Signs of the Times

News, views, notes and quotes • 26 February 2015 • No. 11

Lenten invocation. “I am the vessel. The draught is God’s. And God is the thirsty one.” — former United Nations General Secretary Dag Hammarskjöld in Markings, his personal journal, posthumously published, now considered a classic of spiritual devotion

Oscar good news. Citizenfour, the film chronicling the decision made by National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden to expose wrongdoing to the world by leaking details of the agency's top-secret global surveillance operation to journalists, was awarded the Best Documentary Film award at Sunday night's Academy Award. "The disclosures that Edward Snowden revealed don't only expose a threat to our privacy but to our democracy itself," said Laura Poitras, the film’s director.

In case this question ever crossed your mind, the US government has 17 different intelligence agencies. Here’s the annotated listing.

More Oscar good news. Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1  won the Oscar for short documentaries. “The suicide rate among veterans is staggering and beyond heartbreaking. About 22 veterans kill themselves every day, and this has been going on for years. It used to be that the suicide rate for civilian men the same age was higher than the rate for veterans, but that’s changed.” —film director Ellen Goosenberg Kent Read more ›

News, views, notes and quotes • 19 February 2015, No. 10

Invocation. Hearts open to Thy Face, like the flower to the sun / Hearts open to Thy Face, come and trace / The tears that stain our face, the joy that shall displace / All sorrow by thy grace, mercy bound, mercy bound / All sorrow by thy grace, circle ‘round. —new verse to “What Wondrous Love Is This"

Artwork at right ©Julie Lonneman, used with permission.

One of the young people in our congregation is spending her junior year of high school as a foreign exchange student in Oman, located on the Arabian Peninsula’s southeast corner. Her blog posts have been remarkable, but a recent one is the most articulate statements I’ve seen on the struggle for intercultural understanding. She’s given me permission to share the link for that commentary.

Confession. “In an unusually frank admission, Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey said that American law enforcement stands ‘at a crossroads,’ acknowledging in a speech at Georgetown University that ‘There is a disconnect between police and the communities they serve. . . . All of us in law enforcement must be honest enough to acknowledge that our history is not pretty.’” —USAToday Read more ›

News, view, notes and quotes

12 February 2015 • No. 9

Like good cholesterol, there’s good socialism. The first bill approved (overwhelmingly so) by the new 114th Congress renewed a federal program providing supplemental insurance covering acts of terrorism. First approved after the 11 September 2001 terrorists attacks, the current renewal will double (over a course of five years) the previous $100 million threshold.

Americans Who Tell the Truth is a website that celebrates passionate folks who give a damn about justice. This link takes you directly to the portraits page. There you’ll find paintings and profiles of dozens of US citizens—some famous, some not so much—who have impacted our culture in profound ways.
        The group includes James Douglass, whose book The Non-Violent Cross: A Theology of Revolution and Peace (1968, reprinted in 2006) was my first introduction to a theology (not just a practice) rooted in nonviolence.

¶ “When NCLB (No Child Left Behind, federal legislation approved in 2001 setting measurable public education goals) first came out I thought it was a good idea. Higher standards? Accountability? NCLB sounds great on paper. But in practice? It’s a disaster.” So says Matt Buys, a friend serving on our city’s school board, in an opinion piece in our local paper.
        “I had two kids in schools when NCLB was put in place and immediately I saw my children go from loving knowledge, being naturally curious and telling me about their day at school to—and I wish I were exaggerating—lying on the couch exhausted because they had spent the day testing. . . . Creating wonder and awe, thereby inspiring creativity and a love of learning, is the most important things a teacher can do for your child.”
        In that same edition of our Sunday paper was a front page story of Dwight Mullen, political science professor at a local university, who specializes in analyzing educational disparity along racial lines. One of a score of indicators: 69% of black students nationally graduated from high school in 2012, while the rate for white students was 86%. As Dan Domenech of the American Association of School Administrators told National Public Radio in 2011, "The correlation between student achievement and Zip code is 100 percent. The quality of education you receive is entirely predictable based on where you live."
Read more ›

Signs of the Times

News, views, notes and quotes • 6 February 2015 • No. 8

¶ “One of the few missing ingredients in the wonderful new film Selma is the centrality of music during the Selma-to-Montgomery, Alabama march. A tiny snippet of field recordings from the march can be heard at the very end of the movie's credits, but otherwise the movie ignores the constant singing that emboldened the marchers during the four-day, 54-mile trek. Not surprisingly, Pete Seeger—who died a year ago at age 94—was there to help lift the marchers' spirits, as he did for every progressive crusade during his lifetime.” —Peter Dreier, “At Selma and Around the World, Pete Seeger Brought Us Closer Together"

The folk at The Prophetic Collection recently highlighted an amazing two-minute video of thousands of starlings creating fluid art, midair. Unmitigated grandeur.

¶ “Closing my eyes and holding still. It’s the end if I get mad or scream. It’s close to a prayer. Hate is not for humans. Judgment lies with God. That’s what I learned from my Arabic brothers and sisters.” —Associated Press report of a four-year-old tweet by Keji Goto, Japanese freelance journalist and Islamic State hostage recently killed by his captors

Bittersweet news. George Stinney, a 14-year-old African American in Alcolu, South Carolina, was the youngest person to be executed in the US, allegedly for killing two white girls. In 1944 it took an all-white jury 10 minutes to deliberate his case following a three-hour trial in which no witnesses were called in his defense. Stinney was so small he had to sit on a telephone book in the electric chair. The Civil Rights Restorative Justice Project (CRRJ), directed by Northeastern University law professor Margaret Burnham, in cooperation with pro bono lawyers and a SC judge, reopened the case, and on Wednesday 14 December, SC Circuit Judge Carmen Mullins  exonerated Stinney. CRRJ is working to document every racially motivated killing in the American South between 1930 and 1970. So far, they've documented about 350 cases. Most of the crimes received little attention when they were committed, and often, even the family members of the victims don't know how their relatives died. Read more ›

Signs of the Times

News, views, notes and quotes • 29 January 2015 • No. 7

First, let’s look at a few profiles of individuals in our “cloud of witnesses.”

¶ This coming Saturday, 31 January, is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Thomas Merton, OCSO (Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance), the Roman Catholic community to which he was admitted on 13 December 1941 as a postulant at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky. Few if any figures in Christian history have more effectively rewoven the torn fabric of faith segregating personal from public, salvation from liberation, prayer from politiks. It remains a supreme irony that a monk—especially one vowed to an order known for its discipline of silence—would become at mid-20th century in the US among the most articulate commentators on a host of social concerns, as well as an enduring spiritual guide to generations since, here and elsewhere, among a wildly diverse group of Christians and other people of faith.
       •My singular favorite biography of Merton is Jim Forest’s Living With Wisdom: A Life of Thomas Merton (revised 2008), especially for his three-dimensional depiction of Merton.
       •Merton’s Trappist superiors refused to allow publication of his extensive correspondence around the Cuba missile crisis and the ongoing threats of nuclear war. In 2006 Orbis Books published the edited collection, titled Cold War Letters (by Christine M. Bochen, foreword by James Douglas). The book is available online in pdf format.
       •For a brief summary of Merton’s influence, see James Martin, SJ, “7 Ways Thomas Merton Changed the World.”

Read Ken Sehested’s profile of Tom Fox, "Keep to Jesus." Fox was the Christian Peacemaker Teams staff member who was kidnapped and eventually executed by jihadists in Iraq in 2006. (While you’re at the ReadTheSpirit website, browse through Dan Buttry’s “Interfaith Peacemaker” collection of stories. These are great popular education tools for interfaith understanding. Read more ›