Articles, Essays & Sermons

“Journey to Iraq: Of risk and reverence” & “Caitlin Letters”

by Ken Sehested

 

     Context: On 8 February 2003 Rev. Ken Sehested traveled to Iraq for three weeks as a member of the Iraq Peace Team, a project of Voices in the Wilderness, calling for an end to the threat of war by the U.S.
     Prior to going, the Asheville (N.C.) Citizen-Times newspaper published his article, “Journey to Iraq,” as a guest editorial and asked Sehested to write three weekly columns for the newspaper while in Iraq. Printed below is the initial article followed by three columns posted from Baghdad. The latter are titled “Caitlin Letters,” written as open letters to Caitlin Wood, a member of Circle of Mercy Congregation in Asheville. Caitlin was among the more than 200 high school students in Asheville who participated in the 6 March 2003 “Books Not Bombs” nationwide school walk-out in opposition to war on Iraq.
     Sehested previously traveled to Iraq in March 2000 as part of an interfaith delegation of Jews, Christians and Muslims from the U.S. Read more ›

Pastoral Principles for Prophetic People

by Ken Sehested

      Working for peace and justice isn't easy. We live in a world predicated by greed and violence. Swimming against that stream isn't easy. It can be unpopular and lonely. Flannery O'Connor, paraphrasing a verse from John's Gospel, wrote: "You shall know the truth, and the truth will make you odd!"Sometimes we wonder if we're crazy. Sometimes even prophets need pastoral care.

      All of us have known people who have attempted to "win the world" only to have their own spirits wither, their vision blurred. Maybe not with such tragic drama—maybe they've simply stopped speaking out . Something has come undone in their lives. Maybe it's happened to you.

      In the Bible, prophets people arose from the most unlikeliest of places. They were often "ordinary" people, without special training, and often protested, saying they didn't have enough talent for the job. Much like people in our congregations. Read more ›

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 ›