Praying the News

newspaper-1595773__340

The last few weeks the news has been sickeningly familiar: bombings, war, violence, accidents, murders, disasters, fear, misunderstandings, hate—the list of humanity’s failures and sufferings goes on and on.

 How do we respond as Christians?

What can we do about all these distressing things that continue to happen around us?

Here is a possibility: We pray the news. It’s an idea I picked up several years ago while at a conference on contemplative prayer. I became captivated by the idea and began experimenting with praying the news. I discovered it can make a difference not only in my world but also in how I approach the world.

At first thought, praying the news can simply a quick prayer after reading the headlines or listening to the news. But it’s more than that. It involves what Anabaptists believe about spirituality: that it involves both action and contemplation. We cannot effectively act without prayer, not can we effectively pray without acting.

To pray about the events occurring in our world, we must believe that God does listen and does respond to our prayers on behalf of others. There are three requirements to pray the news effectively: faith, stamina, involvement.

Faith: The writer of Hebrews tells us: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” The mystery and confounding aspect of prayer is that we can’t measure its effectiveness. We don’t know when we have prayed for something or someone, and it happened as we had prayed, that it’s a direct result of our prayers. Frankly,  we tend to explain away results rather than believe in answered prayer.

For example, I lived in Los Angeles during the two trials of the police officers who beat Rodney King in the early 1990s. During the first trial I didn’t pray at all for the legal process, for the jury, for the witnesses, for the truth to be told and not distorted. The result of that verdict: Los Angeles was gripped by fear and anger and hostility for more than three days in riots across the city.

During the second trial, I prayed diligently. I know churches throughout the city were also praying for justice and peace. The result after that verdict: peace and—depending on who you talked with—justice.

We can explain away the difference. The second judge was wise to have the verdicts read on a Saturday at 7:00 a.m., the city officials were prepared, and on and on. Or we can believe that God—in response to our prayers—gave the judge wisdom and enable the city officials to be prepared. At some point we choose to believe that God is listening and moving on behalf of the prayers of us who are God’s children.

Stamina: We pray for the world because God has called us to pray. Paul encourages u in Thessalonians to “pray without ceasing”—to pray diligently. Paul understood how easy it is to give up praying because we don’t often see measurable results. Or something good may happen and we can stop praying about. We need to continue praying.

Diligent, unceasing prayer is work. It takes concentration. It requires stamina made by strong by faith. If all we can do is pray for five minutes, we must pray those five minutes. But we must also strive to increase the “prayer muscle” by working up to ten minutes a day.

Involvement: To pray effectively requires involvement. A basic level of involvement is the news media. If while watching the news we hear of a murder, we can pray for the victim’s family, for the surrounding community, for the investigation, for the perpetrator. We can pray about the fear the victim’s family will experience, the anguish in imagining final moments, the rage against the murderer.

But we must not stop there. We must go on to pray for a government. Pray God’s goodness into that system. I sometimes pray God into a system by using the image of someone breathing into another while trying to resuscitate that person. Breathe God into systems.

If there is a bill to be decided, pray for the committee, pray for the committee staff, pray for the lobbyists, pray for the family of government officials. Pray for wisdom and for eyes that see and ears that hear for those government employees. And, engage with government workers, including staff and elected officials. Act on your prayers on behalf of others.

Occasionally I like to use Pavlov’s psychological discovery in my prayers. I’ve prayed for dictators and warlords like this: whenever the lust of power sweeps over them, I ask that God will put either a bad taste in their mouths or that an overwhelming nausea may seize them. My hope is that they will eventually equate power with physical illness. Will it work? Beats me. But I am called to pray regardless of the results.

Praying the news can change our lives as we learn to act in tandem with our prayers. And praying the news can change the lives of others as we act with wisdom and insight as a result of our prayers.

A Plea for God’s Help

 

empty bench--blog 8-2017

Oh God, where are you?

You have disappeared from our world,

It seems you have turned your back on us when we desperately need You.

 

We need you to act and move in this world—

bombs, tear gas, and cars are flying and falling,

people are dying

while the powers keep talking and talking and not listening and listening.

 

Oh God, where are you?

Have you have abandoned us?

Have you left us when we desperately need you?

 

We need you to give us words and voices to talk to the powers–

we need you to break through their words and worlds and cause them to pause, to listen.

We need you to halt the hate, death, and destruction that is occurring all over the globe.

We need you.

 

Oh God, your word promises us that you will never leave us nor forsake us.

Please show yourself to us and to the world.

Please pour out your goodness, your love, your mercy to all of us.

Oh God, please act and move in this world, today and everyday. Amen

 

 

 

A Prayer for Those Recovering from Denominational Meetings

people-545549__340--blog post

 

Loving God, Compassionate God—

We gathered to do the work of the church which we believe is your work.

We were sincere, hopeful, uncertain, and anxious.

We were eager to see old friends and anticipated making new ones.

We hoped to worship together as your people.

 

But, O God, it is really hard to work with other people sometimes.

We feel unheard, misunderstood, dismissed by others who also feel unheard, misunderstood, dismissed.

