News, views, notes, and quotes

Signs of the Times  •  21 February 2018 •  No. 153

Processional. Thousands of students and faculty from the Catholic-run St. Scholastica’s College dance en masse to protest violence against women and children on 14 February 2018, in Manila, Philippines. The annual dance, dubbed One Billion Rising, is held every Valentine’s Day. (1:15 video.)

Above: Son Doong cave is world's largest cave, located in Quang Binh province, Vietnam. It was first found by a local man named Ho Khanh in 1991 but not publicly know until 2009 when Khanh led Howard Limbert and a group of British cavers to the site. Scientists estimate the cave was created 2-5 million years ago by river water eroding away the limestone underneath the mountain. Where the limestone was weak, the ceiling collapsed creating huge skylights. For more photos and background see “Son Doong Cave.”

Invocation. “Though death e’re be prowling, sorrow confounding / Enter the halls of praise—weep, shout and sing. / Here lay your fears aside, here hope’s amending / Rejoice! all you creatures, O Death, where art thy sting?—new lyrics to “Come Ye Disconsolate,” used in “A Penitential Opportunity: A liturgy of grief and resolve over the May Lai massacre in Vietnam

Call to worship. “We gather to resolve not to leave this place unchanged or unwilling to transform this haunting memory into something good. In the words of Rabbi Abraham Yitzak Kook, ‘We don’t speak because we have the power to speak; we speak because we don’t have the power to remain silent.’” —for more see, “A Penitential Opportunity: A liturgy of grief and resolve over the May Lai massacre in Vietnam”                       

Recovering history. “Marjory Stoneman Douglas. You’ve heard her name repeatedly in the past couple of days [because of the mass shooting at the high school for which she is named], maybe for the first time and without pausing to wonder who she was.” Reading this amazing profile of the woman who “battled governments, developers, engineers, sugar cane industrialists and the apathy of normal people” to help save the Florida Everglades (among many other things). Mary Schmich, Chicago Tribute

Hymn of praise. “Praise the Lord, O my soul! I will praise the Lord as long as I live.” HaZamir Chiamber Choir, "Rossi's Psalm 146" 

A snippet of black history. Listen to this brief (2:48) excerpt of a James Baldwin speech from 1965. (Thanks Sally.)

Confession. “This people have done evil in my sight, says the Lord. They commit abominations in their liturgy. Their invocations call upon the reign of ruin. Their incantations foster mayhem in the courts of justice. Their eucharistic practice devours the poor. Their anthems celebrate infamy; their praise songs, villainy. Their prophets accentuate the positive; their priests treat harm lightly.” —continue reading “When Scripture gets testy: A rant and riff on Jeremiah 7–8:3"

Hymn of supplication. Students in Parkland, Florida, calling for an assault rifle ban. (0:22 video. Thanks Virginia.)

Inspired by students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, site of the 14 February mass shooting, several actions calling for stricter gun control legislation have happened or are planned for the coming weeks. —for more see Craig Treadway, “Florida mass shooting: Marches, walkouts and sit-ins to demand gun control

Words of assurance. “Yeah though I walk through the valley of the shadow thou art with me / though my heart's been torn on fields of battle thou art with me / though my trust is gone and my faith not near / in love's sanctuary thou art with me / Through desolation's fire and fear's dark thunder thou art with me / through the sea of desires that drag me under thou art with me. . . .” Eliza Gilkyson, “Sanctuary”

Hymn of intercession. “All my life I've been waiting for / I've been praying for / For the people to say / That we don't wanna fight no more / There will be no more wars / And our children will play / One day.” Matisyahu, “One Day”

By the numbers. US citizens make up 4.4% of the world’s population but possess 48% of the world’s civilian-owned guns.

Worship resources for “A Penitential Opportunity”
in commemorating the 16 March 1968 massacre at My Lai, Vietnam

The Occasion

        On March 16th, 1968, US Army Lt. William Calley, platoon leader in Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry, 11th Brigade, 23rd Division, led his men into the hamlet of My Lai in the Quang Ngai Province of the coastal lowlands of Vietnam. Expecting a military encounter, they found only women, children, and old men.

