The Quelling Word: Emancipation is Still Coming

By Ken Sehested

Written against the backdrop of New Year’s Eve services, 1862, when African Americans gathered to await news of US President Abraham Lincoln’s promised Emancipation Proclamation. Inspired by Revelation 21:1-6a, lectionary text for the New Year’s Eve Watch Night service.

The angel breaks with Heaven’s hail!

from Joy’s horizon on every weary heart,

amid that unruly, precarious land beyond

where cheery sentiment stalls and merry,

bright roads end. Now, in terrain beyond all

mapping, the adventure begins. No warranty

reaches this far. Creature comforts here are

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A remembrance of Will D. Campbell on the anniversary of his birth, 18 July 1924

By Ken Sehested

I was a stranger in a strange land, having left behind a Baylor University football
scholarship for the alluring but intimidating environs of New York University’s
Greenwich Village campus in Manhattan. I was so over being who I was, so eager for,
if frightened by, what was to come. Odd that it was there, so far from home, that I
should encounter the iconoclastic voice of a fellow Baptist-flavored Southerner
whose testimony would come to profoundly impact the tenor of my own.
 
“Here’s somebody you should know about,” said Dr. Carse, my religion department
mentor, as he tossed an open copy of Newsweek magazine across his desk. The
upturned page contained a one-column profile of self-styled bootleg preacher, Rev.
Will Campbell.

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Intercessions are Being Launched

By Ken Sehested

Written in response to a friend’s agonizing note reporting on the
harrowing violence unfolding in Ukraine

We, from this distance and in our negligent comfort and
delinquent affluence, lack the ability to stretch our hands to
yours to feel your shivers; to enlarge our hearts so that they
beat in rhythm with your sobs; to train our eyes so that they
rise above the frivolous, paltry distractions, immune to grief,
comforted in our colonized minds, asking only
what more is there to drink?
what more, to eat?
what more, to abduct our attention from the brutal fate
of distant, disposable victims of imperial lust and
bloated arrogance?

Kyrie eleison, Lord have mercy.

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Memory and Mandate: A Meditation on Maundy Thursday

By Ken Sehested

Under the sway of Easter bunnies, chocolate binges, and spring fashion sales, Holy Week and Resurrection Morning observances have shed almost all connections to the volatile political events in Jerusalem leading up to Jesus’ “triumphal entry” into the city.

The season of Jesus’ final visit to Jerusalem was the fevered occasion of Passover. Passover was the story of the Hebrews’ miraculous escape from Egyptian bondage. Passover’s observance in first century Palestine was like President’s Day, Armed Forces Day, Memorial Day, Flag Day, and Independence Day all rolled up into one. Judea was again in bondage, this time subjugated by Roman occupation. Jews from around the countryside streamed into Jerusalem for reasons of piety mixed with nationalist fervor. Rome ramped up its troop level every year at this time.

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Ecstasy and Agony

By Ken Sehested

Lent is when the ecstasy and the agony of life collide.

Monday, 28 February, was the next-to-last-day of Mardi Gras, celebrated in the US along the Gulf Coast, New Orleans being its epicenter.

As the sun was going down in New Orleans, the eve of “Fat Tuesday,” the party hardying prior to the abstinence of Ash Wednesday, a man in California killed his three daughters and the woman supervising the girls’ visit with her father, part of the terms dictated since his divorce. Then killed himself. In a church sanctuary.

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Opportunities to Apply the Slight Weight of our Convictions

By Ken Sehested

Recently I forwarded the social media link to an article detailing the ways religious piety was intertwined with the violent uprising at our nation’s capitol on 6 January 2021. My ever-thoughtful friend Susan responded with this question: “Scary. How is the best way to counter this descent into the same horrors as German Christians did following Hitler?”

I composed a couple sentences of response. But then a new door opened in my mind; then another, then another. And I ended up writing, over a few days time, the following:

At least at this point, I know of no singular strategy. We are each given opportunities to apply the slight weight of our convictions regarding the Beloved Community in countless small acts.

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Blistering Hope

By Ken Sehested, the curator of Prayer & Politiks

Given the quivering state of our body politic, assailed from every side, I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how to sustain hope by way of persevering toil. As Daniel Berrigan once noted, the struggle for justice, the pursuit of peace, the advocacy of human rights in all their varied shape and kind, is sometimes “like pulling a piano through a plowed field.”

Thinking on these things, I remembered an older poem written from my years as a stone mason, “Blistering hope.”

§  §  §

Blistering Hope

A stonemason’s meditation on perseverance

When cutting capstone, carefully measured, from a larger block with nothing but hammer and chisel, you come to know the necessity of blister-raising toil to achieve envisioned result.

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Breathing room

By Ken Sehested

As I pulled out of our driveway, the NPR radio host said that the jury in the Derek Chauvin murder trial had reached a verdict and would be announced shortly. I immediately felt my stomach tighten and swallowed an inhaled “oh no.”

Like most, I thought the evidence against him in the death of George Floyd was irreproachable. But history said otherwise, particularly given the massive loophole provided by the Supreme Court’s ruling granting “limited immunity” to law enforcement, for “breathing room to make reasonable but mistaken judgments about open legal questions.” https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2021/03/the-supreme-courts-message-on-police-misconduct-is-changing/618193/

Each Tuesday I perform taxi service, getting my granddaughter to and from her gymnastics team workout. I was grateful the news didn’t break until after dropping her off. That came as I pulled into the grocery store parking lot on the way home, to pick up an item for dinner.

Entering the store, it seemed I was the only one who knew that a rare moment in US history had been announced. If I were more of an extrovert, I might have shouted out a few exclamation points.

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Nerve Us Up

By Ken Sehested

This past Sunday one of our members, Stan Wilson, offered the “call to the table” in our congregation’s zoom worship screen-gathering. He led with a suggestion that was equivalent, in my hearing, to a thunderclap.

“How about for Lent this year we give up Donald Trump?”

It was a table invitation (we celebrate the Eucharist every week) and an altar call rolled into one. And it certainly had my name on it.

The last four years in the US have been a national demolition derby, a Three-Stooge-esque comedy of incompetence and disrepute, a racketeer’s paradise and grifter’s playpen—only with real-world torment, particularly for those here and abroad with little shelter from the abuse.

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Lamentation to Adulation: Every Psalmist’s Perilous Journey

By Ken Sehested

“If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.” —Psalm 139:8

Blessed One, whose name we dare not speak, but of whose
Presence we dare not remain silent, we stand before you
with hearts in shreds and hands frozen.

We know that we creatures were made for praise and
thanksgiving. We recognize that gratitude is our natural
home.

But these are unnatural days. Instead of Heaven’s jubilation
at Creation’s unfolding, most of what we hear are the arias
of agony and the cornet’s sounding of retreat.

Sighs hover; cries haunt. And still your Face eludes.

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