News, views, notes, and quotes

Signs of the Times  •  25 April 2017  •  No. 117

Processional.Testimony,” Voices of Hope, acclaimed women's choir made up of inmates at Lee Arrendale State Prison in Georgia.

Above: Wisteria tree, Kawachi Fujien Wisteria Garden, Japan, photo by Peter Lourenco.

Special theme issue

Invocation. "[God] raised Jesus, not as an invitation to us to come to heaven when we die, but as a declaration that He himself has not established permanent residence on earth. The resurrection places Jesus on this side of the grave, here and now, in the midst of this life. The Good News of the resurrection is not that we shall die and go home with him but that he is risen and comes home with us, bringing all his hungry, naked, thirsty, sick, prisoner brothers with him." —Clarence Jordan

¶ Good news.When was the last time you heard a tourism expert talk about land redistribution and debt forgiveness?" TV travel program host Rick Steves donates $4 million apartment complex for homeless women and children.” Read Steves’ remarkable commentary and watch this video (2:49) on his travel blog.  —news commentary by Ken Sehested

Photo at right. TV travel program host Rick Steves with some of the new residents of the housing complex he donated for use by single moms coming out of recovery and reuniting with their children.

Call to worship. “You can never hold back spring / You can be sure that I will never / Stop believing / The blushing rose will climb / Spring ahead or fall behind / Winter dreams the same dream / Every time / Even though you've lost your way / The world keeps dreaming of spring.” —Tom Waits, “You Can Never Hold Back Spring

¶ “Arkansas on Monday night executed two inmates in back-to-back lethal injections, carrying out the country’s first double execution since 2000.” Mark Berman, Washington Post

Hymn of praise.Ndaive Mbava,” Harare [Zimbabwe] Central Prison Gospel Choir.

¶ “Support for death penalty lowest in more than four decades.Pew Research Center, September 2016

This is big. “The pharmaceutical giant Pfizer announced that it had imposed sweeping controls on the distribution of its products to ensure that none are used in lethal injections, a step that closes off the last remaining open-market source of drugs used in executions. More than 20 American and European drug companies have already adopted such restrictions, citing either moral or business reasons. Nonetheless, the decision from one of the world’s leading pharmaceutical manufacturers is seen as a milestone.” Erik Eckholm New York Times (Thanks, Hillary.)

¶ “You can release an innocent man from prison, but you can’t release him from the grave.—Freddie Lee Pitts, who was exonerated from Florida’s death row for a crime he did not commit

¶ “Police chiefs consider the death penalty one of the least effective tools for halting violent crime and the least effective use of taxpayer money, according to a nationwide poll of police chiefs released today.” Gabrielle Banks, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Three organizations working on death penalty issues:

        • “The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penaltys mission is to abolish the death penalty in the United States and support efforts to abolish the death penalty worldwide.”

        • “The Innocence Project's mission is to free the staggering number of innocent people who remain incarcerated, and to bring reform to the system responsible for their unjust imprisonment.”

        • “The Death Penalty Information Center is a national non-profit organization serving the media and the public with analysis and information on issues concerning capital punishment.”

Recommended long read.The Death of the Death Penalty: Why the era of capital punishment is ending,” David von Drehle, Time.

Since 1973, 158 people on death row have been exonerated. —see Death Penalty Information Center

Confession. “No more, my Lord, / No more, my Lord, / Lord, I'll never turn back no more. / I found in / Him a resting place, / And He have made me glad. / Jesus, the Man I am looking for, / Can you tell me where He's gone? / Go down, go down, among flower yard, / And perhaps you may find Him there.” —“No More, My Lawd,” Negro Prison Blues and Songs

Prayer on the eve of execution. “God of justice and mercy, we gather as people of conscience and as people of faith. In our rich diversity, we assemble tonight in one spirit and with one purpose. We convene our hearts, our hopes and our voices. Break us, remake us, from blinded might to the Light that foreshadows the Dawn of Delight. Gracious Host, we acknowledge the frailty of human judgment. We acknowledge that our highest institutions are fallible, are plagued by racism and blindness, as are we." —read the “Litany of lament and longing: Public prayer vigil on the evening of Troy Davis’ execution.”

¶ “Had it not been for slavery, the death penalty would have likely been abolished in America. Slavery became a haven for the death penalty.” —Angela Davis

Hymn of lamentation. “The search light in the big yard / Swings round with the gun / And spotlights the snowflakes / Like the dust in the sun / It's Christmas in prison / There'll be music tonight / I'll probably get homesick / I love you. Goodnight.” —John Prine, “Christmas in Prison

¶ “An evil deed is not redeemed by an evil deed of retaliation.—Coretta Scott King

Words of assurance. “Hold on, just a little while longer. Everything’s gonna be alright.” —Sounds of Blackness, “Hold On Just a Little While Longer

¶ “From this day forward, I shall no longer tinker with the machinery of death. For more than twenty years I have endeavored—indeed, I have struggled—along with a majority of this court to develop procedural and substantive rules that would lend more than the mere appearance of fairness to the death penalty endeavor. Despite the effort . . . the death penalty remains fraught with arbitrariness, discrimination, caprice and mistake. I feel morally and intellectually obligated simply to concede that the death penalty experiment has failed.—former Supreme Court Associate Justice Justice Harry Blackmun

¶ “I think this country would be much better off if we did not have capital punishment. . . . We cannot ignore the fact that in recent years a disturbing number of inmates on death row have been exonerated.” —former Supreme Court Associate John Paul Stevens

¶ “Capital punishment is the most premeditated of murders.” —Albert Camus, French philosopher

¶ “It can be argued that rapists deserve to be raped, that mutilators deserve to be mutilated. Most societies, however, refrain from responding in this way because the punishment is not only degrading to those on whom it is imposed, but it is also degrading to the society that engages in the same behavior as the criminals.” —Stephen Bright, human rights attorney

Testify.Harmony In Hard Time,” trailer (3:26) for movie about the Voice of Hope Choir, inmates at Lee Arrendale State Prison in Georgia.

