News, views, notes, and quotes

Signs of the Times  •  21 June 2017  •  No. 124

Processional.We Are Not Alone,” Sharon Mennonite Bible Institute Singers.

Above: "This photograph captures a whale behaviour called ‘spy hopping’, where whales poke their head above the water to take a look around and see what’s happening above the surface.” Photograph off the coast of Queensland, Australia, by Mark Seabury, featured in National Geographic’s 2017 Travel Photograph of the Year Contest.

Imagine a disaster so severe that everybody in three of our most populous states—Texas, Florida and New York—were suddenly forced from their homes and made to run for their lives. That’s how many refugees are on the move today.
        Or imagine 630 school buses being filled, every day, half of them children, to be transported to who knows where, over hostile roads and drowning waters, arriving where they are unwanted—considered a burden or even a threat.
        War, persecution, or severe food shortages—sometimes all three, each cause compounding the others—are currently forcing 65 million people from their homes. Ours is the worst refugee crisis in written history. —more background at “World Refugee Day: What you should know,” CNN
        For more information about World Refugee Sunday, see last week’s “Signs of the Times” column. Each year 20 June is designated by the United Nations as World Refugee Day. Many churches mark the occasion on the Sunday before or after. But any time is a good time.

Invocation. “One day at a time sweet Jesus / That's all I'm askin' from You / Just give me the strength / To do everyday what I have to do." —Judy Collins, “One Day At a Time

Good news. Recently three Indonesian soccer players (football, to most of the globe) made an unusual political statement after scoring a goal: Each assumed a traditional prayer position associated with Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam. The photo (right) was posted on the team’s Facebook page with the following comment: “Because different beliefs will not prevent us from achieving the same goals.”
        The photo comes at a particularly important time in Indonesian history, as the rise of less tolerant Islamist political factions in the country in recent months has threatened Indonesia’s more moderate and secular government.Siasat

Call to worship. "Keep knocking, and the joy inside will eventually open a window and look out to see who’s there." —Rumi

Not so good news. If you missed it, catch Trevor Noah’s Daily Show commentary (3:02 video) on the acquittal of the police officer who killed Philando Castile during a traffic stop in a St. Paul, Minn. suburb.  For a transcript of his comments—particularly his skewering of the NRA, see Caroline Framke, Vox.

Take this brief survey (1:38 video) of the historically high number of refugees. You’ll be surprised to know who’s hosting most of them. —AJ+ (Thanks Harold.)

Hymn of praise.Behold Our God,” Praise and Harmony Singers.

On Monday 19 June, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) refused to confirm that his colleagues would have as much as 10 hours to read, debate and propose amendments to the American Health Care Act (AHCA), narrowly approved, 217-213, by the House of Representatives. Its purpose is to replace President Obama’s Affordable Care Act (ACA).

“Obamacare” was originally a pejorative term for the “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.” It was signed by President Obama on 23 March 2010, The legislation was debated in multiple committees, as well as full floor debates, in both the House and the Senate for 12 months, during which time 161 Republican amendments were approved. It then survived legal challenges in the US Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court. As of April 2017, 55% of the American population approved of Obamacare; 42% disapproved.

¶ “According to new results released [23 March] by Quinnipiac University Polling, only 17% of Americans are in support of Donald Trump and Paul Ryan's American Health Care Act (AHCA). Most of those polled—56%—were outright against the AHCA, and 26 percent were undecided.” SFGate

Though he led a victory party in the White House Rose Garden with Republican leaders after the AHCA’s approval, saying the bill was “incredibly well crafted.” Trump later referred to the legislation as “mean” and needed to be “more generous” in a private lunch with Senate leaders. Bob Bryan, Associated Press

Confession. “The pain of suffering and of longing, which can often be felt even physically, must be there, and we cannot and need not talk it away. But it needs to be overcome every time, and thus there is an even holier angel than the one of pain; that is, the one of joy in God.” —Dietrich Bonhoeffer

See John Oliver’s humorous take on the Senate’s version of the American Healthcare Act (3:48 video).

Hymn of supplication. “Holy Mother, where are you? / Tonight I feel broken in two. / I've seen the stars fall from the sky. / Holy mother, can't keep from crying. / Oh I need your help this time, / Get me through this lonely night. / Tell me please which way to turn / To find myself again.” —Eric Claption & Luciano Pavarotti, “Holy Mother

Among the differences between the Affordable Care Act (aka “Obamacare”) and the new American Health Care Act (aka “Trumpcare”) is the word “American.” This is one of the ways Congress will Make America Great Again.

Words of assurance. “Give thanks and rejoice you storm-tossed pilgrims: the Stiller of Storms is at your mast, hushing the wind and calming the waves. Listen now you barking jackals: A diligent Voice will sever your tongue and seal your mouth forever. Give thanks, you orphan and widow; rejoice, you refugee.” —continue reading “Let Wisdom’s Way Endure,” a litany for use on Refugee Sunday

Professing our faith. “We are God’s odd ones. And according to the Jesus story, God is more taken with the agony of the earth than with the ecstasy of heaven. Connecting the purpose of Jesus with the drama of Creation is the heart of Christian confession. Everything else is footnote.” —continue reading “Wade in the water: Baptism as political mandate

Left: Art by Ricardo Levins Morales, ©RLM Art Studio

In a poll of 2,000 Americans, the media company Morning Consult found that 35% of responders did not know that Obamacare and the Affordable Care Act are the same thing. Kyle Dropp & Brendan Nyhan, New York Times

For more background on health care legislation, see:
        •special issue of “Signs of the Times” on health care.
        •”Health care as a fundamental human right.”

