The city of Phoenix has decided to replace prayer at its public meetings with a moment of silence. The move comes after a representative from the Satanic Temple was approved to say a prayer, or invocation, before a council meeting scheduled for Feb. 17.
A few days ago I had the wonderful opportunity to spend a day with Richard Rohr. Our conversation from the moment he picked me up from the airport, was energizing and thought provoking. Rohr's demeanor is very calming and without the fear of shaming or blaming, it's pretty easy to talk to about anything. We discussed the institutional church, poverty, self-care, the contemplative life, and many other issues. But one topic came up that I didn't anticipate, the issue of white privilege.
After the mass shooting in San Bernardino, politicians and others who offered up “thoughts and prayers” came under criticism for not being interested in a solution to gun violence.
But on The Late Show on Dec. 7, Stephen Colbert argued that thoughts and prayers are still important.
“I’d like to defend thoughts and prayers, as someone who occasionally thinks and prays,” he said.
The front cover of the New York Daily News for Dec. 3 takes a strong stance against how some politicians are reacting to the San Bernardino shooting with calls for prayer instead of tighter gun control laws.
The headline says, “God Isn’t Fixing This.”
“As latest batch of innocent Americans are left lying in pools of blood, cowards who could truly end gun scourge continue to hide behind meaningless platitudes,” the cover reads.
As the political stage gets set for the 2016 U.S. presidential election, how should Christians engage?
One unexpectedly relevant guide can be found in the book of Judges, which more than any other book in the Bible, describes a divinely-inspired form of leadership similar to our own. Between the era in which God spoke through Moses, and the one in which God worked through kings like David, came an era — lasting over four centuries — during which God raised up a series of individuals who had no predefined lineage, accomplishment, or gender marking them as leadership material. These judges were not judicial so much as military leaders, fulfilling a role strikingly similar to that of the American president.
Another notable commonality Americans share with the Israelites of Judges is the crisis in which we find ourselves. Apostasy, from the Greek word apostasia, means “an abandonment of one’s previous faith.” Then as now, a nation was turning away from God.
When literary critic Steve Moore praised the novel Infinite Jest for its “sardonic worldview perfect for the irony-filled nineties,” the exasperated author, David Foster Wallace, replied that that was “like saying a ‘kerosen[e]-filled fire extinguisher perfect for the blazing housefire.’”
The ’90s may be over, but the scorching irony of our sardonic age shows no sign of dying out as David Foster Wallace may have hoped.
That we still need writers — and artists, thinkers, and plain old human beings — putting out fires of cynicism is clear enough to me. Not because I hate it. The problem is that I love being the cynic.
Pope Francis embraced survivors of 9/11 in the footprints of the Twin Towers, then prayed for peace at an interfaith service beside the last column of steel salvaged from the fallen skyscrapers.
Arriving straight from his speech to the United Nations on Sept. 25, Francis met with 10 families from the 9/11 community — people who survived the destruction, rescued others from the inferno, or lost loved ones in the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history, executed by religious zealots.
Faith communities have long been at the forefront of dynamic and significant change, and they’ve been a driving force behind global efforts in response to ebola, in combating HIV/AIDS, and in famine relief, to name just a few. From Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to the Dalai Lama, people of faith have helped create and sustain social movements — and have recognized the responsibilities that faith bestows.
Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, and Hindus may all express their religious faith in different ways, but each community shares its beliefs, seeks salvation, and opens its heart through its own moments of reflection and in its own places. We live in the same world — under the same sky — and, because of our shared humanity and faith, we share many of the same hopes and fears.
That’s the instinct behind the "Prayer for Everyone" movement, which we at ONE have been working on with other partners in the Project Everyone coalition.
After five days in the hospital, filled with overwhelming joy, paralyzing fear, and complete exhaustion in the wake of the birth of our twins, I finally found a moment to walk outside the florescent lights and sit under the bright moon. Sitting on a small patch of grass outside the hospital doors, the reality of being a father to four kids finally hit me. I was both overwhelmed and overjoyed by the gift and responsibility of raising four kids in a world so desperately in need of mustard seeds of hope that one day blossom into healing and beauty.
So as I sit in relative comfort and begin to dream big dreams for my kids, I am struck by the reality that most fathers around the globe are forced to welcome their kids into a world where there is no "ladder" to climb because it has been knocked out from under them by broken systems that are breaking people. A world where many kids are born into families fleeing violent persecution and being nursed on the trauma of war in battered refugee camps — places where the thought of hope is a distant second to simply fighting to survive. A world where one’s value is more closely associated with gender (male) than with the beautiful uniqueness inherent in every new life.
