbage in the Pacific Ocean.

Watch this brief (1:39) video by underwater photographer Caroline Power about a “sea of plastic” floating in the Caribbean.

Words of assurance. “Be still my soul / The Lord is on your side / Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain / Leave to your God to order and provide / In every change he will remain / Be still my soul, your God will undertake / To guide the future as in ages past / You hope, your mind, your will let nothing shake / And now mysterious shall be bright.” —Page CXVI, “Be Still My Soul

Right: One of many hundreds of crabs that now make their homes out of plastic debris washed up on Henderson Island in the South Pacific. This particular item is an Avon cosmetics jar. Photograph: Jennifer Lavers

Professing our faith. “Let the rain come and wash away the ancient grudges, the bitter hatreds held and nurtured over generations. Let the rain wash away the memory of the hurt, the neglect. Then let the sun come out and fill the sky with rainbows. Let the earth bring forth flowers to surround us with beauty. And let the mountains teach our hearts to reach upward to heaven.” —Rabbi Harold Kushner

¶ "[L]ess well-known is what is fueling this plastics binge: fracking. In less than a decade, tens of billions of dollars have been invested in creating new manufacturing sites around the world to turn fossil fuels into resin pellets used to manufacture plastic products. The companies profiting off this surge in plastics are contributing to a growing climate crisis while generating mountains of plastic garbage.” Wenonah Hauter, Yes! Magazine

Hymn of resolution.Rainbow ‘Round My Shoulder (traditional chain gang song),” One Voice Mixed Chorus  in remembrance of Bayard Rustin, the least-known-most-important civil rights leader.

When photographer Ben Von Wong found out the average plastic bottle takes 450 years to decompose, he decided to put his artistic skill to work dramatizing this ecological crisis. (1:28 video. Thanks Tami.)

Microplastic contamination has been found in tap water in countries around the world, leading to calls from scientists for urgent research on the implications for health. Overall, 83% of the samples were contaminated with plastic fibres. The US had the highest contamination rate, at 94%, with plastic fibres found in tap water sampled at sites including Congress buildings, the US Environmental Protection Agency’s headquarters, and Trump Tower in New York.” Damian Carrington, The Guardian

Above: A piece of art made out of trash by Bonnie Monteleone to illustrate the Great Pacific Garbage Patch first described by Charles Moore.

Hymn of intercession.Oceans,” Hillsong United.

See the list of countries that have banned, severely restricted, or taxes single-use plastic bans. (There’s more than you would think.) bigfatbags

A number of South Carolina coastal towns have enacted bans on plastic bags and styrofoam cups. But the state legislature is fighting back and has approved a bill preventing such bans. —for more see Andy Shain, The Post and Courier

Preach it. “Christ says: Do according to what I say – then you shall know. Consequently, decisive action first of all. By acting, your life will come into collision with existence, and then you will know the reality of grace.” —Søren Kierkegaard

Can’t makes this sh*t up. “Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt said his desire to use the Earth’s resources like oil and coal is grounded in the Bible.
        ‘The biblical world view with respect to these issues is that we have a responsibility to . . . harvest the natural resources that we've been blessed with.’” Timothy Cama, The Hill (Thanks Sarah.)

Right: This cross necklace was made by a prisoner using plastic bags.

Call to the table. “The universality of [God’s messianic] love does not consist in a refusal to take sides but rather in the way it takes sides, that is, without hatred or hostility toward people.” —Johann Baptist Metz

The state of our disunion. Cameron Kasky, a survivor of the Parkland high school shooting, has closed his Facebook account because of the “graphic death threats” he was receiving. Let that sink in for a minute. —for more see Luke Barnes, ThinkProgress (Thanks Dennis.)

Best one-liner. “The mental and moral shift from denial of injustice to consciousness of injustice is often made at very high cost.” —Ursula K. Le Guin

For the beauty of the earth. Meet the Halitrephes jellyfish, halfway between jellyfish and firework. (0:18 video. Thanks Connie.)

Altar call. “North Pacific suspended in a gyre / Vast trove of treasures / We once desired / All our secrets are on display now / By a leviathan / We can’t throw away now / I want to take it back / All the dirty things I’ve done to you / Please let me trace my tracks / And wake up in the sapphire blue.” —Laurel Brauns, “Doldrums,” a song about the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” in the Pacific Ocean

Benediction. “For God so loved the world—not just the soul, but the whole. / Every mountain, every mole. / The world’s ablaze with the Only Begotten, if we only had eyes to behold. / Like the wind upon the waters, the voice upon the deep, / Let the Spirit soak and save you, whole and lasting life to keep.” —continue reading “Nicodemus,” a litany for worship inspired by John 3:1-17

Recessional.Shine.” —students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, site of the 14 February mass shooting, give a moving performance of this original song written by survivors Sawyer Garrity and Andrea Peña, at the end of CNN's town hall (Thanks Michael.)

Lectionary for this Sunday. “After fleeing Pharaoh’s slavery through / the Red Sea’s baptism, the people of the / Most High assembled in covenant assembly / at the mountain of promise for instruction / in freedom’s demands.” —continue reading “Instruction on freedom’s demands,” a litany for worship, inspired by Exodus 20

Lectionary for Sunday next. “Behold, every princely posture, every royal / presumption will heave and smash against the / shoal of Heaven’s conspiracy with hope’s insurgence. / On that glad day every voice of distress will confess / that sorrow’s sway shall be displaced by joy’s arousal / and resurrection’s pledge.” —continue reading “Let gladness swell your heart,” a litany for worship inspired by Psalm 107

Just for fun. Adolescent tiger being teased by a gibbon ape. (2:04 video. Thanks David.)

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Featured this week on prayer&politiks

• “Plastic Jesus: A Lenten meditation on plastic

• “Instruction on freedom’s demands,” a litany for worship, inspired by Exodus 20

• “Let gladness swell your heart,” a litany for worship inspired by Psalm 107

• “Nicodemus,” a litany for worship inspired by John 3:1-17

Other features

• “A Penitential Opportunity,” a 30-page resource for worship and education, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the My Lai massacre”

• Several dozen new annotated book reviews have been posted in “What are you reading and why?

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