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Signs of the Times  •  13 September 2017 •  No. 136

Above: Satellite image from NASA's Earth Observatory of (l-r) Hurricanes Katia, Irma, and Jose

Processional. “She's a rounder I can tell you that  / She can sing 'em all night, too  / She'll raise hell about the sleep she lost  / But even cowgirls get the blues.” —Emmylou Harris, “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues

Commentary in small bytes


On the one hand.
“I praise you [O God], because I am awesomely and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). “You have
made mortals a little lower than angels, and crowned them with glory and honor” (Psalm 8:5).

On the other hand.
“The heart is devious above all else; it is perverse—who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)

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Call to worship. “O, night thou was my guide! / O, night more loving than the rising sun! / O, night that joined the Lover to the beloved one! / Transforming each of them into the other.” —English translation of one stanza from St. John of the Cross’ “La noche oscura,” artist unknown (Thanks Kenny.)

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Right: This photo was posted to the Beacon Rock Golf Course (North Bonneville, Washington) Facebook page on 6 September 2017 with the caption “Our golfers are committed to finishing the round! Photo by Kristi McCluer.

        I confess I’m presently more impressed with life’s perverse character, given the recent howling winds of rains and fires and human mischief near and far.

        When I got my flu shot this week, I asked my doctor if I could also get an inoculation for the blues. She just smiled.

        Devious-hearted theology, with duplicity and bluster coming from so many sources, from so many directions, by so many accomplices in human and climate tragedies.

        I’ve caught the devious-generated blues. These days my conscious discipline is to take Mr. Roger’s advice from his mother to “look for the helpers” in times when life seems to be unraveling.

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 “If justice, and only justice, is / all we ask, none will / escape the hangman’s / ugly work. . . . East of Eden, our fated home, / marked children that we are, / Abel seeding Lamech’s threat, compounded / epoch after aeon after era, bloodied soil wailing still.”  —continue reading “If justice and only justice: Lamech's threat of escalating violence,” a new poem

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Even cowgirls get the blues. (“Cowwomen” just gets crossways in the throat.) I’ve seen them do so with my own eyes, despite their rugged strength and sun-chiseled faces. I once checked the herd, starting just before sunup one frigid morning, with a real live cowgirl. It was birthing season and the cold was dangerous for newborns. Had to pick one up out of the snow, body still steaming in the frost, to get it into the pickup’s heat and hope it would recover.

        It didn’t.

        It’s not all sunshine and twinkling stars with Mother Nature. She can be cruel.

        As we’ve vividly seen in recent weeks, she can also be goaded into hot-breathed temper tantrums due to the earth-blistering, air-choking habits of human beings.

        Pope Francis didn’t mince words this week after viewing the devastation in the Caribbean caused by Hurricane Irma. No one who’s taken pastoral counseling would dare his bluntness in describing human behavior: Stupid! was the pontiff’s chosen descriptor.

        This is what happens, he continued, angry at the climate change deniers, “When you don’t want to see, you don’t see.

        He may have had in mind Jeremiah’s complaint. “The heart is devious above all else; it is perverse—who can understand it?” (17:9)

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“But, if by some miracle and all our struggle, the earth is spared, only justice to every living thing will save humankind.” —Alice Walker

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Right: A Rohingya man passes a child though a barbed wire border fence on the border with Bangladesh.

Hymn of praise. “I got me a fearless heart / Strong enough to get you through the scary part / It's been broken many times before / A fearless heart just comes back for more.” —Stevie Earl, “Fearless Heart

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In addition to all the obvious examples of deviation that crowds the minds of even the most casual observer, one of my heroes recently got called out for her duplicity of silence over horrid repression of some of her country’s citizens.

        Aung San Suu Kyi, the de facto leader of Myanmar (Burma), was for decades kept under house arrest by the former ruling junta of generals and became the symbol of human rights advocacy after the student riots of 1988. In 2015 her National League for Democracy party won the election, though she is not permitted to formally serve as Myanmar’s president because she married a Brit and both her sons have British citizenship (forbidden by the country’s constitution). Myanmar’s military maintains a controlling share of political authority.

        The government, which is officially Buddhist, has for decades waged low-intensity warfare against the so-called “hilltribe” peoples, indigenous groups with distinct cultures, some of which have majority-Christian populations, who live mostly in the horseshoe-shaped mountain ranges at the country’s borders.

        Among those minorities, though, are the Rohingya, a Muslim population in the Rakhine State on the country’s eastern border with Bangladesh and the Bay of Bengal, who have lived in that region since the 12th century. The Rohingya have not been given even the minimal status as a “minority” group, have been stripped of their citizenship, not counted in the census, and have been subject to Buddhist mob and military violence for the past half-century. The United Nations described them as among the most persecuted religious minorities in the world. (See Linday Murdock, “What is going on with Aung San Suu Kyi,” Sydney Morning Herald)

        In recent weeks the Myanmar military has engaged in systematic killings and Rohingya village burnings, driving more than 370,000 of them into Bangladesh in an indisputable act of ethnic cleansing.

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I have long cherished this quote from Suu Kyi: "A revolution which aims merely at changing official policies and institutions with a view to an improvement in material conditions has little chance of genuine success. Without a revolution of the spirit, the forces which produced the iniquities of the old order would continue to be operative, posing a constant threat to the process of reform and regeneration."

