Articles, Essays & Sermons

Dean Smith: A remembrance

by Ken Sehested

        I once preached in the Chapel Hill, North Carolina, church were legendary basketball coach Dean Smith was a member. Smith, who died this week, was not expected to be there that morning, since his University of Carolina team had a road game, far away, the night before. Then he and his wife slip in the back about the time I get up to read Scripture. I doubled-down on the text and tried not to make eye contact during the sermon.

        In my youth I played every sport that used a ball, of whatever shape or size, from dirt yard marbles to Boys Club ping pong to Division 1 college football. I loved the college campus recruiting visits, during high school, receiving a bit of “expense” money, prowling the game time sideline with the prospective team and a pre-arranged dance date after the game. Though I always felt bad about the unlucky coed assigned to this high schooler who, to add insult to injury, didn’t dance or drink, for reasons of evangelical piety. Though I’m not an active participant in the muckraking exposure of how major college athletics programs find themselves awash in cash, I applaud that exposure.

        The capitalizing of college sports, in particular, is tragic. For example, the legendary Hall of Fame football coach Woody Hayes of Ohio State was among college football’s royalty from the ‘50s through the ‘70s, making a bit over $40,000 in later years.  The new legendary coach at Ohio State makes $4,000,000. The Great Recession mostly exempted major college sports. Read more ›

“House to house, field to field”

Reflections on a peace mission to the West Bank

By Ken Sehested
Thursday, 18 April 2002

Yesterday came suddenly; but it seemed to go on forever. My arm no longer aches; yet the stone hurled as a curse by a young Jewish settler in Hebron struck a more tender target. Not even the bruise remains; but my heart still hurts.

Only two days prior I began a 24-hour journey to the illegally-occupied lands of the West Bank of the Jordan River. It's a long way from Clyde to the Muslim quarter of Jerusalem where we spent our first two nights. Except for the similar terrain of hills and hollows, the regions are a universe apart. The mountains of Western North Carolina may be the world's oldest; but the recorded history of ancient Palestine is among the most intense. Read more ›

Fasting: Ancient practice, modern relevance

       When we hear the word “fasting”—an historic Lenten emphasis—the initial image is associated with dieting. Fasting is a foreign and somewhat threatening notion (for us in North America), conjuring notions of self-depreciation and ascetic mortification.

       In Scripture, fasting is among the most common acts of religious piety. Yet it also comes in for severe judgment.

       “Why have we fasted, and thou seest it not?” whined the people of Isaiah’s day. To which Yahweh thundered in response, “Is not this the fast that I choose: to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house. . . ?” (58:6) Similarly, in his only explicit listing of behavioral qualifications for entrance to heaven—when sheep will be sorted from goats—Jesus’ short list includes care for the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and the prisoner. That’s all. No mention of fasting or any other form of  “pious” behavior or doctrinal orthodoxy.

       So why consider fasting? If spiritual disciplines are not a means of bargaining with God—for a better deal here or a bigger mansion later—why bother? Not because we are bad, although “unrighteousness” is a symptom of our predicament. But because we are blind, because we have become “conformed” to the world’s way of doing business, have lost sight of God’s intention. Such loss of sight will not give way to moral vigor or heroic willfulness. If we are to regain our sight we need to develop personal and communal practices (another way of saying “spiritual disciplines”) which clarify vision, which remind us to Whom we belong and to Whose purposes we are called. Read more ›

Turn Strong to Meet the Day

A Son's Tribute to His Dad: Glen Leroy Sehested

This past Friday night [26 January 2001] I had what will undoubtedly be among the most enduring experiences of my life, sitting by my father's hospital bed from late evening until dawn. Keeping vigilance. It turned out to be his last night. I was not tempted to sleep. I had much work to do.

Part of what I did was to write. Here are some of those thoughts.

"Tonight I sit by my father's hospital bedside, straining emotionally in rhythm to his labored breathing. His breaths are short and shallow; his exhales are punctuated, frail muscles from chest to stomach rippling in brief contortion, emptying the lungs in desperation for the next gulp of air. Only occasionally does his body relax, save for the percussion of scarred lungs doing their best against impossible odds.

"He seems to stay alive by sheer strength of heart, a heart whose jerking pulse fairly rattles the aortic vein running up his neck. His heart has always had the stamina of a plow mule. Only now his other organs can no longer keep up." Read more ›

Zinn and the Mechanic

Commemorating the anniversary of Howard Zinn’s passing, and that of my father

            This past Tuesday, 27 January 2015, was the fifth anniversary of the passing of Howard Zinn, the historian, activist and playwright who guided many an innocent, blinded-by-the-might nativist (folk like me) to understand the not-so-exceptional history of their country. Zinn was best known for his A People’s History of the United States, of which Matt Damon’s character in the movie Good Will Hunting says, “That book will knock you on your ass.”

            Such a posture, of course, is the starting point of every meaningful spiritual journey (and, typically, includes repeated encounters with that hard ground).

            Tuesday was also the 14th anniversary of my father’s passing. It would take multiple levels of interpretive work for my Dad to understand Zinn’s writing—something I never accomplished. But I kept at it because I believe that—at the core of his sense of honor, and honor was key—he knew the way of the world favors the devious. He consistently refused to give himself to that dishonoring system, though he was mostly skeptical at the prospects of release from its sway.

            He knew the world as relentlessly hard, even treacherous, and suspected joy unreliable. Decades ago, when I—giddy as a goose—called home to say their first grandchild was on the way, Dad was the first to speak, and he said, “Can you afford it?” Read more ›