A Nation That Prays Together

I was delighted that Rev. Joseph Lowery, Methodist pastor and co-founder with Rev. Martin Luther King of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, was asked by Prez Obama to lead the benediction at the Inauguration. I was SO delighted in fact that I wrote to Rev. Lowery and asked him to tell Sojourners how he felt about the honor. He responded:

Like most Americans of a particular age, I never thought I’d live to see the day…. At an entirely different level, I’m engaged in a spiritual experience like nothing I have ever been exposed to—at any point in my life. And this comes from one who shared in the revjosephloweryDream my friend and colleague Martin Luther King Jr. taught the nation about one hot August afternoon 45 years ago. It comes from one who fought for the Voting Rights Act, for a Civil Rights Bill, and to free South Africa and liberate Nelson Mandela from 27 years of confinement as a political prisoner. But, there’s something much greater at work here. I first sensed it in the snows of Iowa and New Hampshire where I saw the ruddy, frozen cheeks of white college students standing in snowdrifts up to their knees in support of the candidacy of Barack Obama. I saw it as I watched a new generation text-messaging and using their iPods to spread the word about this extraordinary man. … Read the full response here.

I was less than delighted with Obama tapping Rev. Rick Warren to offer the opening prayer at the Inauguration. Warren is trying to represents the Hawaiian-shirt-wearing new face of conservative American evangelical Christianity. I’m disturbed (to say the least) by his public support of Prop. 8 in California. (Bad move, bro.) But I can verify that he has a very kick-butt wife and that always gives me a glimmer of hope.

Despite the Warren controversy, I’m glad to see that Prez Obama has liturgically fenced-out Warren by surrounding him with worship leaders with a more biblically-grounded understanding of God’s love, generosity, and liberation. Rev. Lowery for one.

Additionally, Rev. Sharon Watkins, head of the Disciples of Christ, is the first woman to take the prominent position of preacher at the National Prayer Breakfast.

Also, Episcopal bishop Gene V. Robinson will lead the prayer at the “National Inaugural Concert” on Sunday. When Robinson was confirmed as a bishop he had to wear body-armor under his pastoral robes at the liturgy because there’d been so many death threats against him, his children, and his partner Mark Andrew.

I was also very glad to see that Dr. Ingrid Mattson, president of the Islamic Society of North America, is taking a prominent role at the National Prayer Breakfast. She’s director of the Macdonald Center for the Study of Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations and a professor of Islamic Studies and Christian-Muslim Relations at Hartford Seminary.

Despite our differences, I’ll fall back on the old adage–when it looks as diverse as this crowd, I think it’s true: A nation that prays together, stays together.

Gandhi to Israel: ‘Adopt the Matchless Weapon of Nonviolence’

In a 1946 editorial in the Indian newspaper Harijan, Mohandas Gandhi wrote about the complicated situation of Israel and Palestine. Jews had just been systematically decimated in the Holocaust. Many of those who survived fled to Palestine. In 1942, Zionist leaders made plans to found a Jewish state after the war. gandhiIn 1945, Palestinians receive representation in the newly formed League of Arab States. In 1947, the U.N. passed a resolution that would partition Palestine into Jewish and Arab states and establish Jerusalem as an international city. In 1948, war broke out in Palestine. 700,000 Palestinians were forced to leave their homes. Israel declared itself a state. Into this context Gandhi spoke:

Hitherto I have refrained practically from saying anything public regarding the Jew-Arab controversy. I have done so for good reasons. That does not mean any want of interest in the question, but it does mean that I do not consider myself sufficiently equipped with knowledge of the purpose. … I do believe that the Jews have been cruelly wronged by the world. “Ghetto” is, so far as I am aware, the name given to Jewish locations in many parts of Europe. But for their heartless persecution, probably no question of return to Palestine would ever have arisen. The world should have been their home, if only for the sake of their distinguished contribution to it

But, in my opinion, they have erred grievously in seeking to impose themselves on Palestine with the aid of America and Britain and now with the aid of naked terrorism. Their citizenship of the world should have and would have made them honored guests of any country. Their thrift, their varied talent, their great industry should have made them welcome anywhere. It is a blot on the Christian world that they have been singled out, owing to a wrong reading of the New Testament, for prejudice against them. “If an individual Jew does a wrong, the whole Jewish world is to blame for it.” If an individual Jew like Einstein makes a great discovery or another composes unsurpassable music, the merit goes to the authors and not to the community to which they belong.

