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Signs of the Times  •  28 June 2017  •  No. 125

Processional.Stand By Me,” Steel Pan band at the 30th anniversary Flatbush Frolic in Brooklyn, NY.

Special issue

Invocation. “To the one unchanged  / Yesterday and today  / Oh YHWH  / I will try to stay awake  / Take my last breath of faith  / As I wait for you to come / Take me beyond  / This land undone  / Over the flood  / By your word, spirit, and blood.” —Josh Garrels, “Words Remain

This was once on the tip of our national tongue. “Wherever the standard of freedom and independence has been or shall be unfurled there will be America's heart, her benedictions and her prayers. But she goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.” However, should we succumb to the temptation of “wars of interest and intrigue, . . . fundamental maxims of [US] policy would insensibly change from liberty to force. . . she might become the dictatress of the world.” —President John Quincy Adams, Washington, DC, 4 July 1821

One of the first treaties signed by the US, with Tripoli (now Libya) in 1796, rejected any notion of theocratic governance, stating that "the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion." Wikipedia

Call to worship. “O God of justice, ignite the hearts of our legislators with your commitment to truth and your demand for justice. May their hands be large enough to reach across the bloody divisions in our land.” —continue reading “Give wisdom to legislators,” a litany inspired by Psalm 72

Good news. This is an extraordinarily moving story from National Public Radio about a music therapist and a dying patient. Listen (5:08) or read the transcript. —Erika Lantz 

Hymn of praise. Monastery of St. Clare, Lusaka, Zambia.

¶ “Patriotism is when love of your own people comes first; nationalism, when hate for people other than your own comes first.” —Charles De Gaulle

Confession. “Born in iniquity and conceived in sin, the spirit of nationalism has never ceased to bend human institutions to the service of dissension and distress.” —Thorstein Veblen

During the Spanish-American War of 1898, “As our armies were committing massacres in the Philippines (at least 600,000 Filipinos died in a few years of conflict) [and waterboarding was used in interrogation], Elihu Root, our secretary of war, was saying: ‘The American soldier is different from all other soldiers of all other countries since the war began. He is the advance guard of liberty and justice, of law and order, and of peace and happiness.’" —Howard Zinn, “Put Away the Flags

¶ “Every war when it comes, or before it comes, is represented not as a war but as an act of self-defense against a homicidal maniac.” —George Orwell

Among the sacred Independence Day traditions in the US is the annual Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest. Matt Stonie set the current record in 2015, eating 69 hot dogs (and buns) in 10 minutes. Stonie is ranked the No. 1 eater by Major League Eating. (Yes, that’s a thing.)

You do propaganda; we do public relations. Edward Bernays was Sigmund Freud's American nephew. During World War I, he used his uncle's psychological theories to aid the war effort through propaganda in Europe, playing on people's subconscious desires and fears to achieve favorable results for the Allies.

        “When I came back to the US,” Bernays recalled many years later, “I decided that if you could use propaganda for war, you could certainly use it for peace. And propaganda got to be a bad word because of the Germans using it, so what I did was to try and find some other word.”

        Bernays, considered one of the founders fathers of the public relations professions, developed the concept of public relations as “the engineering of consent” which he called “the very essence of the democratic process.” —Jonathan Langley, “Creating Consumers: Psychology, Propaganda and the Economy

Decibel freedom. “. . . we have the right and obligation to protect what others have fought and died for.” —letter to the editor, Asheville Citizen-Times, from a motorcyclist rejecting calls for stricter enforcement of vehicular noise regulations

¶ “It is lamentable, that to be a good patriot one must become the enemy of the rest of mankind.” —Voltaire

Words of assurance. “Burdens now may crush me down, / Disappointments all around, / Troubles speak in mournful sigh, / Sorrow through a tear stained eye; / There is a world where pleasure reigns, / No mourning soul shall roam its plains, / And to that land of peace and glory / I want to go some day.” —MetroSingers, “Someday.”  See all Charles A. Tindley's lyrics to this hymn.

Over the past decades the aphorism “'freedom is not free' has become a popular patriotic refrain. But we forget that, in 1953, Army Chief of Staff General Matthew Ridgeway used the phrase to identify the difference between those who torture their captives and those who, like us, believe the disavowal of torture is among the 'self-evident truths' dating from our Republic’s founding. The 'cost' of freedom entails moral accountability. —excerpted from “The cost of freedom entails moral accountability: The need for truthtelling about the CIA’s torturing practices

¶ "Lost souls escape their loss of control in patriotism." —Dr. Samuel Johnson

Professing our faith. “I want our nation to listen to a poet who dares to unchoke love from bellowing patriotism. One who will resuscitate the word with the sharp rib-cracking pressure of truth, so that the gasp of the future may rush into our lungs, that we might breathe together and survive our broken hearts.” —Rivera Sun, “Sing the Body Politic, Electric,” CommonDreams

Hymn of resolution. “This is my song, O God of all Nations / A song of peace for lands afar and mine / This is my home, the country where my heart is / Here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine / But other hearts in other lands are beating / With hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.” —Indigo Girls, with Michelle Malone, “Song of Peace (Finlandia)”

Short story. “Some years ago, on a visit to the Maritime provinces of Canada, we took a history tour of St. John, New Brunswick, and learned details of a narrative I vaguely recalled. St. John’s story is uniquely tied to US history.

