News, views, notes, and quotes

Signs of the Times  •  25 October 2017 •  No. 141

Processional.Fa’afetai i le Atua,” Samoan hymn, sung by a wildfire “hotshot” crew from the Polynesian island of American Samoa, a colony of the US, brought in to help fight wildfires in northern California. (“Hotshot” firefighters are those with specialized training and assigned the most challenging locations—sort of like the military’s special forces.) —Hawaii News Now (2:46–scroll down to find the video. Thanks Duane.)

Above: Orionid meteors fly each year between about October 2 to November 7. That’s when Earth is passing through the stream of debris left behind by Comet Halley. The Orionids are named after the direction from which they appear to radiate, which is near the constellation Orion. First discovered in 1839, Halley has probably been around for more than two millennia. The particles which hit earth’s atmosphere, at 132,000 mph, are mostly microscopic in size. Photo by John Ashely in Montana during the 2015 Orionid shower. —for more info see Deborah Byrd, Astronomy Essentials

Invocation. “For it is in the act of worship that the church steadily renews itself in the discipline of wisdom. Worship is a vigorous act of reordering our desires in the light of God’s burning desire for the wellness of creation.” —Ellen F. Davis

Call to worship. "Beloved God, accept our prayers. When we fall, may we fall freely, completely . . . finding our soul’s depth again, the solid earth from which we may rise and love again. Have mercy. Have mercy upon us. Here, there, everywhere. Have mercy. Amen." —Nancy Hastings Sehested


This week’s focus is on the coincidence of two recent headline events: the #MeToo social media campaign ignited after the ghastly uncovering of Hollywood movie mogul Harvey Weinstein’s legacy of sexual assault; and the 50th anniversary of the March on the Pentagon, a defining moment for the movement to halt the Vietnam War.

            What is especially instructive about these concurrent stories (and we can only hope attention outlasts the fickle news cycle) is the way they portray the range of realities to which people of faith and conscience need to attend: from the up-close-and-personal sphere of sexual harassment and assault, to the large-and-public realm of geopolitical warmongering. Violence comes in many forms and must be strategically and appropriately addressed. At the same time, any vision of the Beloved Community must be cradled in an understanding of how the varied fruits of violence share a common root.

            So the question becomes: How do we carry out our concrete, grace-shaped, justice-seeking, peace-making, mercy-mediated engagement in ways that take into account the larger landscape of dehumanizing afflictions?

            Unfortunately, when all is said and done, there’s usually a lot more said than done. To accomplish anything in particular, you have to focus. While doing so, though, a larger vision is needed. Connecting the dots (the reason that awkward word, intersectionality, is now employed) is significant, because everything, somewhere, somehow, is connected and interactive.

Hymn of praise. “Woah I, know I've been changed / Angels in heaven done sign my name.” —“Angels in Heaven,” performed by two of my city’s finest buskers, Abby the Spoon Lady and Chris Rodriguez

Confession. “We talk about how many women were raped last year, not about how many men raped women. We talk about how many girls in a school district were harassed last year, not about how many boys harassed girls. . . . So you can see how the use of the passive voice has a political effect. [It] shifts the focus off of men and boys and onto girls and women. Even the term ‘violence against women’ is problematic. It's a passive construction; there's no active agent in the sentence. It's a bad thing that happens to women, but when you look at that term ‘violence against women,’ nobody is doing it to them. It just happens to them. . . . Men aren't even a part of it!” —Jackson Katz,

¶ “Alyssa Milano was in bed with her two young children when a friend of a friend on Facebook suggested something that struck her as a great way to elevate the Harvey Weinstein conversation. She took the idea to Twitter, posting: ‘If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.’” Leanne Italie, Washington Post

Words of assurance. “Prayer,” by Rene Clausen using words from a prayer by Mother Teresa, performed here by the Colorado Christian University Choir.

Right: Cartoon by Jeff Koterba, Omaha World Herald

¶ “Years before actress Alyssa Milano’s tweet publicized the idea of sharing ‘me too’ to add one’s experiences with sexual harassment or assault to the widening cultural conversation, [Tarana] Burke, a black woman, blogger, and women’s advocate, was spreading that healing message to survivors of trauma. Late Monday, Milano gave Burke credit for founding the ‘me too’ wave and shared a link to Burke’s youth organization, Just Be Inc. Its mission is ‘the health, well-being, and wholeness of brown girls everywhere,’ according to its website.” —Cristela Guerra, “Where did “MeToo” come from? Activist Tarana Burke, long before hashtags,” BostonGlobe

Professing our faith. “To be a Mother is to suffer; / To travail in the dark, / stretched and torn, / exposed in half-naked humiliation, / subjected to indignities / for the sake of new life. / To be a Mother is to say, / ‘This is my body, broken for you,’ / And, in the next instant, in response to the created’s primal hunger, / ‘This is my body, take and eat.’” —continue reading Allison Woodard’s poem, “God Our Mother

In spring 2012, a week after setting up a website to catalogue experiences of gender inequality, I asked Lady Gaga for her support via Twitter. Keen to raise awareness of my newly created Everyday Sexism Project, I hoped she might spread the word among her millions of followers.

            The next morning I had 200 new notifications. “I clicked eagerly on the first message and stopped cold. It was a brutally graphic rape threat—and the moment I became aware of the sheer force of hatred that greets women who speak out about sexism.” Laura Bates, The Guardian

Hymn of intercession.Til It Happens To You,” Lady Gaga at the 2016 Oscars, surrounded near the end of her song by young survivors of sexual assault.