No wonder that my sympathy goes out to the Jews in their unenviably sad plight. But one would have thought, adversity would teach them lessons of peace. Why should they depend upon American money or British arms for forcing themselves on an unwelcome land? Why should they resort to terrorism to make good their forcible landing in Palestine? If they were to adopt the matchless weapon of non-violence whose use their best prophets have taught and which Jesus the Jew who gladly wore the crown of thorns bequeathed to a groaning world, their case would be the world’s, and I have no doubt that among the many things that the Jews have given to the world, this would be the best and the brightest. It is twice blessed. It will make them happy and rich in the true sense of the word and it will be a soothing balm to the aching world.

The fighting is still going on. Hamas is lobbing rockets. Iran et al are smuggling them better ones. The world’s second best military, the Israeli Defense Force, is indiscriminately bombing Gazans back to the Stone Age. And simple flesh and blood people – disproportionately Palestinians, disproportionately children – are getting blown to bits.

What can we do to inaugurate a cease-fire and pray for peace unceasingly?

The Gandhi Reader: A Source Book of His Life and Writings Edited by Homer A. Jack AMS Press, New York, 1956; pp. 324-326

Elizabeth Alexander’s Prep for Inaugural Poem

Yale poet Elizabeth Alexander will give the inaugural poem at President Obama’s swearing in. She spoke on the Lehrer NewsHour about her preparation:15-alexanderforweb

“My parents were very committed to civil rights, worked their whole lives toward the goals of the civil rights movement. And, so, of course, they took me when I was a baby to the March on Washington.

And to think that here, in — in that same space in Washington, D.C., we’re going to be at a quite different moment, that in some ways is the civil rights movement coming not to total fruition, but at least coming to a moment where we can stop and say that some remarkable progress has been made, is a beautiful circle.”

Watch the video here.

“I think that poetry, cross-culturally, is one of the ways that people tell the story of who we are, of who they are. So, if you look at praise songs in various African countries, if you look at “The Canterbury Tales,” if you look at “The Odyssey,” these are all ways that people have said in verse: This is who we are. This is our story. This is how we came to this moment.

So, I think that’s one of the eternal purposes of poetry. And I think, also, hopefully, what poetry does is distill language with a kind of precision that reminds us what it means to take care with the word, that the word has tremendous power, that each word matters, and that we — if we are mindful with our language to speak to each other across the many differences between us, that that is the way that I think we’re more able to communicate precisely with one another.”

Revoking Blagojevich’s Poetic License?

I have to say that I admire Rod Blagojevich’s steadfastness as a patron of the arts. His deft use of poetry in all things political is a shining example of how a strong liberal arts education can serve one well in positions of responsibility and leadership.

blago-orig

Following his impeachment this week by the Illinois House of Representatives (114-1), Governor  Blagojevich concluded his near-messianic final press conference with another flash of poetic insight. (Last year he recited the opening lines of “If” by that manly Colonialist curmudgeon Rudyard Kipling, who also, by way of reminder wrote “The White Man’s Burden,” which Blagojevich did not even need to recite aloud.) Blagojevich ended his stint this week as Illinois governor with lines from Alfred Tennyson’s “Ulysses,” concluding:

And though we are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Comparing himself to the epic hero Ulysses is not out of character for the governor. (In fact, he had is own Greek chorus standing at his side.) And attempting to sell a senate seat, shaking down children’s hospitals, gagging a newspaper’s editorial board must indeed have felt like waging a war against the gods of fate. It makes sense that former Gov. Blagojevich concluded with the end of Tennyson’s poem. The beginning of it might have cut a little too close to home:

It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Matched with an agèd wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.

I like Jon Stewart’s idea of a Senior Poetry Advisor. I think President Obama should appoint one. There’s definitely a poem out there for every political occasion and no one wants to make a poetical faux paux on their first–or last–day of political office.

