News, views, notes, and quotes

Signs of the Times  •  3 October 2017 •  No. 138

Processional.Never Turning Back,” Street Choir Festival at Jubilee Square in Leicester, made up of 30 choirs across the UK.

Above: Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, just west of Las Vegas. Photo by Terry Tyson.

Invocation. “Throw off the covers of earth’s darkened slumber! Unplug your ears, you creatures of flesh! From deepest sigh of tear-stained eye, set your sight on Heaven’s resolve. For the sky’s bright luster, alive with motion, shows the wonder of Blessed intention. The Word—shorn of words—springs from every nick and cranny. By night and by day the silent sound of Wonder drenches every listening ear.” —“Blessed intention," a litany for worship inspired by Psalm 19

Call to worship—A litany for Puerto Rico. “Loving Almighty One, we claim your promises of wholeness and provision when we pray for one another.
        “God, as we join in prayer and in spirit for your people, our brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico. We celebrate that You are our comfort and strength in times of disaster, crisis and pain.
        “Today Puerto Rico faces a great challenge and has chosen to shout Puerto Rico se levantaPuerto Rico rises up. Surround them with your Grace and peace.” —continue reading Xiomara Reyboras Ortiz’s “Litany for Puerto Rico” (Thanks Suzi.)

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

Seven days after Hurricane Maria devastated the island, half its 3.5 million citizens lack potable water. Restoring the island’s power grid could take months.

        I almost didn’t use the Judson Memorial Church sign (left below), since most of the people I know in Puerto Rico don’t want to be US citizens.

        Nearly half of US citizens don’t know that Puerto Ricans are US citizens.

        Puerto Rico, presently a “possession” of the US, is the world’s oldest colony, having first been colonized by Spain in the 15th century and then ceded to the US after the 1898 Spanish American War, a war the US had been planning for at least eight years. Puerto Ricans were not allowed to vote on whether to become an independent country until 1967. By then the island’s economy was so intertwined with that of the US that the majority favored remaining as a territory, though support to become the US’s 51st state has been growing—something Congress is highly unlikely to approve.

        It’s true, as President Trump famously complained, that Puerto Rico is facing a massive debt problem. They cannot declare bankruptcy, as businessman Trump has done six times.

        For an explanation of the island’s debt crisis, see Dara Lind, “Puerto Rico’s debt crisis, explained in 11 basic facts,” Vox

        In case you missed it, listen to San Juan, Puerto Rico Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz issue an agonizing call for help. NBC Nightly News (2:07 video)

        Watch President Trump help distribute emergency aid in Puerto Rico—by tossing roles of paper towels to the crowd.CNN (1:06 video)

        For more background on the status of Puerto Rico, see Frances Robles, New York Times, and Katy Collin, “Puerto Rico votes on statehood on Sunday—for the fifth time. Here’s what’s at stake,” Chicago Tribune

Confession. "This is an island surrounded by water, big water, ocean water." —President Trump, speaking 29 September, about the hurricane devastation of Puerto Rico

Blistering commentary. Lt. General (ret.) Russel Honoré had some blunt things to say about the Trump Administration’s response to the humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico, in an interview on Erin Burnett’s OutFront program. Honoré is best known for cleaning up the Bush administration’s Federal Emergency Management Agency mess after the 2005 Hurricane Katrina devastation of the Gulf Coast. CNN (1:07 video)

The controversy NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick (unintentionally) created in 2016 by refusing to stand for the national anthem prior to the game has escalated significantly this year. Remember: His refusal to stand was related to the killing of unarmed black men by law enforcement officials, though with President Trump’s attention, the debate has broadened to include patriotism in general. (For more see “Colin Kaepernick, national anthems, and flag-flown piety: Commentary on what is and is not sacred.”)

Why do whites oppose the NFL protests? “In a poll, whites were asked whether the NFL players kneeling in protest during the national anthem are helping or hurting the cause of racial justice. No fewer than 85 percent said they are hurting it.

        “Oh, wait. I’ve got that wrong. Those figures don’t come from a new poll. They come from a survey taken in 1966 asking whites whether ‘the demonstrations by Negroes on civil rights have helped more or hurt more in the advancement of Negro rights.’

        “Only 15% of whites surveyed thought those peaceful protests would advance the cause of integration and equality. Martin Luther King Jr. and his nonviolent methods are honored even by conservatives today, but in 1967, half of whites said he was harming blacks, with only 36 disagreeing.” Steve Chapman, Chicago Tribune

Words of assurance.Weep No More,” the Esh family.

As it turns out, violation of the US Code governing flag use is quite common. A few for-instances:

• “The flag should never be carried flat or horizontally, but always aloft and free” (§176c). Which means displays like the one pictured above prior to a National Football League game are actually illegal.

• “The flag should never be used for any advertising purpose(§176i). Why is it that car dealerships fly the biggest (or most) flags in town?

• “When on display [as in a church sanctuary], the flag is accorded the place of honor, always positioned to its own right. Other flags should be to the speaker's left” (§175k). Which means if you’re properly displaying the US and Christian flags in your sanctuary (with the US flag to the pulpit’s right as facing the congregation—to the left as seen from the pews), the symbolism is that the Caesar’s billing overshadows Christ’s.

• “The flag should not be embroidered on such articles as cushions or handkerchiefs and the like, printed or otherwise impressed on paper napkins or boxes or anything that is designed for temporary use and discard” (§176i). Careful about those July 4th cookout napkins!

