Forgiveness is not forgetting

Charleston's challenge

by Ken Sehested

        In the surge writing following the massacre at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, the most significant may be Roxane Gay’s “Why I Can’t Forgive Dylann Roof.”  (Stacey Patton has a similar piece in The Washington Post, "Black America should stop forgiving white racists.") I think it most significant not because I agree but because it states what so many feel because of a culturally-warped reading of Scripture.

        Gay realizes that this counterfeit forgiveness is a form of cruelty to victims. All she says is true—but not true enough.

        We have yet to grasp the distinctive character of the Beloved’s initiative on our behalf, “in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Only as we are shaped by this conviction—thereby unleashing the capacity for "transforming initiatives," in Glen Stassen's wonderful phrase—is the capacity for nonviolent living released, the power by which we confront injustice yet refuse to deepen the cycle of violence. Such living requires a beatific vision drawing us forward, not a misery-immersed shove from behind. Read more ›

Boycott, divestment and sanctions: Israel and the Occupation

We cannot ignore this contentious conversation

by Ken Sehested

Introduction: In a 5 June 2015 Huffington Post article, Dr. Chuck Currie, Chaplain and Director of the Center for Peace and Spirituality at Pacific University, urged fellow United Church of Christ members to reject that body’s Synod resolution supporting the "boycott, divestment and sanctions" action in opposition to Israel's occupation of Palestine. This week I’ve written the following response.

        Thanks, Chuck, for sending me your post in opposition to the “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions” (BDS) initiative. I haven’t been involved in the movement, and won’t be at the Synod to deliberate the question. But your thoughtful writing is worthy of response.

        I fully agree with you that pursuing a two-state solution appears, from every angle, to be the preferred route to get us where we want to go. Any lasting security will surely be a mutual security. And I certainly agree that boycotts are morally ambiguous, since they are such blunt instruments for social change. Read more ›

"Stingy spenders hold back growth"

Is it a trivial matter to complain about such screamer headlines?

by Ken Sehested

       “Stingy spenders hold back growth.” So reads the title of a recent USA Today business section story reporting that “penny-pinching consumers tainted” otherwise robust economic indicators.

        Is it a trivial matter to complain about such screamer headlines?

        Think about it for a minute. This is how propaganda works—as the world of corrosive commerce, with its monetizing of all relationships, slowly eats away at many of our cherished traditional cultural values (including religious values). Commitments to financial modesty and consumptive simplicity, conscious resistance to gluttony of every sort, are being cast as obstacles to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. Read more ›

Are the poor “always with us”?

Brief commentary on a fatalistic reading of an ancient text

       My hometown paper, the Asheville Citizen-Times, recently ran an editorial arguing that poverty is not inevitable. The following was my response, printed as a letter to the editor.

        Wednesday’s AC-T editorial (“The cycle of poverty is not inevitable”) offers a compelling rebuttal to the notion that poverty is preordained. One reference, however, repeats a popular misreading of ancient authority: “Many who are not poor accept the biblical maxim that the poor will always be with us. . . .”

        The “maxim” in Deuteronomy 15:11 (referenced by Jesus, in three of the Gospels, for other purposes) is the premise for this conclusion: “I therefore command you, ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy.’”

        In other words, the persistent scourge of poverty does not absolve us of responsibility but actually underscores our duty—because poverty is not a given in creation but the result human greed, i.e., the fracturing of covenant life. In fact, earlier in this same chapter, God promises, for those faithful to the covenant, that the day is coming when “there will be no one in need among you” (v. 4). Read more ›

Why Psalm 104:35 needs to be included in the reading for Pentecost Sunday (Year A)

 by Ken Sehested

        The lectionary suggestion of the psalm for the day (104:24-34—Pentecost, Year A) stops one verse short of its frightful ending. Verse 35 reads: “Let sinners be consumed from the earth, and let the wicked be no more.”

        I’m guessing the lectioners stopped short for fear of ruffling genteel decorum and to maintain order and decency.

        To be sure, the psalmist’s imprecatory rage is processed in lament before God—and is no sanction for lethal vengeance, however just our intent. But as long as the assaults now raining in the streets of the meek never raise an ache in our bodies nor a bruise on our hearts, we will never know the urgency of the Advocate’s liberating word. Intercession implies a certain interposition. Read more ›