One new story, two new essays:

§ “Jonathan & ee cummings: The secret of freedom
        Recently, when Nancy picked up our 3-year-old grandson Jonathan from preschool, out of the blue he said, “Ja-Ja (her grandmotherly nickname), ee cummings wrote poem.”
        “Did you learn that at school, Jay?” Nancy asked. “No,” he said from the back seat.
        “Did your Mama teach you that?” “Yes.”
        “Is it the one that begins with ‘i thank you God for this most amazing day’? she asked. At which point he began quoting the rest of that verse with her.
        Neither could remember the second stanza, but Nancy began the third, with Jay keeping up: “I who have died am alive again today. . . .”
                 "how should tasting hearing seeing
                 breathing any — lifted from the no of
                 all nothing — human merely being
                 doubt unimaginable You?”
        “Ja-Ja,” he said. ‘You left out ‘touching. . . .’” (click the title to continued reading)

§ “God and stuff: Lawnmowers, banking boodle, and the Spirit’s traffic in human affairs
      When you stick it to your neighbor, you’re sticking it to the Abba of Jesus. When you shorten the breath of those on the margin, you are simultaneously constricting the Breath of the Spirit in your own lungs. In vivid Pauline language, greed is synonymous with idolatry (Colossians 3:5); when your belly (e.g., your desires, your security demands) becomes your god, you are the “enemy of the cross” (Philippians 3:18-19). I can assure you, those texts are never read in White House prayer breakfasts. . . . (click the title to continued reading)

§ “Is an attack on one an attack on all? The brutal consequences of our nation’s gun fetish
      We are a nation awash in guns, increasingly inured to violence that doesn’t happen on our street or zip code or time zone, and increasingly addicted to militarized response to threat at home and, especially, abroad. The recent shooting of legislators in a public park, of those practicing for a charity baseball game, could be a teachable moment in how we might disentangle ourselves from these deathly habits.
       Will it?
       I wish I were more hopeful that lessons will be learned, penitence declared, restoration initiated, communal bonds recovered. People of faith, however, know that hope’s foundation lies deeper than present circumstances permit, however unfavorable. . . . (click the title to continued reading)

When only the blues will do. Fredrik Strand Halland, 12 year-old Norwegian, plays Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Texas Flood.”

Preach it. “Remember, you were a slave in Egypt. . . .”  (Deut. 24:17-18) is at the core of biblical faith. Memory fosters fidelity; amnesia leads to ruin. The witnesses who testify to one or the other are the immigrant, the orphan, and the widow, signifying those most at risk in the unfettered market’s madness. —kls

Can’t makes this sh*t up. Only days after President Trump accused the nation of Qatar of being “a funder of terrorism, and at a very high level,” Trump then signed off on a $12 billion deal to sell them US jet fighters. Margaret Brennan & Kylie Atwood, CBS News

Call to the table. “Break the bread of belonging / Welcome the stranger in the land / We have each been a stranger / We can try to understand.” —Gary Rand, “Breaking the Bread of Belonging

The state of our disunion. “We aren’t stupid.” (Republican aide, explaining why Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell invoked a parliamentary rule allowing the American Health Care Act to skip committee hearings and go straight to the floor for a vote.) —Dana Wilbank, "What Republicans are doing while you’re distracted by Sessions and Comey,” Washington Post

For the beauty of the earth. Meet the deepest place on earth—the Mariana Trench, in the western Pacific Ocean—and some of its inhabitants. Sandbrero (1:22 video. Thanks David.)

Altar call.The Creed,” Alexander Gretchaninoff, performed by the Russian Metropolitan Church Choir, Paris.

Benediction. “Child the time has come for you to go / You will never be alone / Every dream that you have been shown / Will be like living stone / Building you into a home / A shelter from the storm.” —Josh Garrels, “White Owl

Recessional.Adagio for Strings,” op. 11 by Samuel Barber, performed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, conducted by Leonard Bernstein.

Lectionary for this Sunday. “Jump for joy, oh people! For amid the screaming commercials and blithering campaign ads, the Redeemer has heard our aching voice.” —continue reading “Bounty and abundance,” a litany for worship inspired by Psalm 116

Lectionary for Sunday next. “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

Just for fun. It took a builder 25 hours to construct a massive triple spiral structure using 15,000 dominoes—less than 1.5 minutes to come down in precise order. (1:47 video. Thanks Oliver.)

#  #  #

Featured this week on prayer&politiks

• “Let Wisdom’s Way Endure,” a litany for use on Refugee Sunday

• “Jonathan & ee cummings: The secret of freedom,” a grandparent’s story

• “God and stuff: Lawnmowers, banking boodle, and the Spirit’s traffic in human affairs,” an essay

• “Is an attack on one an attack on all? The brutal consequences of our nation’s gun fetish,” an essay 

Left: Mural art in Az’atari Syrian Refugee Camp in Jordan, 2013, in collaboration with children and the organizations AptART and ACTED.

©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.

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