News, views, notes, and quotes

Signs of the Times  •  3 January 2018 •  No. 149

Processional.What a Wonderful World.” —Choir, Choir, Choir, where hundreds gathered for the unveiling of the tallest Christmas tree in Toronto and a massive sing-along. (Thanks Tom.)

Above: Horseshoe Falls in Niagara Falls, Ontario, photo by Aaron Lynett, Canadian Press

Invocation. “Bravo! Bravo to the One who comes from the unknown and unseen place to rattle the landscape and roust the pretenders! / This One, and this One alone, is worthy of devotion. / The Majestic One thunders into the silence of tyranny. At the sound of this Voice, all creation shudders in remembrance of forgotten promises. / This One, and this One alone, is worthy of ovation.” —continue reading “Worthy,” a litany for worship inspired by Psalm 29 and the Pentecost story of Acts 2

Call to worship. “In an age ruled by terror—both by state and by sect—place on our lips the subversive claim of Epiphany’s Promise. / Give us the courage to live at odds with the rage of this age. / Inspire in us a thirst for beauty and for truth. / Teach us to track the signs of your Spirit moving in odd ways, in unbeknown places, and among the least likely. / As with the ancient Magi, give us the grace to cross national boundaries, racial borders, religious barriers and cultural brinks.” —continue reading “Epiphany’s promise,” a litany for worship on the occasion of a new (Gregorian calendar) year”

Hymn of praise.Psalm 8 Adonai Adonenu” by Dan Forrest, performed by CMEA Capital Section High Honor Choirs.

Right: Art by Ricardo Levins Morales, ©RLM Art Studio

This brief story should be read on the cusp of every new year. “Wandering around the Albuquerque Airport Terminal, after learning my flight had been delayed four hours, I heard an announcement: ‘If anyone in the vicinity of Gate A-4 understands any Arabic, please come to the gate immediately.”
        “Well—one pauses these days. Gate A-4 was my own gate. I went there.” —continue reading Naomi Shihab Nye’s brief essay, “Gate A-4,” Radical Discipleship

Confession. “There is hurting in my family / There is sorrow in my town / There is panic in the nation / There is wailing the whole world round.” —Holly Near, “I Am Willing

Good news, in three short parables.

        • “This year, the World Health Organisation unveiled a new vaccine that’s cheap and effective enough to end cholera, one of humanity’s greatest ever killers.” —start your new year reading “99 Reasons 2017 Was a Great Year,” Angus Hervey, FutureCrunch (Thanks Brian.)

        • “Christians and Muslims celebrated Christmas for the first time in Mosul since the city was taken back from ISIS.” AJ+ (1:38 video. Thanks Shanta.)

        • “When a mosque in Victoria, Texas was burned down by an arsonist, the community came together to prove that love always overcomes hate.” (2:47 video. Thanks Amanda.)

¶ “Anyone who thinks that gardening begins in the spring and ends in the fall is missing the best part of the whole year. For gardening begins in January with the dream.” —Josephine Nuese

Hymn of supplication. “The echoes of childhood whisper violence / Cold wind beating out of the past / Rage in your throat, muffled silence / Hold on, I will stand fast / In the darkness your guardians had left you / Cold wind / None to hear your cries, none to defend you / Hold on / I will stand fast, I will stand fast.” —Fred Small, “I Will Stand Fast,” a song for survivors of child abuse 

The year now past clearly qualifies as a historic silence-breaking era, as Time magazine notes on its “Person of the Year” cover and story on the cascading acts of extraordinary boldness by women (and some men) speaking out about their experiences of sexual assault and harassment.

(By the way, you’ll notice a extra arm on the right side of the photo. It belongs to an anonymous young hospital worker from Texas — a sexual harassment victim who fears that disclosing her identity would negatively impact her family.)

The silence breaking began last January, as a response to trumphoolery, in an unprecedented Women’s March where more than a half million came to the nation’s capitol, with somewhere between 3.6-4.6 million gathering in at least 550 other cities in the US and more than 100 other cities around the world.
        Then, in the fall, the #MeToo hashtag campaign went viral.