“Be Still and Know” contemplative prayer video

One of the great things about working at Sojourners is always getting to do something new. Here’s a video made by our assistant editor Jeannie Choi and our interactive media producer Matt Hildreth interviewing me about contemplative prayer.

I had just come back from accompanying a friend at “Divorce Court” when I made this video – so the chance to “breath in and breath out” was greatly appreciated! Hope you like it. (Read Ruth Haley Barton’s article on contemplative prayer here.)

Obama at Ben’s Chili Bowl

On Sunday afternoon, Prez-to-be Obama showed up at Ben’s Chili Bowl, a D.C. institution in my neighborhood of Columbia Heights. Co-worker Aaron Graham was there with his wife, Amy, and son Elijah. Aaron wrote:

Yesterday, Amy, Elijah, and I were having a nice little lunch at Ben’s Chili Bowl with some friends from out of town. And guess who walks in unannounced! I told him I worked for Jim Wallis at Sojourners and then introduced him to Elijah, he bent down to grab Elijah’s hand and said, “hi Elijah, I’m Barack.” Then he said “you work for Jim? Congratulations thats great, tell him hello.”

Watch a short little video of Obama in action at the Bowl:

Bee Dreams: ‘Anthers Bright with Pollen’

In the deep mid-winter, it’s nice to think about bees. Below is a photo by California photograher Kate Kunath. It’s from her photo series Stung: Beekeeping in the 21st Century.

bee_california_kunath1

The apiarist in Kunath’s photo is Jeff Anderson of Oakdale, California. Below is a little more about him from Sharon Levy’s article The Vanishing. Her writing is luscious and warm.

Just down the road, Jeff Anderson and his three assistants methodically pry the lid off each of hundreds of hive boxes to check the health of the colonies inside. As the day wears on and the March sunshine warms this little-used ranch road in California’s Sierra foothills, more and more bees take flight.

Wild buckthorn bushes lining the road carry clusters of tiny white flowers, their anthers bright with pollen. Bees work the blossoms, packing the yellow grains into smooth depressions on their hind legs, specially designed to carry this fuel (pollen is a high-protein food) back to the hive. On their travels, they transfer pollen from plant to plant, flower to flower, fertilizing the blossoms and allowing them to set fruit. This ancient partnership of pollinator and plant is essential to life as we know it. One-third of the food we eat comes from crops that need animal pollinators, a role often filled by bees but sometimes by butterflies, beetles, birds, or bats. Bee-pollinated foods include squash, tomatoes, peppers, apples, and pears. Unfortunately, the honeybees surrounding me are members of a threatened tribe, whose loss would have a dire effect on farmers, not to mention everyone who eats fruits and vegetables.

It’s cold and clear in Washington today. The sun is low and the shadows long and sharp. For now the bees are tucked away inside their hives eating the rewards of a spring and summer of hard work. Their primary job for the next few months is just to stay warm–and focus on the queen. I like that. Maybe I’ll try that too. Stay warm and focus on the Sabbath Queen: “Come, let us go to receive Shabbat the Queen.”

“Some Songs Required” a poem

I wrote this strange little poem a few years ago. It wasn’t prompted by anything happening in the Middle East, but as I revisit it now, there is some element of lament that resonates with my current lament for the people in Gaza and Israel.

Some Songs Required
Psalm 137

by Rose Marie Berger

Down the river from Babylon
there was a city of Dales,

not quite like Zion. In Nutdale,
Elmdale, and Oakdale people sat

two by two in boxes neatly stacked
where they wept without knowing why.

Upriver, Babylon heard only their singing
in a special language of clicks and snaps;

not in the stringed language of the lyre,
that riffled and flowed over the feet

of the Stored Ones. True too that the Dale-dwellers
babbled in a tongue fewer and fewer of them

could understand. Instead they stared:
at each other, at the river, pointing out the little

heads of children, afloat like golden boats
on the current. While Babylon, teeth sharp

from gnawing on its platinum
bedpost at night, reached down its

right hand to touch the flag hanging
limp between its legs. A single gold tear

slipped away to tell the others.

Waxing the Waterboard?

There’s an important conversation happening now at the tail end of the Bush-Cheney administration about whether or not to prosecute President Bush and Vice President Cheney on criminal charges for illegal acts they committed during their administration.

