News, views, notes, and quotes

Signs of the Times  •  20 December 2017 •  No. 148

Processional.Mary,” Take 6 (an arrangement of “O Mary Don’t You Weep).

Above: Two mudskippers on tidal mudflat in Krabi, Thailand. Photo by Daniel Trim. For more humorous photos from nature see “The Comedy Wildlife Photograpy Awards” page.

Invocation. “How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and
bring glad tidings of good things.” (Isaiah 52:7) —"How Beautiful Are the Feet," G.F. Handel, sung by Jane Siberry

Call to worship. “Regardless of the season’s shivering news, / the frost’s falling weight, / the bare naked limbs, / or the predator’s stalk, / lean in to this night’s forlorn silence, / and train your ears for the portent / of angel-winged rustle.” —continue reading “Silent night,” an Advent poem

Hymn of praise.Psalm 96: Chantez a Dieu, chanson nouvelle” (“Praise to the Lord a New Song”), by Jan Pieterszoon, performed by Kairos: A consort of singers.” (Thanks Roy.)

Confession. Much religious piety (especially at Yuletide) parallels this Dennis the Menace cartoon. Standing next to a mall Santa, Dennis asks, “How good do I have to be to get what I want for Christmas?

Left: This conspicuous statue of Dominican Friar Antonio Montesinos, which stands over the port of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, is about 50 foot tall. It is in honor Montesinos’ prophetic challenge in 1511 of Spanish authorities’ treatment of indigeneous people on the island of Hispañola, modern-day Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The Mexican government donated the work, by celebrated sculptor Antonio Castellanos Basich, to the Dominican people in 1982.

Saint for the fourth Sunday of Advent.  Dominican friar Antonio Montesinos’ name is not widely known. It should be.
        It was the fourth Sunday in Advent, 21 December 1511. Montesinos and his Spanish friar companions, earlier sent as missionaries to the island of Hispañola (modern-day Haiti and The Dominican Republic), were deeply troubled to hear of the conquistadors’ brutal treatment of the indigenous Taino people in the land. The friars asked Montesinos to speak out in a sermon.
        “Montesinos’ text for the day was that clarion call from John the Baptizer, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness” (Matthew 3:3). This voice, Montesinos declared to the gathered colonial authorities, is that “all of you are in mortal sin and you live and die in it due to the cruelty and tyranny which you practice with this innocent people.  Tell me by what right and with what justice do you hold these Indians in such horrible servitude?  With what authority have you waged such detestable war, bringing havoc and death never before seen on these people who were living peacefully and calmly on their lands?” —continue reading “Saint for the fourth Sunday of Advent: The story of Dominican Friar Antonio Montesinos’ dramatic call to repentance for Spanish brutal treatment of indigenous peoples on the island of Española

For more background on Montesino.

        • Christopher Minster’s “Antonio de Montesinos,” ThoughtCo

        • English translation of Montesinos’ historic sermon. Digital History

        • Brief (2:01) audio excerpt of his sermon translated into English.

        • Brief (3:24) audio reenactment in Spanish of his sermon.

Hymn of supplication.Holy,” from the Trinity Entertainment Group's production of Langston Hughes’ play, “Black Nativity.”

Words of assurance. “Beneath the soil of grayed days and / clouded sighs lies the Promised Seed whose / reach through trampled ground and bloodied / debris awaits the thaw of clawed hands and / brittle feet. Blessed Assurance, however / embattled, shall not forever be constrained.” —continue reading “Grayed days and clouded sights,” a poem for a hospital-bound friend on New Year’s Eve

Mull for a moment the graphic at right, listing 27 highly-profitable companies (note that the numbers are in millions) which paid no federal income tax. In fact, each of these received a tax rebate from the IRS (meaning, from you and me). Several things to ponder:

        • The reason these companies get public support is because of tax law loopholes designed to broadly share the cost of certain economic practices for the good of the whole community.