        Frustrated by earlier casualties in their ranks due to snipers and land mines, the soldiers took out their anger on the villagers, indiscriminately shooting people as they ran from their huts, rounding up the survivors and leading them to a nearby ditch where they were executed. Some women and girls were raped before they were killed. The killing went on for several hours. Thus was carried out a systematic massacre of more than 500 Vietnamese civilians. No U.S. soldiers were threatened, fired upon, injured, or killed.

        In the end, only Lt. Calley was found guilty of any crime. Convicted of premeditated murder, he was sentenced to life in prison at hard labor. That sentence was eventually reduced to 10 years, though President Richard Nixon pardoned Calley after he served only three-and-a-half years under house arrest. —for more see “A Penitential Opportunity: A liturgy of grief and resolve over the May Lai massacre in Vietnam

¶ “We recognize the pastoral challenge of getting local communities of faith to devote focused attention on an episode of brutality, 50 years past, in a place thousands of miles away, where few U.S. citizens have ventured to visit. This is particularly true in a culture in which communicating God’s promise, purpose, and provision is often confused with a desire to accentuate the positive.” —continue reading the “Introduction” to the “Penitential Opportunity” worship resources

¶ “Except in a few traditional religious settings, penitence is a seldom-used word. While its more common synonyms—confession, apology, contrition, and repentance—are standard parts of many church liturgies, the images they convey have generally fallen out of favor. There are good reasons why this is so. The primary definition of penance is “voluntary self-punishment inflicted as an outward expression of repentance for having done wrong.” A web search for penance reveals more than a few pictures of people whipping themselves.

        But we privilege confession and absolution in our liturgy not because God enjoys our humiliation. Just the opposite. By the grace of God, confession frees us from the power of our failures. Confession provides the possibility to begin again. It means we are not defined by our past. It means a different future is possible. The wreckage wrought by human behavior is real, but the future is not thereby fated.” —continue reading “The Ties that Bind: The Integrity of Penitence, on the 50th Anniversary of the Massacre at My Lai

The Pentagon Papers, a top-secret study of the history of U.S. involvement in Indochina commissioned in 1967 by then-Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and leaked in 1971 by Marine veteran and Pentagon defense analyst Daniel Ellsberg, contains a Defense Department memo under the Johnson Administration listing three pro-rated reasons for continuing prosecution of the war in Vietnam:

        •70% – To avoid a humiliating defeat.

        •20% – To keep South Vietnam and the adjacent territory from Chinese hands.

        •10% – To permit the people of South Vietnam to enjoy a better, freer way of life—continue reading “Vietnam, My Lai, and US Involvement: Historical notes"

Can’t makes this sh*t up. In his seven-minute speech from the White House last Thursday, President Trump spoke to the nation about the mass shooting at a Florida high school. But he didn’t once use the word “gun.” Similarly, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, in calling for a moment of silence to commemorate the killings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, never used the word “gun.”

Preach it. “We call BS!” Listen to this stirring speech (3:11) by Douglas High School student Emma Gonzalez, calling out political leaders, and their NRA enablers, for refusing to enact restraints on gun malignancy.

The state of our disunion. “United States border patrol agents routinely vandalise containers of water and other supplies left in the Arizona desert for migrants, condemning people to die of thirst in baking temperatures. Volunteers found water gallons vandalised 415 times, on average twice a week, in an 800 square mile patch of Sonoran desert south-west of Tucson, from March 2012 to December 2015. . . . During this period the remains of 593 border crossers have been found in the desert.” Rory Carroll, The Guardian

Best one-liner #1. “To speak about God and remain silent on Vietnam is blasphemous.” —Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

Call to the table.Độc tấu Đàn Tranh Lý tiểu khúc” (“Song of Dragonfly”), Vietnamese Zither Harp Dan Tranh.

Best one-liner #2. “One Undeniable Factor In Gun Violence: Men,” Jill Filipovic, Time.