We are hurt, angry, and flirting with bitterness.

We are exhausted: physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. And we wonder: why I am working so hard to do the work of the church?

 

So, Loving God, restore us.

Restore our energy.

Restore our hope.

Restore our desire to create your kin-dom here on earth.

 

And, Compassionate God, help us to release our bitterness and in our releasing, receive your lovingkindness.

Help us to release our hurt and in our releasing, receive your comforting presence.

As we reflect on the meetings, gives us eyes to see and ears to hear what needs to be seen and heard.

 

Finally, O God, let us see where you were present and moving in the gathering.

Most of all, as always, reveal to us your loving face in all and throughout all of our life and in the lives of others.

We praise and bless your holy name. Amen.

 

Have mercy: a prayer

blog 6-23-2017 good samaritan

 

Gracious God, Merciful God

We praise and bless you as the merciful one.

We thank you that your mercies are new every morning.

We thank you that you love to extend mercy to us.

֍

Because of your mercy we are encouraged to confess our shortcomings, our sins.

We confess our distractions from you—our lives are filled with other things, duties and responsibilities, working for peace and justice, that we forget you.

We forget that all we do is to be centered in you.

Have mercy on us, God and help us to mindful and aware of you.

We confess the dividing walls that separate us from others. 

We confess that we carefully construct these walls to keep others out—those who disagree with us, who hurt us, who are different from us.

We admit that in keeping others on the other side of the wall, we also keep you on the other side of the wall. 

֍

Have mercy on us, O God.

Have mercy and give us the courage to break down those walls and begin to trust others, listen to others, to open our hearts to others. 

Please give us the courage to be bold and to move toward reconciliation with those in our life with whom we are estranged.

Have mercy on us.

֍

Gracious God, Merciful God, we thank you for your forgiveness.

We thank you for your gracious and merciful heart. 

Holy Spirit, flame of love, we praise and bless your Merciful, Gracious name.

Let us proclaim that you are our God and we are your children.

We praise your holy Name. Amen.

֍

 

Embracing the Other: Engaging a theology of “embrace”

two_friends_shaking_hands

I shared this post originally in the winter and am sharing it again as the polarization within families, communities, and churches continues.

I am unsettled by the frequency I have unfriended or blocked people leading up to the national election. I have placed friends and family members into a metaphorical box, labeled it Others and placed it in the back of my heart closet. I exclude Others from my life and create a distance from, whether that be an emotional or physical or relational distance. I dismiss these Others by not taking them seriously, by trivializing or mocking them, by refusing to listen to their heart stories of joys and pains, and ultimately, I exclude them from God’s love. I consider them unworthy of God’s love, grace, and mercy.

In his book Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation, (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996), Miroslav Volf describes three qualities of exclusion. First, exclusion entails the cutting of bonds that connect individuals to one another. The Other emerges either as an enemy that must be pushed away and driven out of its space, or as a nonentity that can be disregarded and abandoned. We see this everywhere on social media, cable news, and even within the church. We see people disregarded and abandoned, with news reports of refugees and immigrants fleeing their homes only to be refused entry into other countries. We see this in our national political conversations. We see this in all forms of social media. And we see this refusal to meet the Other within our congregations, conferences, and denominations.

Second, exclusion entails erasure of separation, meaning the Other emerges as an inferior being who must either be assimilated by being made like ourselves, or be subjugated to ourselves. We see this in the continued fragile relationship between people of color and white people; English and non-English speakers; LGBTQ and hetero persons; progressive believers and fundamentalist believers; Republican and Democrats. These are all forms of exclusion.

And third, exclusion is judgment. Volf writes, “Strong disagreement with a lifestyle, religious belief-system, or a course of action—a disagreement that employs adjectives like ‘wrong,’ ‘mistaken,’ or ‘erroneous,’ and understands these to be more than expressions of personal or communal preference—is felt to be exclusionary.”

Volf suggests a “theology of embrace” as the way of loving and reconciling with the Other. He breaks down the image of an embrace into four movements to help us understand how we might do this. These elements of embrace include:

  1. Opening the arms is a gesture of the body reaching for the Other. Open arms are a sign that I have created space in myself for the other to come in, and that I have made a movement out of myself so as to enter the space created by the other. Open arms are a gesture of invitation and hospitality.
  2. Waiting is the act of postponing the desire of welcoming the Other to myself until I know the other is willing to open their arms in reciprocation. Waiting on the Other allows the other to decide if they wants to be reconciled or left alone. The Other cannot be coerced into an embrace, otherwise the embrace becomes an act of violence. If embrace takes place, it is because both individuals want it—embrace must be reciprocal.
  3. Closing the arms is the goal of the embrace. It takes two pairs of arms for one embrace.
  4. Opening the arms again allows the individuals freedom to be themselves. Additionally, opening the arms again begins the cycle of embrace.

The embrace transforms the Other—the person I have dismissed or hated or oppressed—into my brother or my sister, one that I can truly love. In truly loving my brother or my sister, I enter into a relationship based on trust, forgiveness, reconciliation, and intimacy, as modeled by Jesus Christ. I begin to see the Other as God sees them—as one who is created and loved by God—not as a monster to be rejected by the world.

