Signs of the Times: Annotated news, views, quotes and notes

Welcome to the premier of prayer&politiks, an online journal “at the intersection of spiritual formation and prophetic action.” Welcome as well to the first issue of Signs of the Times, a weekly column featuring annotated news, views, quotes and notes, for discerning the times in which we live.

¶ The launch of this site on 27 November, “Black Friday” (in the US), is intentional, as it occurs at the edge of Advent, whose first Sunday is this weekend.

¶ For readers outside the US: The day after the celebration of Thanksgiving (since 1941 always the fourth Thursday of November) in our country has effectively become the start of the Christmas shopping season. The phrase “Black Friday” was originally a derogative term, beginning in the early ‘50s, for the practice of workers calling in sick the day after Thanksgiving in order to get a long weekend holiday. (At the time, the holiday was limited to the single day.) In the early ‘60s the phrase was used by the Philadelphia Police Department in reference to the traffic jams caused by shoppers. Since then the day has emerged as the nation’s busiest shopping day of the year, when merchants provide steep discounts—though some major stores are now opening on Thanksgiving Day itself.

¶ “In the spirit of the holiday,” announced a spokesman for the J.C. Penney Company, its executives planned “activities and giveaways including swag bags full of goodies, round-the-clock food to keep [salespeople] fueled for delivering excellent customer service, pep rallies to drive excitement and energy through the early morning hours of Black Friday.”

¶ “It’s about the spirit of Christmas, you know, being out shopping with your family and all.”  —Man interviewed on “Black Friday,” the day after Thanksgiving 2005. Between 2006 and 2013, 7 deaths and 90 injuries have happened in stores on this day.

¶ This year’s Black Friday feels more like a Good Friday, in the wake of the St. Louis County grand jury’s decision on Police Officer Darren Wilson’s shooting of Michael Brown and the fires still smoldering in Ferguson, Missouri, following Wednesday night’s dramatic prime-time announcement. Lucas Johnson, ordained Baptist minister serving as coordinator of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation, says it well:
       The question of whether or not Officer Wilson’s response to Michael Brown was legal is not really the point. In the brutality of American history, the answer to such legal questions has almost always been the same answer that this Grand Jury provided.
       “As news outlets all over the country comb over the evidence supporting that singular decision they will be grossly missing the point. They appear to be incapable of reporting with any clarity why people took to the streets and buildings were set on fire in response to this killing. They and much of the country will not recognize the significance of the fact that Officer Wilson’s killing of Michael Brown is ultimately, shamefully justified because the officer was afraid.
       “In the same logic, the killing of Trayvon Martin was justified because George Zimmerman was afraid, the lynching of my great-grandfather was legally justified because someone was afraid, and so it goes a thousand times over.” —read Johnson’s entire commentary at

¶ Search for “The Labor of Lament” in the “other poems” section of this site for a litany written for an ecumenical “service of lament and healing” in August following the killing of Michael Brown.

Advent is the season when the threat of terror and the prospect of trust collide, both competing for our attention regarding prospects for the future. Will it be more of the same, intensified? In Latin, there are two words for the future. Futurus suggests a future constructed out of the past and present. Futurologists are those who rely on extrapolations from present trends, trends which lean toward sustaining present patterns of power and suppressing alternatives possibilities. Adventus, on the other hand, suggests the arrival of the new. Certainly for Christians, the season of Advent brings us to the edge of our chairs, straining for the sound of the announcement of annulment for earth’s agony. This waiting and watching is neither neutral nor passive. It is sustained by a bias, one that governing authorities fear, who want only futurus, more of the same.

¶ Search for “The Singing of Angels” on this site for more on Advent’s risky business.

Blue Christmas coming. The annual levels of homelessness among children have never been higher in the US, according to a new comprehensive report released 17 November 2014. Prepared by the National Center on Family Homelessness, the report, “America’s Youngest Outcasts, shows that with poverty and inequality soaring in recent years, approximately 2.5 million children in 2013 found themselves without a roof over their head or place to call home. That number equals one in 30 American children nationally, and constitutes an 8 percent increase over the previous year.

¶ In a 6 November 2014 election day poll sponsored by the Washington Post and other media, voters were asked, “Do you think that the U.S. economic system generally favors the wealthy or is fair to most Americans.” A stunning 64 percent said they believe America’s economy “favors the wealthy.” —Sam Pizzigati, “The Peasants Still Have Their Pitchforks,”, 11.10.14

¶ Speaking of elections. You could pay for 80 British general election campaigns with what's being spent on this year's midterm alone. And there's real concern about the role money is playing in our politics with some even going as far to argue our democracy is being bought and sold.  —Luke Russert, Meet the Press, Sunday 26 October 2014

Dueling aspirations. “If we want to keep attracting the best and brightest from beyond our borders, we’re going to have to fix our immigration system.” (President Barack Obama) “Give me your tired, your poor, your humble masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shores, send these the homeless tempest-tossed to me.” (Immigrant Emma Lazarus, whose longer poem is engraved on the base of the US Statue of Liberty in New York City’s harbor)

Bandwidth salvation. Jim Trammell, a college media prof, recently received an award from an international journalism education organization for his presentation “Want to Feel the Love of Christ? There’s an App for That: Understanding Tablet Media as the New Electronic Church.”

“I live in a country that is so wealthy we can wage wars and not have to think about them. It is pathology handed down from generation to generation. We talk about our military. We use words like ‘heroism.’ But when will we start to care about people whose names are difficult to pronounce? The list of people lost is so vast. How do I write about this and share it in a country that does not want to hear it?” —Brian Turner, a sergeant and infantry team leader in the 3rd Stryker Brigade in Iraq in 2003 and 2004, and author of Here, Bullet, a collection of poems from his war experience, quoted in “Pity the Children,” Chris Hedges,, 7.1.14

¶ Coming soon. The New York Times International Luxury Conference, Dec. 2-3, 2014, Miami. “How does the luxury market expand whilst maintaining a commitment to authenticity and innovation?” —Vanessa Friedman, NYT fashion director

“It is increasingly intolerable that financial markets are shaping the destiny of peoples rather than serving their needs, or that few derive immense wealth from financial speculation while many are deeply burdened by the consequences.” —Pope Francis, at a Vatican conference on ethical investing, June 16-17, 2014.

Isn’t this the premise of The Hunger Games? “What we have to do is find a way to divide and conquer the people who are on assistance. We have to show respect for that woman who has cerebral palsy and had no choice in her condition. . . . And we need to get those folks to look down at these people who choose to get into a condition that makes them dependent on the government and say at some point, ‘You’re on your own.’” —columnist Tina Dupuy, “A Divide and Conquer “Gaffe,” quoting a 2011 recorded speech in Asheville by North Carolina Speaker of the House (now Republican-elect US Senator) Thom Tillis

Once we recognize that the most basic questions about economic systems were entwined with biblical religion and fought over as an intrinsic aspect of living religiously, we gain leverage to criticize and evaluate economic systems today.” —Norman Gottwald, The Hebrew Bible in Its Social World and in Ours

See no evil, hear no evil = do no evil. In April, at the request of the Obama administration, the US Senate Intelligence Committee removed language from a major intelligence authorization bill that would have disclosed the number of combatants and non-combatants killed or injured (why was not even considered) in US drone strikes worldwide.

Jeffy, character in the Family Circus cartoon, saying his bedtime prayers, turns to his mother: “I’m done. Do you need me to put in a good word for you ‘bout anything?” Would that we all had a kid covering our backs.

©Ken Sehested, Language not otherwise identified above is that of the editor. The "Justice Forever" artwork above was created by Kaki Roberts.