        “The city's legacy dates to 1783, shortly after the Treaty of Paris ending the American Revolutionary War, when British Loyalists fled to Canada. Terms of the Treaty stipulated reparations by the new U.S. Congress for those whose properties had been destroyed or expropriated. Congress decided to leave the matter to the individual states. You can imagine how far that went.” —continue reading “Of thee I sing: An Independence Day meditation

¶ “Force is as pitiless to the man who possesses it, or thinks he does, as it is to its victims; the second it crushes, the first it intoxicates. The truth is, nobody really possesses it.” —Simone Weil

Hymn of intercession. “From the north to the south / from the west to the east / hear the prayer of the mothers / bring them peace / bring them peace.” —Yael Deckelbaum & Prayer of the Mothers, “This Land”(English translation of Hebrew and Egyptian Arabic lyrics), a 14-member ensemble of Jewish, Arab and Christian women

When only the blues will do. —Layla Zoe, Don’t wanna hurt nobody

By the numbers: National standing takes a hit. A new Pew Research Center poll of citizens in 37 countries around the globe found that only 22% of respondents have confidence Trump will act wisely in international affairs. Previously, President Obama had a 64% rating. Favorability ratings of the US also dropped from 64% to 49%. John Bacon, USAToday

Offertory.Your Eyes,” Anoushka Shankar.

Preach it. “Here is the mystery, the secret, one might almost say the cunning, of the deep love of God: that it is bound to draw on to itself the hatred and pain and shame and anger and bitterness and rejection of the world, but to draw all those things on to itself is precisely the means, chosen from all eternity by the generous, loving God, by which to rid his world of the evils which have resulted from human abuse of God-given freedom.” —N.T. Wright

Can’t makes this sh*t up. In his first four months in office, “drain-the-swamp” Donald Trump has granted more waivers for former lobbyists to work in his administration than Obama did in eight years. Matthew Yglesias, Vox

Call to the table. “What many of us have been attempting to do—build a thriving multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-faith, egalitarian democracy out of the rubble of slavery and genocide—has never been achieved in the history of the world. Some say it can never be done. Is America Possible? That’s the question we face right now.” Michelle Alexander, author of “The New Jim Crow,” Radical Discipleship

The state of our disunion. “This nation is founded on blood like a city on swamps / yet its dream has been beautiful and sometimes just / that now grows brutal and heavy as a burned-out star.” —Marge Piercy, in “Circles on the Water

Best one (long) liner. “The bosom of America is open to receive not only the Opulent and respectable Stranger, but the oppressed and persecuted of all Nations And Religions; whom we shall wellcome to a participation of all our rights and previleges, if by decency and propriety of conduct they appear to merit the enjoyment.” —George Washington, 2 December 1783 letter (Original spellings as shown. Thanks Courtney.)

For the beauty of the earth. Blooming cacti. (3:27 video.)

Altar call. “The devil lies to the kings and gets them blind drunk on his wine of Patriotism and they fill their subjects with the same stuff and tell them that their fatherland is in danger and they must fight to protest it. That is a lie of the Devil.

        “The highest type of patriotism is to refuse to fight with carnal weapons and stand by Him who taught us to love our enemies and put up the sword.

        “O Reader, don't let the devil fool you on this false notion of patriotism. . . . Will we, followers of the Prince of Peace, dedicate our bodies to the god of war to murder or butcher our fellow man? God forbid!” —W.S. Craig, writing in the “Repairer” publication, April 1918, rooted in the Free Methodist denomination and “radical holiness” movement

Benediction. “The love of one's country is a splendid thing. But why should love stop at the border?” —Pablo Casals

Recessional. “Listen, smith of the heavens, / what the poet asks. / May softly come unto me / your mercy. / So I call on thee, / for you have created me. / Most we need thee. Drive out, O king of suns, generous and great, every human sorrow from the city of the heart.” —“Heyr himna smiður” (“Hear, Heavenly Creator”), 12th century Icelandic poem, put to music by Thorkell Sigurbjornsson, performed by Eivør Pálsdóttir (click the “show more” button to see all the lyrics)

Lectionary for this Sunday. “This is a large work I’ve called you into, but don’t be overwhelmed by it. It’s best to start small. Give a cool cup of water to someone who is thirsty, for instance. The smallest act of giving or receiving makes you a true apprentice.” —Matthew 10:42, The Message

Lectionary for Sunday next. “Who,” asked the Apostle, in another part of his letter to the early church living in the belly of Rome’s imperial rule, “Who can deliver [us] from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24). His response? Disarmed lives, shaped by disarmed hearts, by the power of God and in the manner of Jesus, whose purpose openly contradicted the mighty Caesar’s claim to be the “author of peace” and “lord and savior” of the world. So that all life again may be precious. —continue reading “Precious indeed: Reflections on a post-bin Laden world

Just for fun. Jordan Klepper puts Trump's defense-heavy budget into perspective on The Daily Show. (1:07 video. Thanks Abigail.)

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Featured this week on prayer&politiks

• “Give wisdom to legislators,” a litany inspired by Psalm 72

• “Of thee I sing: An Independence Day meditation

• “Jonathan & ee cummings: The secret of freedom,” a story about my grandson
Other features
• “The cost of freedom entails moral accountability: The need for truthtelling about the CIA’s torturing practices

• “Precious indeed: Reflections on a post-bin Laden world

©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.

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