¶ “This was the great unleashing that turned the #MeToo hashtag into a rallying cry. The phrase was first used more than a decade ago by social activist Tarana Burke as part of her work building solidarity among young survivors of harassment and assault. A friend of the actor Alyssa Milano sent her a screenshot of the phrase, and Milano, almost on a whim, tweeted it out on Oct. 15. "If you've been sexually harassed or assaulted write 'me too' as a reply to this tweet," she wrote, and then went to sleep. She woke up the next day to find that more than 30,000 people had used #MeToo. Milano burst into tears.” —Stephanie Zacharek, Eliana Dockterman & Haley Sweetland Edwards, “Time: Person of the Year: The Silence Breakers

Among the significant results is the creation of two similar initiatives within Christian constituencies: the #ChurchToo platform (see Tara Isabella Burton, "#ChurchToo: abuse survivors speak out about harassment in their religious communities,” Vox) and, for self identified evangelical women, the #SilenceIsNotSpiritual hashtag.

Long time coming. The phrase “sexual harassment” was not coined until 1975 and wasn’t even illegal prior to the 1964 Civil Rights Act’s ban on sexual discrimination. It took three decades and a string of Supreme Court decisions—punctuated by the Senate hearing drama of Anita Hill’s testimony against Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas—before the actual mechanisms of legal redress were specified.
        Not until 1998 was freedom from sexual harassment considered a fundamental human right, without reference to physical, emotional, or financial harm. —for more see David Crary, ABCNews

Terry Gross’ “Fresh Air” programAnita Hill Was A ‘Canary In the Coal Mine’ for Women Speaking Out” ought to be required listening.

¶ “Following the rise of the #MeToo movement in 2017 and under the banner of a new initiative called ‘Time's Up,’  over 300 hundred artists, actresses, directors, and entertainment industry leaders issued a ‘unified call for change’ to end the crisis of sexual harassment and assault that exists ‘from movie sets to farm fields to boardrooms’ nationwide.”
        While initial meetings were already underway, the group significantly intensified its work after receiving in November an open letter on behalf of 700,000 female farmworkers. (See below.) The “Time’s Up” begins with contributions totaling $13 million to subsidize legal representation for low-income women. Jon Queally, CommonDreams

Open letter from female farmworkers. “We write on behalf of the approximately 700,000 women who work in the agricultural fields and packing sheds across the US. For the past several weeks we have watched and listened with sadness as we have learned of the actors, models and other individuals who have come forward to speak out about the gender based violence they’ve experienced at the hands of bosses, coworkers and other powerful people in the entertainment industry.” —continue reading the letter published in Time

¶ “Nearly half of working women in the US say they have experienced harassment in the workplace.” NBC News

Hymn of assurance. “When I can't run anymore, I will walk / When I can't walk anymore, I may stumble ‘ When I stumble sometimes, I might fall / And down on my knees, I will crawl / Yes down on my knees, I will crawl.”  —Eli “Paperboy” Reed, “My Way Home

Of the many gains of the #MeToo movement, here are at least four significant lessons:

        • This may be a moment when the healing process of penitence and pardon, restoration and redemption, will get a new hearing outside our sanctuaries. In “Should We Forgive the Men Who Assaulted Us?” Danielle Berrin vividly recounts a scene of shaming from “Game of Thrones”: “The punitive justice meted out may be emotionally thrilling, but it does little to promote a framework for building a more just society.” Then she concludes, “Judaism offers a prescription for restorative rather than punitive justice that I think can provide a template for all of us.”

        • Courage is infectious. “Emboldened by the uprising of women in America and Europe against sexual harassment, a few particularly courageous Afghan women are speaking out, too, in the face of a problem long just accepted as commonplace and unsolvable.” Rod Nordland & Fatima Faizi, New York Times 

        • People of faith are reminded again of the need to be vigilant over the ways our vocabulary can morph into repressive use. Take the word “silence,” for instance—a spiritual discipline in need of recovery. When, why and how do we practice silence? And when do we risk raising a ruckus?

        • The rise of social media surely facilitates the #MeToo (among other) movements. “But it’s not technology alone,” says Estelle Freedman, history professor at Stanford University. “It’s a gradual, accumulative process and then a tipping point.” (See Lucy Rock’s “How American women's growing power finally turned #metoo into a cultural moment,” The Guardian.) We need a spirituality strong enough to sustain the struggle against injustice, on many fronts, against the historical tides of available evidence.

Short story. “As I greeted the men at the door for the midweek Christian service I was surprised to see Blake, a regular in the Wiccan group.

        “‘Chap, I didn’t come for the service. I came to see you. I gotta see you now.’

        “Ushering him into my office, he started talking even before he sat down. ‘You got some time? Oh, hell, it doesn’t matter. This is life or death. I wanna kill a guy.’” —continue reading Nancy Hastings Sehested's “Hope Remains,” excerpt from an upcoming book of stories from her years as a prison chaplain

Hymn of intercession (when words no longer suffice). “Cold Was the Ground, Dark Was the Night,” Blind Willie Johnson.