¶ “I've been haunted by the men I was asked to execute in the name of the state of Florida. This is premeditated, carefully thought out ceremonial killing.” —Ron McAndrew, former prison warden in Florida

¶ “The reality is that capital punishment in America is a lottery. It is a punishment that is shaped by the constraints of poverty, race, geography and local politics.” —Bryan Stevenson, founder and director of Equal Justice Initiative

¶ “The most glaring weakness is that no matter how efficient and fair the death penalty may seem in theory, in actual practice it is primarily inflicted upon the weak, the poor, the ignorant and minorities.” —California Governor Pat Brown

Hymn of resolution. “Circle round for freedom / Circle round for peace / For all of us imprisoned / Circle for release.” —San Diego Women’s Chorus, “Circle Chant

¶ “As if one crime of such nature, done by a single man, acting individually, can be expiated by a similar crime done by all men, acting collectively.” —Lewis Lawes, warden of Sing Sing prison in NY in the 1920s and 30s

¶ “I have yet to see a death case among the dozen coming to the Supreme Court on eve-of-execution stay applications in which the defendant was well represented at trial. . . . People who are well represented at trial do not get the death penalty." —Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Hymn of intercession.Sunny Day,” Death Row Choir–Uganda.

¶ “The forfeiture of life is too absolute, too irreversible, for one human being to inflict it on another, even when backed by legal process. And I believe that future generations, throughout the world, will come to agree.” —Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the United Nations

¶ “When once a certain class of people has been placed by the temporal and spiritual authorities outside the ranks of those whose life has value, then nothing comes more naturally to men than murder.” —Simone Weil

When only the blues will do.Black Woman,” Negro work songs recorded at the Mississippi and Louisiana State Penitentiaries by Alan Lomax.

By the numbers. “A 2014 report by the National Academy of Sciences estimated that 1 in every 25 people given a death sentence are in fact innocent of the crime for which they are sentenced. Moreover, we know that more than 150 people have been exonerated since the death penalty’s return in 1976. Because of such problems, public confidence in the fairness of the death penalty process is eroding. Thus, a 2013 Gallup poll found that only 52% of the American public believed that the death penalty was administered fairly.” Austin Sarat, Guardian

Preach it. “With every cell of my being, and with every fiber of my memory, I oppose the death penalty in all forms. I do not believe any civilized society should be at the service of death. I don’t think it’s human to become an Angel of Death.” —Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize winner

Can’t makes this sh*t up. “Arizona to death-row inmates: Bring your own execution drugs.” Fox News

Wait . . . what? “Society needs to execute those criminals who cannot live under its rules and recognize the sanctity of human life.” —pastor in North Carolina, in a letter to the editor, Winston-Salem Journal

Call to the table.Theme Song from Schindler’s List,” performed by Itzhak Perlman.

The state of our disunion. “[R]ace of victim was found to influence the likelihood of being charged with capital murder or receiving the death penalty, i.e., those who murdered whites were found to be more likely to be sentenced to death than those who murdered blacks. This finding was remarkably consistent across data sets, states, data collection methods, and analytic techniques.” —The U.S. General Accounting Office, “Death Penalty Sentencing: Research Indicates Pattern of Racial Disparities”

Best one-liner. “I’ll believe corporations are people when Texas executes one.”

For the beauty of the earth. In my neck of the woods, each spring the Smoky Mountains National Park has one of the country’s greatest light shows. Lampyridae, a family of insects in the beetle order Coleoptera. They are winged beetles, commonly called fireflies or lightning bugs. (0:52 video)

Altar call. Go Down, Moses,” Gospel rendition featuring Louis Armstrong.

Benediction. "Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior,” The Craguns. (This hymn is among the most popular among inmates.)

Recessional. “If you get worried, what you ought to do is sing.” —The Wood Brothers, “Sing About It

Lectionary for this Sunday. “One empty tomb poses no threat / to present entanglements, / any more than annual and / specially-adorned sanctuary crowds / encroach on Easter morn. / It’s Easter’s aftermath / resurrectus contagio, / contagious resurrection / that threatens entombing empires / with breached sovereignty.” —continue reading Ken Sehested’s “Easter’s aftermath,” a poem inspired by Luke 24:13-35 and Matthew 25:1-13

Lectionary for Sunday next. “Following the dramatic response to Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost, the text reports that the newly-formed People of the Way devoted themselves to listening and learning, to lingering in each other’s presence, to potluck dinners, and to prayer—with praise and pintos, songs and salads, received and given ’round the Bountiful Table. Hands and hearts, bound together, loosed for life and Love’s consent.” —continue reading Ken Sehested’s “Loosed for life and love’s consent,” a litany for worship inspired by Acts 2:42-47

Just for fun. Comedic juggling by Michael Davis.

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Featured this week on prayer&politiks

• “Loosed for life and love’s consent,” a litany for worship inspired by Acts 2:42-47 

• “Easter’s aftermath,” a poem inspired by Luke 24:13-35 and Matthew 25:1-13

• “Litany of lament and longing: Public prayer vigil on the evening of Troy Davis’ execution.”

• “When was the last time you heard a tourism expert talk about land redistribution and debt forgiveness? TV travel program host Rick Steves donates $4 million apartment complex for homeless women and children.” 

©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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