For the beauty of the earth. “Nature: Songbirds in the snow,” where birds are “trying to jump start spring.” CBS Sunday Morning (2:03 video)

Altar call. “I want to live in a country that loves its children more than its guns.” —author unknown

Benediction. “this is lent’s reproach / to easter’s promised rise / for whose approach we / will never intercede / short of facing these / facts, drinking these / dregs, eating this / sorrow, with (literal) / death-defying resolve / that another WORD / is yet to be heard.” —continue reading “Another Word is yet to be heard: A rant following the 14 February 2018 mass shooting at Douglas High

Recessional. “O saving Victim [Sacrifice], opening wide / The gate of Heaven to us below; / Our foes press hard on every side; / Thine aid supply; thy strength bestow.” —translated lyrics to “O Salutaris Hostia,” a section of one of the Eucharistic hymns written by St Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century for the Feast of Corpus Christi, performed by the Trinity College Choir, Cambridge, UK

Lectionary for this Sunday. “El Shaddai” (“God Almighty,” Genesis 17:1) is one of several “names” given to God in Scripture. El Shaddai is a feminine noun, which can be translated “God of the breast,” conveying the quality of nourishing, satisfying and supplying needs. The English translation of “El Shaddai” as “God Almighty” is misleading, because “almighty” suggests omnipotence, the capacity to overpower or destroy. Whereas “Shaddai” infers sufficiency and nourishment (i.e., “blessings of the breasts and of the womb”) and implies a certain fecudity.

Lectionary for Sunday next. “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

Just for fun. “Inside One of America’s Last Pencil Factories,” [awesome!] photos by Christopher Payne, New York Times Magazine. (Thanks Jennifer.)

#  #  #

Featured this week on prayer&politiks

• “Another Word is yet to be heard: A rant following the 14 February 2018 mass shooting at Douglas High

• “The Ties that Bind: The Integrity of Penitence, on the 50th Anniversary of the Massacre at My Lai

• “When Scripture gets testy: A rant and riff on Jeremiah 7–8:3"

Special resource

“A Penitential Opportunity” resource for worship to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the My Lai massacre.
        After the Pentagon announced plans for a 10 year public program to retell the story of the Vietnam War and commemorate the war’s 50th anniversary, a group of anti-war activists formed the Vietnam Peace Commemoration Committee  “to monitor the commemoration activities, challenge them when necessary, and publicly elevate the role of the anti-war movement in ending the war. Our efforts to confront the Pentagon’s self-serving war timeline resulted in a New York Times article in November 2016 entitled Activists Call for Realistic Portrayal of Vietnam War on Pentagon Website, and led to the Pentagon’s partial rewrite of its Vietnam timeline. One example: the timeline initially glossed over the tragic My Lai Massacre, calling it the ‘My Lai Incident.’”
        Special Note: There will be a vigil in Lafayette Park (across from the White House) from 12 noon – 1 pm on Friday 16 March. For more info contact Vietnam Peace Commemoration Committee, 202.686.7483.
        The committee invited Ken Sehested to develop resources to assist congregations to commemorate the upcoming 50th anniversary of the My Lai massacre. The 30-page document, titled “A Penitential Opportunity,” is now available.

      You can download the entire packet of resources (pdf format) from the Vietnam Peace Commemoration Committee’s website

        You can also download most of the individuals pieces (for copying and editing, as you think appropriate) on the prayer&politks site:

        • “Introduction” to the “Penitential Opportunity” worship resources

        •  “Penitential Opportunity: A Liturgy of Grief and Resolve over the My Lai Massacre in Vietnam

        • “Vietnam, My Lai, and US Involvement: Historical notes"

        • “A Litany of Reflection and Resolve: In Commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the My Lai Massacre,” by Paul Hayes

        • “A Village Named My Lai: A Post-war Reflection” by Earl Martin, one of a handful of US citizens who remained in Vietnam after the war’s end

        •”Poems” included in the "Penitential Opportunity" worship resource

        • “Quotes from Jewish, Christian and Islamic scripture and tradition"

©Ken Sehested @ Language not otherwise indicated above is that of the editor, as are those portions cited as “kls.” Don’t let the “copyright” notice keep you from circulating material you find here (and elsewhere in this site). Reprint permission is hereby granted in advance for noncommercial purposes.

Feel free to copy and post any original art on this site. (The ones with “prayer&” at the bottom.) As well as other information you find helpful.

Your comments are always welcomed. If you have news, views, notes or quotes to add to the list above, please do. If you like what you read, pass this along to your friends. You can reach me directly at