Preach it. In “What if this darkness [in America] is not the darkness of the tomb but of the womb?” —Sikh lawyer and activist Valarie Kaur, speaking at a 31 December 2016 New Year’s Eve interfaith service at the Metropolitan AME Church in Washington, DC. (6:18 video)

Can’t makes this sh*t up. “Tennesseans will be allowed to bring their guns to the new home of the legislature but must leave any hand-held signs behind, according to a recently implemented policy. The policy, which Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, and House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, approved Dec. 14, expressly prohibits ‘hand-carried signs and signs on hand sticks’ because they ‘represent a serious safety hazard.’” Joel Ebert, Tennessean (Thanks Janet.)

Call to the table. “Performance without rehearsal. / Body without alterations. / Head without premeditation. / I know nothing of the role I play. / I only know it's mine. I can't exchange it. / I have to guess on the spot / just what this play's all about. / Ill-prepared for the privilege of living, / I can barely keep up with the pace that the action demands.” —listen to a reading of Wislawa Szymborska’s “Life While-You-Wait” (2:34 video. Thanks Karen.)

The state of our disunion. According to a Yale opinion poll, 70% of US citizens believe climate change is real (up from 52% in 2014), but only 40% believe they will harm them personallyJ.D. Capelouto, Reuters

Best one-liner. "Everything is changing. People are taking their comedians seriously and the politicians as a joke." —Will Rogers, early 20th century humorist

For the beauty of the earth. Breathtaking view of aurora borealis. (1:41 video)

Altar call. “The text [Matthew 2:1-12] doesn’t say there were three [Magi], or that they were riding camels. One of the most shocking facts hidden in the text is that these royal visitors were following a star. Jewish scripture has several explicit commandments against star-gazing, of reading history through the movement of the stars, as if all futures are predetermined. This story upholds the scandalous notion that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is not constrained by our lists of who’s been naughty, who’s been nice.” —continue reading “Epiphany: Seeing what’s real,” a sermon based on Matthew 2:1-12

Benediction.Still I Rise,” Maya Angelou (2:15 video).

Recessional. “And I’ll rise up / I'll rise like the day / I’ll rise up / I'll rise unafraid / I'll rise up / And I’ll do it a thousand times again / And I’ll rise up / High like the waves / I’ll rise up / In spite of the ache / I'll rise up / And I’ll do it a thousands times again / For you.” —Andra Day, “Rise Up

Lectionary for this Sunday. “Such a tame name for a man born to inhabit / the wild side of heaven’s incursion into / earth’s contempt. / You startle children with your leather-girdled, / camel-haired attire, hot breath calling the / devout into Jordan’s penitential wake. / What brings you and / your honey-smeared beard / into such a barren land?” —continue reading “John the baptizer,” a litany for worship inspired by Mark 1:4-11

Lectionary for Sunday next. “Merciful One, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you hear my thoughts from far away. / You know all my comings and goings, and I am never out of Your sight. / Even before a word forms in my mind and comes from my lips, you already know it. / Encompass me with your Presence, and lay your hand on my heart.” —continue reading “Wonderfully made,” a litany for worship inspired by Psalm 139

Just for fun. Photojournalists David Bloom and Ian Kucerak take a solution of dish detergent and corn syrup and froze bubbles into snowflakes on a -25 Celsius day in Edmonton, Alberta. (2:07 video. Thanks Linda.)

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Featured this week on prayer&politiks

• “Hope Remains,” Nancy Hastings Sehested, excerpt from an upcoming book of stories from her 14 years as a prison chaplain

• “Wonderfully made,” a litany for worship inspired by Psalm 139

• “John the baptizer,” a litany for worship inspired by Mark 1:4-11

Resources for Epiphany

• “Epiphany of the Lord: Commentary on Ephesians 3:1-12" from Feasting on the Word (Westminster John Knox Press)

• “Epiphany: Manifesting the bias of Heaven,” a meditation

• “Epiphany’s promise,” a litany for worship, on the occasion of a new (Gregorian calendar) year

• “Epiphany: Learning to see what’s really real,” a sermon for Epiphany Sunday

• “Epiphany: The queerness of God,” a sermon for Epiphany Sunday

©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.

Right: Art by Ade Bethune, ©Ade Bethune Collection, St. Catherine University, St. Paul, MN.

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