News, views, notes, and quotes

Signs of the Times  •  28 March 2017  •  No. 114

Processional. Japanese drum line.

Above: Photo by Philip Marazzi

Themed issue
Military spending

Invocation.Down By the Riverside,” Playing for Change.

Call to worship. “Can these bones live?” asks the Lord of Hosts. / “Only you know,” say our doubt-tendered lips. / “Prophesy, you raggedy-ann human!” came the reply.  / “Prophesy to the wind. Demand Heaven’s own Breath!” / Behold: comes the shaking, bone fit to bone. / Followed by sinews, knitting each to all.” —continue reading Ken Sehested’ “Dry bones,” a litany for worship inspired by Ezekiel 37:1-14

Hymn of praise. ““Peace Will Come,” Tom Paxton.

Here’s your Lenten meditation. Watch this video (8:37) about Noah Patton, a young man from Flint, Michigan who turned his life around and is helping to shape the future of his community.” Dana Romanoff, The Guardian

News you likely didn’t hear. “Women formed a human chain along Westminster Bridge [in London] to remember the victims of the attack on March 22.” Jen Mills, Photo at right by Reuters.

Confession. “We do everything we can to limit civilian casualties / ‘This isn’t Sunday school(one politician’s actual words) / Didn’t have those children in our sights / Impossible to see, at 10,000 feet, whether Kalashnakovs are present / Smart bombs aren’t flawless / Flawed intelligence (as if a test score were at stake).—continue reading Ken Sehested’s “Sorry, sorry, sorry: The political meaning of “collateral damage” repentance

¶“Believing that ‘standing armies in time of peace are inconsistent with the principles of republican governments [and] dangerous to the liberties of a free people,” the U.S. legislature disbanded the Continental Army following the Revolutionary War, except for a few dozen troops guarding munitions at West Point, New York, and Fort Pitt, Pennsylvania.” Jesse Greenspan,

¶ “The US has been continuously engaged in or mobilized for war since 1941. Using statistics compiled by the Federation of American Scientists, Gore Vidal has listed 201 overseas military operations between the end of World War II and September 11, 2001, in which the US struck the first blow. . . . It should be noted that since 1947 . . . in no instance has democratic government come about as a direct result.” —Chalmers Johnson, “Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic”

After World War II, the Department of War was renamed Department of Defense.

Fast forward to the present. “9/11 has taught us that terrorism against American interests ‘over there’ should be regarded just as we regard terrorism against America ‘over here.’ In this same sense, the American homeland is the planet.” —The 9/11 Commission Report (2004)

Hymn of lamentation.Death Don’t Have No Mercy,” Rev. Gary Davis. (Thanks Peter.)

¶ “The United States has formally declared war on only five occasions: the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, the Spanish-American War, World War I and World War II. Yet it has sent its armed forces abroad over 300 times ‘for other than normal peacetime purposes,’ according to a congressional report issued in 2010.” Jesse Greenspan,

¶ “Why does the US have 800 military bases around the world?—excellent 3:59 video summary by Vox

The ever-expanding network of US foreign military bases [see the graphic at right] “involves a world’s worth of new missions for the US military, which is fast becoming the ‘global cavalry’ of the twenty-first century.” —Thomas Donnelly and Vance Serchuk, American Enterprise Institute

The US controls 95% of military bases outside national borders. The UK has seven; France, five; Russia, eight; South Korea, India, Chile, Turkey and Israel each have one; as now does China, building its first foreign base, in Djibouti. —see David Vine, "The United States Probably Has More Foreign Military Bases Than Any Other People, Nation, or Empire in History: And it’s doing us more harm than good,” The Nation

Despite lowering US troop levels in Afghanistan and Iraq, President Obama managed to spend more money on the Pentagon that George W. Bush did in his eight years in office. William Hartung, huffingtonpost

One key reason for maintaining high levels of military spending is because of what former Pentagon analyst Franklin Spinney calls “political engineering,” where states vie to get and keep bases and military supply manufacturing, creating economic incentive to ignore efficient planning.

 ¶ “Worldwide, the military runs more than 170 golf courses.” Dave Gilson, Mother Jones

¶ “Rarely does anyone ask if we need hundreds of bases overseas or if, at an estimated annual cost of perhaps $156 billion or more, the United States can afford them.” —David Vine, The United States Probably Has More Foreign Military Bases Than Any Other People, Nation, or Empire in History: And it’s doing us more harm than good,” The Nation

At the end of World War II Lockheed President Robert Gross was terrified by the war’s end. In a 1947 letter to a friend he said “As long as I live I will never forget those short, appalling weeks” of the postwar period. . . . “We had one underlying element of comfort during the war. We knew we’d get paid for anything we built.  Now we are almost entirely on our own.” —quoted in William Hartung, huffingtonpost

As of 2011 “the US had publicly acknowledged Status of Force Agreements [legal arrangements allowing the US to station troops] with 93 countries, also some are so embarrassing to the host nation that they are kept secret . . .  [T]he true number of existing SOFA’s remains publicly unknown.” —Chalmers Johnson, “Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic”

Words of assurance. “Though the nations rage from age to age, we remember who holds us fast; / God’s mercy shall deliver us from the conqueror’s crushing grasp. / This saving word that our forebears heard is the promise which holds us bound, / Till the spear and rod can be quelled by God who is turning the world around.” — Gary Daigle, Rory Cooney & Theresa Donohoo, “Canticle of the Turning

¶ “[A]lthough it’s required to by law, the Department of Defense has never had an audit, something every American person, every company and every other government agency is subject to. The result is an astounding $10 trillion in taxpayer money that has gone unaccounted for since 1996.” Thomas Hedges, The Guardian

¶ “The Pentagon employs 3 million people, 800,000 more than Walmart,” the world’s wealthiest company. Dave Gilson, Mother Jones

¶ “In 2015, according to Special Operations Command spokesman Ken McGraw, US Special Operations forces deployed to a record-shattering 147 countries—75% of the nations on the planet. On any day of the year, in fact, America’s most elite troops can be found in 70 to 90 nations.” Nick Turse, TomDispatch

Short story. Harry Emerson Fosdick, among the great preachers in US history, volunteered to serve as a military chaplain in World War I. The brutality so devastated him that he began a spiritual journey toward pacifism, first publicly announced in his sermon, “Unknown Soldier,” on Armistice Day 1933. He also authored the majestic hymn, “God of Grace and God of Glory” (see below).

