Articles, Essays & Sermons

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 ›

Dream On

Martin Luther King Jr., the Beloved Community and post-holiday resolve

by Ken Sehested

        The needs of a beloved had me racing to the emergency room late Monday evening, near the end of Dr. King’s birth-honoring holiday. Then, often enough, comes the tedious waiting, including finding things to occupy your time when the hours drag on. My eyes fell on one of those large monitors that crowd the walls of every room. When not in use by medical personnel, it reverted to a series of in-house hospital notices.

        One wished a “happy holiday” (likely irritating the “Merry Christmas” culture-warring patrons). Another reminded staff of new parking regulations. Another solicited volunteers for the hospital chorus which performs at special occasions; another warned about “medication diversion,” referencing the epidemic of prescription drug misuse; another announced the hospital’s medical insurance plan.

        The one that really engaged my attention was a message urging staff to nominate candidates for the hospital’s “Spirit of Martin Luther King Jr. Award.” (The deadline was a week earlier, so this one and the “happy holidays” note suggest the communications team was still on holiday.) Read more ›

Dr. King didn't do everything

Recollecting the Spirit's work through, not to, the man and the movement unfolding still

Ken Sehested

      We miss the significance of the Civil Rights Movement if we attribute everything to Dr. King. In fact, if one studies the record carefully, it is amazing to note that most of the major Civil Rights Movement campaigns were actually initiated by others. And King was initially resistant to many of the projects in which he became involved.

      The Montgomery Bus Boycott is a good case in point. It was Rosa Parks, a seamstress, who ignited that episode.

      It was E.D. Nixon, a railroad porter, who accomplished much of the initial strategy to make Rosa Parks’ case a legal test. And when the group of prominent African American ministers gathered to discuss what to do, it was Nixon (an “ordinary” layperson) who shamed them into having the courage to go public with the plan. Read more ›

Thirty-five interesting facts about Cuba and its US relations

To commemorate US President Barack Obama’s stunning announcement on 17 December 2014 of executive action reestablishing formal diplomatic relations with Cuba, here are a few facts that might surprise.

by Ken Sehested

1. The worlds’ smallest hummingbird and smallest frog are found in Cuba.

2. Christmas did not become an official holiday in Cuba until 1997.

3. Cuba sent more medical professionals to combat the Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa than any other country. Read more ›

My Sling is That of David

US-Cuba Relations as an emerging agenda

This unpublished paper was drafted in 1992 in preparation for the Baptist Peace Fellowship board of directors’ consideration of several projects related to US-Cuba relations. Though dated, this material nevertheless provides useful background information related to the topic, including the thaw in church-state relations in Cuba.

by Ken Sehested

During a recent flight I took out the airline magazine to look at the map. Just before returning it to the seat pocket, something on the map jumped out at me. My eyes had wandered down through the Caribbean, especially the strong of Lesser Antilles islands, many of whose names serve as Columbian memorials to so many saints. (Who were those guys?) And there were the larger islands: Puerto Rico, the world’s oldest colony. (It’s still under U.S. “protectorate” status.) There’s Hispaniola, cohabited by the Dominican Republic and Haiti (site of the first successful African slave revolt and much in the news of late); the Bahamas; and . . . Read more ›