• “The flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery” (§176d). Do a web search for “US flag apparel images” to see your choices for civil disobedience.

The earliest “flag desecration” laws (every state had one by 1932) were not enacted to squelch political dissent but to prohibit use of the flag for political or commercial ends—something that now happens all the time. The only attempt at federal law criminalizing flag desecration (in 1968, specifically aimed at repressing flag burning) was overturned by the Supreme Court in 1989.

Hymn of prophecy. “But your flag decal won't get you / Into Heaven any more. / They're already overcrowded / From your dirty little war. / Now Jesus don't like killin' / No matter what the reason's for, / And your flag decal won't get you / Into Heaven any more.” —John Prine, “Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Any More

For more information on how the flag has been used, see Marc Leepson, "Capturing the Flag,” Washington Post

Watch this brief (2:00) video on what Colin Kaepernick’s been up to since being snubbed by the NFL. (Thanks Edward.)

Until the Civil War, the US flag was only used on government buildings and military installations. "For the first two thirds of our nation’s history, it was almost unheard of for individual Americans to fly the flag or display the flag," according to Marc Leepson, author of Flag: An American Biography. That changed when the Confederates attacked the Union outpost Fort Sumter in Charleston, S.C., in April of 1861, in what would be the start of the Civil War. "It has been said that when the flag came down in Fort Sumter, it went up everywhere in the North," Leepson added. —Olivia B. Waxman, “How the American Flag Pattern God So Popular,” Time

Hymn of intercession.African Prayer" (Trad. Zulu), Stellenbosch University Choir.

Listen to The Daily Show’s Noah Trevor opening monologue on the mass shooting in Las Vegas. (3:56 video)

¶ “1,516 mass shootings in 1,735 days: America's gun crisis—in one chart.” —The Guardian

Testify. “You should be outraged not only as an airman, but as a human being.” —Lt. General Jay Silveria, superintendent of the Air Force Academy, in a blistering five-minute speech to 4,000 cadets and 1,500 staff following an incident where racial slurs were written on the dormitory boards of five black students. A video of Silveria’s speech is here.

¶ Offertory. “Occhi chorni” (“Очи Чёрные”), Russian gypsy accordion music.

¶ “We have been taught that ignorance and hate lead to racist ideas, lead to racist policies,” Kendi said. “If the fundamental problem is ignorance and hate, then your solutions are going to be focused on education, and love and persuasion. But of course [Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America] shows that the actual foundation of racism is not ignorance and hate, but self-interest, particularly economic and political and cultural.” Self-interest drives racist policies that benefit that self-interest. When the policies are challenged because they produce inequalities, racist ideas spring up to justify those policies. Hate flows freely from there.” —Ibram Kendi, director of a new anti-racism center at Ameican University, in Lonnae O’Neal, "The Undefeated" (Thanks Paul.)

Preach it. “Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.” —St. Francis of Assisi, on the eve of his 4 October feast day

Can’t makes this sh*t up. “Gun stocks rose Monday following the deadliest mass shooting in American history late Sunday night [in Las Vegas]. . . . The stocks have tended to rally in the immediate aftermath of mass killings.” Paul R. La Monica, CNN Money

Good news. “More than 40 Catholic institutions are to announce the largest ever faith-based divestment from fossil fuels, on the anniversary of the death of St Francis of Assisi. The sum involved has not been disclosed but the volume of divesting groups is four times higher than a previous church record, and adds to a global divestment movement, led by investors worth $5.5tn.” Arthur Nelsen, The Guardian

The state of our disunion. "Now I hate to tell you, Puerto Rico, but you’ve thrown our budget a little out of whack because we’ve spent a lot of money on Puerto Rico." Jill Colvin & Calvin Woodward, Associated Press

Best one-liner. "I am unable to commit to any messiah who doesn't knock over tables." —Garret Keizer

For the beauty of the earth. Scrap metal sculpture artist John Lopez. (2:57 video. Thanks Amanda.)

Altar call. Here’s my new mental metaphor of the Holy Spirit’s work in coaxing wannabe-believers into an actual life of faith. (2:16 video)

Benediction.Prayer of St. Francis” by Sarah McLachlan.

Recessional. Frédéric Chopin’s “Prelude No. 4 in E minor, Op 28,” performed by Jimmy Page.

Lectionary for this Sunday. “Steer clear of the barking dogs, those religious busybodies, all bark and no bite. All they’re interested in is appearances—knife-happy circumcisers, I call them.” —Philippians 3:4b-6, The Message

Lectionary for Sunday next. “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” —Philippians 4:8-9

Just for fun. Seal gets a belly rub from a diver. (Thanks David.)

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I'M DELIGHTED TO ANNOUNCE that Peace Primer II: Quotes from Jewish, Christian and Islamic Scripture & Tradition which I edited with my friends and colleagues Rabbi Lyn Gottlieb and Muslim chaplain Rabia Terri Harris, has been reprinted by Wipf & Stock Publishers. It’s an excellent tool for interfaith dialogue or for personal devotional reading.

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Featured this week on prayer&politiks

• “Blessed intention,” a litany for worship inspired by Psalm 19

• “Colin Kaepernick, national anthems, and flag-flown piety,” commentary on what is and is not sacred

Other features
• “Another Word is in the wind: A psalm of complaint and avowal,” a new poem

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