Hymn of resolution. “Cure thy children's warring madness; / bend our pride to your control; / shame our wanton, selfish gladness, / rich in things and poor in soul.” —Kate Campbell performs Harry Emerson Fosdick’s “God of Grace and God of Glory

Until President Obama curtailed the practice in May 2015, many local police departments around the nation were given surplus military equipment. In 2011 alone the price tag was more than $500 million. Robert Johnson, Business Insider

¶ “The Department of Defense uses 4,600,000,000 US gallons of fuel annually, an average of 12,600,000 gallons per day.” Wikipedia

Hymn of intercession.Lay Down Your Arms,” written by Doron Levinson, a wounded Israeli veteran. The Hebrew words are drawn from Isaiah 2:4 “They shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall no longer raise up arms against nation, neither shall they teach their children war anymore."

Preach it. Reflecting on the meaning of the Holocaust, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote, “We have failed to offer sacrifices on the altar of peace; now we must offer sacrifices on the altar of war. . . . In our everyday life we worshipped force, despised compassion, and obeyed no law but our unappeasable appetite.” —“The Meaning of This War [World War II]”

The military’s new F-35 fighter jet’s original 2001 development cost was $233 billion. That figure is now $1 trillion. Jaason Slotkin, NPR

Can’t makes this sh*t up. The US Secret Service requested $60 million in additional funding for the next year to protect the Trump family, including protecting Trump’s sons as they travel the world promoting Trump properties. —Drew Harwell & Amy Brittain, Washington Post

Call to the table. “We want to bathe in the blood of the dragon and drink from the blood of the Lamb at the same time. But the truth is that we have to choose.” —Dorothee Sölle

¶ “70% of the value of the federal government’s $1.8 trillion in property, land and equipment belongs to the Pentagon.” Dave Gilson, Mother Jones

The reason many US army helicopters are named after native-American tribes is because the first US Air Force bases were located on native reserves.

The state of our disunion. “We may think [our foreign military] bases have made us safer. In reality, they’ve helped lock us inside a permanently militarized society that has made all of us—everyone on this planet—less secure, damaging lives at home and abroad.   —David Vine, "The United States Probably Has More Foreign Military Bases Than Any Other People, Nation, or Empire in History: And it’s doing us more harm than good,” The Nation

Best one-liner. “When America is no longer a threat to the world, the world will no longer threaten us.” —Harry Browne

The famous prayer reportedly said by Captain Jack Hays of the Texas Rangers during the Mexican-American War, shortly before leading his troops into battle at Palo Alto:
      "O, Lord, we are about to join battle with a vastly superior number of the enemy, and, Heavenly Father, we would mightily like for you to be on our side and help us. But if You can't do it, for Christ's sake don't go over to the Mexicans, but just lay low and keep in the dark, and You will see one of the dangest fights you've ever seen. Charge!"

For the beauty of the earth.Finalists of the Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards." (Thanks Patti.)

This George W. Bush-era policy assertion is still operative (though in recent months a few federal judges have pushed back). “The Commander in Chief’s pursuit of national security cannot be constrained by any laws passed by Congress, even when he [sic] is acting against US citizens.” —Massimo Calabresi, “Wartime Power Play,” Time

Altar call.Study War,” Moby.

Benediction. “May you grow up to be righteous / May you grow up to be true / May you always know the truth / And see the lights surrounding you.” —Joan Baez’s rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young

Recessional. “There will be a jubilee / Oh my lord oh my lord / There will be a jubilee / When the children all go free / Yeah they'll lay down their swords / They'll study war no more / There'll be a great big jubilee.” —The Devil Makes Three, “There’ll Be a Jubilee

Lectionary for this Sunday. “With haggard hearts each voice imparts this plea for constancy. / Draw near, dispel confounding fear, with Heaven’s clemency.” —continue reading Ken Sehested’s “Draw Near,” a litany for worship inspired by Psalm 130

Lectionary for Sunday next. “[In the Matthew 21 text for today,] Jesus was engaging in some dramatic liturgy and risky political theatre. Liturgy and politics are always connected. Liturgy is the symbolic expression of our highest hopes for the future. It’s how we communicate about what the future should look like. Politics is the mechanism we humans use to decide how to live together, of who gets what, when, where and how. What the future should look like, and how the present is actually shaped, are irrevocably linked in our faith.” —continue reading Ken Sehested’s “Palms, Passion, Politics and Prayer,” A Palm Sunday sermon

Just for fun. Playtime: the window washer and the cat.

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Featured this week on prayer&politiks

• “Palms, Passion, Politics and Prayer,” a Palm Sunday sermon

• “Sorry, sorry, sorry,” a poem on the political meaning of “collateral damage” repentance

Other features

• “Dry bones,” a litany for worship inspired by Ezekiel 37:1-14

• “Amnesty,” a litany for worship inspired by Psalm 130

• “Health Care as a fundamental human right,” a short essay

©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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