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        This past week, Suu Kyi’s long time friend and fellow Nobel Peace Laureate Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu called her out in an open letter, which begins:

        “I am now elderly, decrepit and formally retired, but breaking my vow to remain silent on public affairs out of profound sadness about the plight of the Muslim minority in your country, the Rohingya. . . . My dear sister: If the political price of your ascension to the highest office in Myanmar is your silence, the price is surely too steep.” —see Naaman Zhou and Michael Safi, The Guardian

Right: Desmond Tutu with Aung San Suu Kyi in Yangon in 2013. Photo by Soe Than Win-AFP-Getty Images

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Myanmar Leader Cancels U.N. Trip Amid Outcry Over Rohingya Slaughter,” Rick Gladstone & Somini Sengupta, New York Times

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Hymn of lamentation.Many Rivers to Cross,” Joe Cocker.

Words of assurance. Watch this brief video (0:58) of Mr. Rogers telling the story of his mother’s advice, in the midst of catastrophe, to “look for the helpers.”

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Short story. Among the helpers to whom I look for courage is my friend and fellow church member Greg Yost, a high school math teacher who resigned his job to work full time resisting the catastrophic effects of climate change enablers.

        Greg is in his second week of a water-only fast, sitting in front of the NC Department of Environmental Quality office calling attention to their power to grant water quality permits that would allow construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a 600-mile natural gas pipeline running from West Virginia to Eastern North Carolina, with opposition organized by “The Alliance To Protect People and the Places We Live. (You can view the pipeline’s map here.)

        Greg (at left, photo by Sue Sturgis, Facing South), one of the founders of “Beyond Extreme Energy,”  focuses on opposition to fossil fuel extraction, transport and storage. We know for certain that if earth’s ecosphere is to survive, most of the fossil fuel now sequestered in the ground must remain there—which means the race for renewal energy is escalating dramatically.

        In an open letter to NC Governor Roy Cooper, asking him to reject the 401 water permits needed to construct the pipeline, Greg writes:

        “My young students will not have time to recover from the mistakes that you and I will make today if we build the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, thereby making a one time, generational investment in dirty, outmoded energy technology. Pipelines and gas plants, once built, will shackle us to this expensive and life threatening fuel for decades to come. . . .” —read the entire letter at the letter here

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Germany, France, Britain, Norway, India, and China either have in place or are working on a timetable to ban vehicles powered by internal combustion. Austria, Denmark, Ireland, Japan, the Netherlands, Portugal, Korea and Spain have set official targets for electric car sales. —see Alanna Petroff, CNN Money

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If you don’t live [the blues], it won’t come out your horn.—jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker

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Other stories from our past. If we are to grow roots deep enough to withstand the devastation of history’s fire and rain storms, escalating the church’s memory of its saints is important.

        One of those is St. Peter Claver, patron saint of slaves, whose official saint day is 9 September. Claver, a Spanish Jesuit born in Catalonia, was posted to the city of Cartegna in what is now Colombia. A port city, Cartegna was a significant market for the transatlantic slave trade from Africa to the “new world.” Despite his own poor health, Claver devoted his entire life to caring for the enslaved in that region. In 1985 the government of Colombia declared 9 September as its Human Rights Day in honor of Claver’s memory.

        There is no evidence that St. Claver advocated for the abolishment of slavery, like his predecessors Antonio de Montesinos and Bartolomé de las Casas. Roman Catholic church teachings condemned slavery as an “enormous crime” as early as 1462, though the right of enslavement remained for those who “refused” conversion.

        Then again, St. Claver’s extraordinary life of service among the enslaved rings more true than that of some today who speak, often and loudly, about structural justice but do so at little personal cost.

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Best one-liner. “We must speak to [the dispossessed] with our hands before we speak to them with our lips.” —St. Peter Claver, patron saint of slaves

Can’t makes this sh*t up. This new word—terracide, meaning "the destruction of a planet or of natural ecosystems"—has not yet been inserted in many dictionaries.

Altar call. “Blessed are those who trust in the Blessed One, whose trust is the Lord [instead of muscular force]. They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit.” —Jeremiah 17:7-8

Benediction. “Though the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit is on the vines; though the produce of the olive fails, and the fields yield no food; though the flock is cut off from the fold, and there is no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will exult in the God of my salvation.” —Habakkuk 3:17-18

Recessional. “How many times / Have I stood / By the river / And could not see / To the other side / Hoping like Moses / The clouds / Would be lifted / Stretch out my hand / The waters divide / Lay back the darkness / Let in the light / Take all the wrongs / Make them all right / And if I could / Lay down these blues / For good.” —Kate Campbell, “Lay Back the Darkness” (Thanks Mike.)

Lectionary for this Sunday, answering Lamech;s escalating threat (Genesis 4;24). “Then Peter came and said to [Jesus], ‘Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’
        “Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.’” —Matthew 18:21-22

Lectionary for Sunday next. “For [your children] are living messages to a lineage you will not see; to a future beyond your horizon. Devote yourself to the generations to come, so that each newborn ear will attend the decree of deliverance.” —continue reading “Teach Your Children Well,” a litany for worship inspired by Psalm 78 

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

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Featured this week on prayer&politiks

• “Teach Your Children Well,” a litany for worship inspired by Psalm 78

• “If justice and only justice: Lamech's threat of escalating violence,” a new poem

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