¶ “I think the golden rule for men should be: If you’re a man, don’t say anything to a woman on the street that you wouldn’t want a man saying to you in prison.” —comedian Peter White

Twitter confirmed to CBS News that [as of Tuesday] over 1.7 million tweets included the hashtag "#MeToo," with 85 countries that had at least 1,000 #MeToo tweets.

Hymn of grief. “I was tortured in the desert / I was raped out on the plain / I was murdered by the highway / And my cries went up in vain / My blood is on the mountain / My blood is on the sand / My blood runs in the river / That now washes through their hands / I am lost unto this world.” —“Lost Unto This World,” Emmylou Harris

Last Saturday was the 50th anniversary of the historic 21 October 1967 March on the Pentagon, sponsored by the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam, which brought 100,000 people to Washington, DC. For the significance, see “How this 1967 Vietnam war protest carried the seeds of American division,” David Smith, The Guardian.

One in my congregation was actually present for the historic March on the Pentagon in October 1967. Read Bill Ramsey’s first-person account, “Launched for a Lifetime.”

¶ “The March on the Pentagon: An Oral History” gives more first-person flavor to that day. —New York Times

Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s PBS series, “The Vietnam War,” represents one of those don’t-say-you-didn’t-know moments for us in the US. It still shocks the mind that more than three million Vietnamese (the estimates go as high as six million) died. The film “deserves an Oscar for its depiction of the gore of war and the criminality of the warmakers. But it also deserves to be critiqued for its portrayal of the anti-war movement.” —for more see Robert Levering’s “Ken Burns’ powerful anti-war film on Vietnam ignores the power of the anti-war movement

            It is arguably the most powerful anti-war film created in the US, even though as Christopher Koch points out, “Its tragic failure is its inability to hold anyone responsible for their actions. . . . Without the peace movement, there is no moral center to this series.” —“The Tragic Failure of Ken Burns’ ‘The Vietnam War,’” Counterpunch

            The series—10 episodes over 18 hours—is about the only must-see TV I know of. PBS has made it convenient to do so by free streaming.

Preach it. “I think we do need truth and reconciliation in America. But truth and reconciliation are sequential. You can’t get to reconciliation until you first tell the truth.” Bryan Stevenson, founder of Equal Justice Initiative, one of whose projects is documenting more than 4,000 lynchings in the US, most of them African Americans. A memorial to these will open in the spring of 2018 in Montgomery, Alabama.

Right: In Poland and many Western European countries, All Hallow's Eve is marked by candlelit cemeteries.

¶ “We destroyed 60% of [Vietnam’s] villages, sprayed 21 million gallons of lethal poisons, imposed free fire zones (a euphemism for genocide) on 75% of South Vietnam. They attacked US military bases in their country and never killed an American on American soil. There are no equivalences here. . . ." —Christopher Koch, "The Tragic Failure of Ken Burns’ ‘The Vietnam War,’” Counterpunch

Can’t makes this sh*t up. Lt. William Calley, whose infantry platoon massacred as many as 500 civilians in the hamlet of My Lai, South Vietnam, was convicted of premeditated murder of 22 of My Lai’s victims. Calley, who could have received the death penalty, was sentenced to life imprisonment and hard labor. Instead, he served three years of house arrest. All of the other 26 soldiers in his command were exonerated.

            During his court martial Calley testified, “I was ordered to go in there and destroy the enemy. I did not sit down and think in terms of men, women, and children. They were all classified as the same. I felt then and I still do that I carried out the order that I was given.” —for more background see Wikipedia

Best one-liner. “[T]he difference between being at peace and being complacent is one of the most basic lessons saints can teach us.” —Charles Mathewes

For the beauty of the earth. Dolphins as appreciative fans. (0:43 video. Thanks Charles.)

Altar call. The “processional” music video (noted at top, of a Samoan hymn) illustrates an important and largely-overlooked fact about singing hymns of hope and confidence: By and large the authoring was done in the face of trauma and risk—which the American Samoan firefighting crew calls to mind, when your vocation requires going into harm’s way. When expressions of piety occur outside such a context, their meaning often changes. They have a tendency to become self-centered assertions of privilege.

Benediction. “The doxologies of ancient Israel, the lyrical soaring of Paul’s Epistles, and the regular amazement evoked by the deeds and teaching of Jesus all converge in the stunning affirmation that the world is other than we had taken it to be, because the world is the venue for God’s reign.” —Walter Brueggemann

Recessional.The Trumpet Shall Sound,” Phil Driscoll juicing Handel, from The Messiah. (Thanks Tom.)

Lectionary for this Sunday.Prosper the work of every generous hand,” a litany for worship inspired by Psalm 90

Lectionary for Sunday next. Listen as seven-year-old Sydney reads the Beatitudes at Circle of Mercy Congregation 

Just for fun. 4-month-old otter has a bath for the first time. (2:14. Thanks David.)

#  #  #

Featured this week on prayer&politiks

Lectionary resources for Reformation Sunday

• “She was not: Judges 19: The Bible’s most vividly brutal story and why we must read and remember it,” a sermon

• “Limb from limb: Repenting and repairing a legacy of violence against women,” a litany for worship inspired by Judges 19

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

Resources for All Hallow’s Eve and All Saints Day

• “Hallowed Week: A call to worship for All Hallows Eve and All Saints Day,” a litany for worship by Abigail Hastings

• “All Saints,” an All Saints Day call to worship and pastoral prayer by Nancy Hastings Sehested

Seven-year-old Sydney reading the Beatitudes at Circle of Mercy Congregation   

• “All Saints Day,” a litany for worship

• “For All the Saints," new lyrics for an old hymn

©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