        • This sharing is called socialism. That’s right, the US government—just like (on much smaller scale) your family and mine—practices socialism. Parents care for children, even though they don’t “add value” to family fortunes. Sometimes, too, children care for parents. And no one keeps score as to who owes what to whom.

        • Why? Because we all know market forces can be brutal. It’s true that the free reign of capital is economically generative. But not all growths are good. Cancer is an obvious example; pollution is another.

        • But, you may say, isn’t it true that nearly half of US households pay no federal income tax? Yes, about 44%. Three-fourths of those are the elderly and lower-income families with children. The rest are among the poorest in the land. This doesn’t mean they pay no taxes. All workers pay Social Security and Medicare taxes (again, socialism), not to mention a host of local and state taxes.

        • Our elected representatives have agreed, in certain instances, that targeting benefits to a few enhances the well-being of the whole. It wasn’t Karl Marx who said, “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be required” (Luke 12:48).

        • In my state (and in others), Duke Energy, the largest electric utility company in the nation, wants consumers—instead of shareholders, who have profited from the company’s earnings—to bear the cost of securing millions of tons of highly toxic coal ash waste dumps, accumulated over decades, which threaten public health. Examples like this (and they are countless) are why some say that in the US we have socialism for the rich and capitalism for the poor.

        • Now ponder this conclusion: The tax reform law just approved by Congress will mean the list of wealthy companies who pay no income taxes will multiply in the years to come. And the Speaker of the House and the Senate Majority Leader have both said the next big thing on their legislative agenda is cutting Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and what little remains of our social safety net. And all the while they will yell DEFICITS! DEFICITS!, hoping the majority forget their role in creating such debt.

Hymn of intercession.The First Noel,” performed by the children of Public School 22 Chorus, Staten Island, NY, and Leslie Odom Jr.—for those who enjoy watching singers as well as listening.

Catch next week's PBS special, "The Sultan and the Saint.” “A moment in time that has been captured in art has now been captured on film and could hold a powerful lesson for us today. The encounter in 1219 between St. Francis of Assisi and Malek al-Kamil, the sultan of Egypt, during yet another flashpoint in the long history of the Crusades has been made into a documentary. "The Sultan and the Saint" will get its nationwide premiere Dec. 26 on PBS. Check local listings for dates and times. (Thanks Jim.) —Mark Pattison, America

The source of much bogus religious piety. Dennis the Menace cartoon setting: Dennis asks the mall Santa, “How good do I have to be to get what I want for Christmas?”

Preach it. “The Christmas story starts with an imperial decree signed by Caesar Augustus. As I was watching President Trump’s address [6 December, recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moving the US embassy there], I could not help but think of the so-called Balfour Declaration signed 100 years ago when the British empire promised Palestine to the European Jews as their national homeland. Trump’s address was indeed another such imperial decree. . . . Again and again we, the Palestinian people, are sacrificed at the altar for imperial politics. . . .” —Dr. Mitri Rabeb, pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church in Bethlehem. Read his entire statement.

The state of our disunion. “The war on Christmas is over and will soon be replaced by the war with North Korea.” —Alec Baldwin, in his Donald Trump persona on Saturday Night Live

Best one-liner (satire alert). “In response to US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, the Palestinian National Authority has announced that it will recognize Texas as a state of Mexico since it was violently annexed by the United States in the 1840s.” Alex Huntley, thebeaverton

Left: Remembering the context of Christmas. Despite the rocket attack that collapsed its roof, this time last year St. Elias Cathedral in Aleppo, Syria, hosted its first Christmas mass in five years. APF Getty image.

Can’t makes this sh*t up. “When a group of Cub Scouts met with a Colorado state senator this month, they asked her about some of the most controversial topics in the nation: gun control, the environment, race and the proposed border wall between the United States and Mexico.” One of them was Ames Mayfield, 11, from Broomfield, Colo, who asked State Senator Vicki Marble, why she would not support “common-sense gun laws.