Abu Ghraib series by Fernando Botero
Abu Ghraib series by Fernando Botero

Democratic Congressman Jerrold Nadler of New York has urged Attorney General Michael Mukasey to appoint an independent counsel to investigate Vice President Dick Cheney, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and other senior Bush administration officials for violations of the law relating to the torture of prisoners in US custody. Nadler is the chair of the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. Read his letter to the Attorney General here.

Over at JosephRoss.net, my compatriot Joe is raising similar questions. He writes:

George W. Bush is a president who approved torture, allowed the CIA to fly prisoners to other countries for torture, who repeatedly stated that the U.S. does not torture and then it was proven that we do. We just didn’t call it that. As long as it’s called “enhanced interrogation techniques” and “stress positions” it’s alright and legal. This is also a president whose vice-president, just last week, admitted that he approved of “waterboarding” which is against the law. Recall that the U.S. has actually prosecuted other countries for “waterboarding.” Now we’re suddenly not sure it’s torture?

We have  all been looking on as our president romantically remembers all the good times he had as president. He is photographed looking reflectively out windows, goes on talk shows describing what he will miss, gives interviews like an entertainer whose concert tour has come to an end. This politeness ought to be more than Americans will tolerate.

I’m certain the last thing the Obama Administration wants is to investigate a former U.S. president and perhaps find him or others in the Bush Administration guilty of breaking both U.S. law and international law. Yet, what is to stop a future U.S. president from doing equally immoral and illegal acts if we do not hold the present one accountable?

Read the whole post here.

There’s always an argument made to “let by-gones be by-gones” at the end of a presidency. The incoming administration doesn’t want the next one to turn around and investigate them! Understandable, but WRONG when it comes to preserving the Constitution and now allowing laws to be broken with impunity.

“This shocking admission by Vice President [Cheney that he was aware of the waterboarding program and “helped get the process cleared”] demands at a minimum a federal investigation and,” Congressman Nadler says, “if necessary, the pursuit of criminal charges. No one is above the law and, if the Vice President admits he broke the law, then he must be held responsible.”

In one of the first acts of the 111th Congress, House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers proposed legislation to create a blue-ribbon panel of outside experts – National Commission on Presidential War Powers and Civil Liberties- to probe the “broad range” of policies pursued by the Bush administration “under claims of unreviewable war powers,” including torture of detainees and warrantless wiretaps.

Lest any of think that “warrantless wiretaps” only happen to “other people,” I suggest reading the story Spying on Pacifists, Environmentalists, and Nuns (LA Times, December 7, 2008) about the Maryland State Police sending undercover agents to infiltrate the Baltimore Pledge of Resistance and Marylanders Against the Death Penalty. It’s a prime example of how “them” is now “us.”

You Won’t See This on HGTV

Outside model home decorated from thrift stores
Outside model home decorated from thrift stores

I woke up at 12:30 a.m. It’s really the best time to listen to the radio. I happened on Dick Gordon’s show on North Carolina Public Radio called The Story.

He was interviewing Terri Thompson, a marketing manager for a bank in North Carolina, about her penchant for only buying from thrift stores, flea markets, second-hand shops, or “found items/dumpster diving.” As the economy tanks, retail stores are going with it–but thrift stores are booming.

A recent survey from the National Association of Resale and Thrift Shops (NARTs), 74% said that September and October sales increased over the prior year, by an average of 35%. Goodwill Industries, a nonprofit that operates 2,200 thrift stories, says that same-store revenue have increased by an average of 7% compared to last year.

Dick Gordon talked to Terri Thompson about how she makes treasures out of trash. For those who are trying to live more simply and step away from the ever-hungry god of consumerism, Terri’s story is interesting. Especially when she convinces a  local builder to give her the keys to a model home and she furnished it entirely with secondhand items.

As she tells Dick, the event was a huge success and convinced many more people of the value of purchasing things used. In fact, she raised $40,000 for local nonprofits and the near-by Habitat for Humanity ReStore saw a 30% increase in customers.

Let’s put the FUN of RECESS back in recession!
Listen to the broadcast.
See 360-degree room views from the Frugal Design Showcase Home.