Our ability to embrace the other is not based on our willfulness, on our insistence. Our ability to embrace the other is based on God’s embrace of us. We can embrace because God first embraced us. We can love because God first loved us.

A longer version of this post was published in Leader magazine, Fall 2016.

Photo: By Dhiriart – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=46459574

Have mercy (continued)

hands-doves-blog-5-31-17

 

Gracious God, Merciful God‑

This Sunday is Pentecost and we praise you for the gift of the Holy Spirit.  We praise and bless you for the gift of Easter which had to precede Pentecost.

We also praise and bless you as the creator of our world.  We thank you for the beauty and mystery of nature.  We thank you that in the midst of storms, you are with us.

We praise and bless you as the merciful one. We thank you that your mercies are new every morning.  We thank you that you love to extend mercy to us.

***

Because of your mercy we are encouraged to confess and to receive mercy.  We confess our distractions from you‑‑that our lives are so filled with other things, duties and responsibilities that we forget you. Forgive us for our absorption of social media, of politics, of our anger rather than focusing on you.  Have mercy on us God and help us to turn our minds and hearts to you.

***

We confess our meanspiritedness toward others. We confess that our hearts are too small.  And having small hearts limits our abilities to see and to hear others with attentive love.  We cannot see the good in others, we cannot hear their voices longing for love.  Have mercy on us God and enlarge our hearts so that we may have eyes to see and ears to hear.

***

Gracious God, Merciful God, we thank you for your forgiveness.  We thank you for your gracious and merciful heart.  Because we are forgiven we are now bold to bring others to you.

***

God we bring before you the families grieving across the nation.  God have mercy on us as our world creates young men who hate others because of their race, their religion, their sexuality. We pray for wisdom and boldness to reach out to these young men and offer them mercy, healing, and love. We watch and listen in disbelief to the stories of violence‑‑we cannot believe that humans can do these things to one another.  We grieve because our country is being torn apart. Oh God, we ask‑‑in fact, we plead and implore you‑‑to breathe peace into the world. We ask for wisdom and courage for those working for justice and peace.  We ask for wisdom for us in how we are to respond to these painful situations as well as how we should talk to those in power.  We don’t know how to pray for our leaders but we offer them to you, trusting that you will move and act in their lives.

***

Holy Spirit, wind of love, we praise and bless your Merciful, Gracious name.  Let us proclaim that you are our God and we are your children.  We praise your holy Name.  Amen.

 

(My earlier prayer, “Lord, have mercy” can be found here.)

 

Unidentified. Wonders by Their Hands, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=55766

Finding my way at Krogers

grocery-blog post

After finally finding a parking spot adjacent to Krogers I enter the grocery store to find no available shopping carts. I turn around, return to the parking lot, and find one in the metal shopping cart carrels. My annoyance and impatience are beginning to grow.

I find a cart with a cranky wheel which causes me trouble as I try to push it back into the store while clutching my grocery list written on recycled paper and my reusable bags. As I follow my mental store map I notice just how very busy the store is with many people maneuvering carts filled with groceries. Feeling irritated, I begin to focus on my breathing: in deeply, out deeply, in deeply, out deeply. I move slowly through the store unable to quickly navigate at my usual pace and any remaining patience I had is now gone.

At last, I push my cart into a check-out line behind someone with a full cart, so full I can’t load my groceries onto the conveyor belt yet. The woman, appearing unkempt, asks the cashier several questions which slows the process. And with each question, the cashier gives the woman her full attention, patiently and graciously answering the woman’s questions.

Meanwhile, I am tapping my foot, feeling peevish toward both of them.

The cashier turns toward customer service to ask a question and the woman turns to me, smiles, and says, “Sorry for taking so long. I don’t know how to use the new WIC cards. Before I moved away we had paper coupons and now that I am back, I have to learn the new cards.” She sheepishly smiles at me.

Lying, I tightly smile and say, “It’s fine, don’t worry about it.”

Then the cashier returns and they continue checking out.

As I wait, an inner voice says, “June Mears, you speak and write about compassion for the poor yet when a poor woman slows you down, you lack compassion and mercy.”

I immediately see my Self and repent.

As the woman leaves she apologizes again and I truthfully and heartfully smile at her and say, “It’s no problem. I hope you have a good day.”

As I reach the cashier, I thank her for her kindness and patience with the woman. The cashier responds, “Well, it’s hard for people to learn to use the WIC cards and they need them to feed their families.”

“Well, you were very generous with her and thank you,” I say.

She slightly shrugged as she swipes my groceries over the scanner. “Well, it’s super busy when the accounts are refilled and folks buy their groceries.”

“I thought it was busier than usual,” I say.

“That’s why”.

As I wait for her to finish I gaze at the loving face of God as seen in the face of the Kroger cashier. I find God at Krogers.

***

“Love and mercy are sovereign, if often in disguise as ordinary people.”

–Anne Lamott