        “‘I was shocked that you co-sponsored a bill to allow domestic violence offenders to continue to own a gun. . . . Why on earth would you want somebody who beats their wife to have access to a gun?” Five days later Ames’ mom was told by his den leader that Ames was no longer welcomed in the group, saying gun control is too politically charged.” Christine Hauser, New York Times

Call to the table. “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

If it’s been a while since you heard the story of how the Christmas carol “Silent Night” brought a brief pause during World War I, watch “1914: A Christmas to remember(3:38 video).

For the beauty of the earth. Closeup photographs of snowflakes, each a piece of majestic art. (1:13 video. Thanks Abigail.)

No single word, in any language, can capture the meaning of the incarnation—of the birth of Jesus and the larger redemptive purposes of God. But of all the words used in Scripture to indicate the purposes of God and the mission of Jesus, “peace” is surely among the most prominent. What follows is a collection of relevant texts. —continue reading “Prince of Peace: The birth of Jesus and the purposes of God: A collection of texts

Altar call. Few texts are more common this time of year than Isaiah’s prophecy, “For unto us a child is born. . . .” (9:6). Few, however hear the premise of this promise, in v. 5: “For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire.”

Benediction. “The angel breaks with Heaven’s hail! / from Joy’s horizon on every weary heart, / amid that unruly, precarious land beyond / where cheery sentiment stalls and merry, / bright roads end. Now, in terrain beyond all / mapping, the adventure begins.” —continue reading “Emancipation is (still) coming,” written against the backdrop of New Year's Eve services, 1862, when African Americans gathered to await news of US President Abraham Lincoln's promised "Emancipation Proclamation

Recessional.El cant dels ocells” (“The Song of the Birds,” which sing in the sky “Peace, peace, peace”), by Pablo Casals.
        In October 1971 Casals was awarded the United Nations Peace Prize “for his lifelong commitment to peace and the rights of all people. For the occasion, the ninety-four-year-old Casals performed "El can dels ocells," a traditional Catalan Christmas carol. It tells of nature's joy at learning of the birth of Jesus Christ in a stable in Bethlehem. After his self-exile in 1938 to protest the fascist regime of Francisco Franco, Casals would end concerts with this piece in tribute to the people of his country.” Colin Field, The Plough

Lectionary for this Sunday. “Open your mouths, oh people of praise. Unchain your lungs and unleash your lips. / Let joyful noise erupt from every muted tongue, thankful hymns from every muffled mouth. / Compose a new song for the Chorister of Heaven. A cappella or symphonic, let the sound rise like leaven. / Whether big band or bluegrass or rhythm and blues.” —continue reading “Big band or bluegrass,” a litany for worship inspired by Psalm 98

Lectionary for Sunday next. “Sister Anna. Last-named prophet in Holy Writ, more / likely listed among household property and livestock. / When did your Temple-dwelling vocation begin? /  sustained your twenty-four-seven vigil / for all those years? / Anna, school us in the habits / of vigilant perseverance.” —continue reading “Sister Anna,” a litany for worship inspired by the Prophetess Anna, Luke 2:22-40

Just for fun (and back by popular demand). “Christmas According to Kids,” children telling the Christmas story, conveyed by a homegrown video from the folk at Southland Christian Church in Lexington, Kentucky.

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Featured this week on prayer&politiks

• “Saint for the fourth Sunday of Advent: The story of Dominican Friar Antonio Montesinos’ dramatic call to repentance for Spanish brutal treatment of indigenous peoples on the island of Española

• “Prince of Peace: The birth of Jesus and the purposes of God: A collection of texts

• “Sister Anna,” a litany for worship inspired by the Prophetess Anna, Luke 2:22-40

• Planning a “Watch Night” service on New Year’s Eve? See “Watch night history: Awaiting the quelling word,” written against the backdrop of New Year's Eve services, 1862, when African Americans gathered to await news of US President Abraham Lincoln's promised "Emancipation Proclamation."

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