But this is also a world pregnant with possibilities. A world where former enemies move beyond their past, share tables, and begin to imagine a future together. A world where the blossoms of new life begin to sprout in the shadowy corners of forgotten neighborhoods. A world where the diversity of God’s kingdom begins to awaken our eyes and hearts to the new world God is making.
It is in this world — a world both beautiful and broken — that I offer this prayer over my four kids.
As long as people have been praying, they have also been asking for prayer from one another. In the Bible, the New Testament is full of requests from Paul and others to pray for them; contemporary places of worship often offer time in their services to pray for the specific needs of their parishioners.
A new app called Instapray makes sense as a digital heir to that tradition.
Jesus not only knew how to pray; he knew what it was like to be arrested. When he had finished his table prayer, Jesus and his disciples went out across the Kidron valley to a garden. Judas knew about that garden because he and the other disciples often met there with Jesus. This time, Judas didn’t come to pray, but brought a detachment of soldiers and religious police. They arrested Jesus, bound him and took him away to be tried.
Jesus escaped prison only because he was executed by the state the next day. This crucified, risen, and wounded Jesus has returned to the heart of God. He continues to pray for us. Why wouldn’t Jesus be praying also for those who are in prison? Why wouldn’t we?
If much of life in the High Middle Ages seems foreign to us, the detailed workings of the wheel — along with four others like it that have survived to the present — are a real riddle.
Schematic prayer guides were more common in later centuries, said Lauren Mancia, a medievalist at Brooklyn College who has examined the Liesborn Wheel.
“Monks and nuns in the Central Middle Ages often get a bad rap for unsystematic thinking — doing all this prayer by rote, mumbling, and not caring about the sense,” said Mancia.
“This diagram suggests that they’re not just mumbling, they’re using a mnemonic device to remember and internalize, or even to make an inner journey.”
As part of this year-long effort to better understand what we mean when we talk about following Jesus, I’ve been making a more concerted effort to pray every day. Even though my tendency is to focus on silent, contemplative reflection, I’ve actually taken on a number of prayers that I do several times each, over a half-hour period or so.
Along with the Lord’s Prayer ("Our Father/God, who art in Heaven…"), the Jesus Prayer ("Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner"), the Serenity Prayer ("Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change…") and the Prayer of St. Francis ("Lord, make me an instrument of your peace…"), I also recite the Hail Mary. Not only that, but I use a rosary to go through my prayers.
I’ve shared this with some folks, and inevitably someone is surprised by this. I’ll get something like, “I didn’t know you’re Catholic.” Or, “Why pray to Mary? After all, she’s not actually God.”
Or is she?
Not that I think Mary personally was “God with skin on,” like we sometimes talk about Jesus. But like her son, I do tend to think that she pointed us toward God, which seems to be the one of the most important things Jesus did. In fact, when I’m asked what’s different about Jesus — as compared with other prophets and miracle workers in the Bible — I tend to respond that he, unlike others who preceded him in the biblical narrative, was more like the needle of a compass, pointing us in a common direction, rather than making himself the X marking the spot, the ultimate destination.
For me, Mary does this as well. There’s no story about her in the Gospels that suggests anything other than total devotion to God and to Jesus. In fact, in her conversation with God about becoming Jesus’ mother sounded much like Jesus prayer to God in the garden of Gethsemane, just before he was handed over to be crucified.
Both offered humble submission: Not my will, God, but yours be done.
Canada’s Supreme Court has ruled that a small town in Quebec may not open its council meetings with prayer.
In a unanimous ruling April 15, Canada’s highest court ruled that the town of Saguenay can no longer publicly recite a Catholic prayer because it infringes on freedom of conscience and religion.
The case dates back to 2007, when a resident of Saguenay complained about public prayer at City Hall.
Just last year, a divided U.S. Supreme Court ruled that legislative bodies such as city councils could begin their meetings with prayer, even if it plainly favors a specific religion.
But the Canadian high court ruled that the country’s social mores have “given rise to a concept of neutrality according to which the state must not interfere in religion and beliefs. The state must instead remain neutral in this regard. This neutrality requires that the state neither favor nor hinder any particular belief, and the same holds true for non belief.”
The court said a nondenominational prayer is still religious in nature and would exclude nonbelievers.
I got the call on the morning of Maundy Thursday: Would you be interested in giving the closing prayer at the White House Easter Prayer Breakfast?
Uh. Yes. Wow. Absolutely. I actually don’t even remember what my response was, but it was probably something like that.
My feeling upon hanging up the phone — and the underlying sense all through the emotion and significance and spiritual intensity of our Good Friday and Easter Sunday services at my church — was, Who, me?
I felt the same way walking into the White House with a bunch of leaders whose names and faces I’d seen before on social media or the news but never yet in person.
The other presenters that day were Rev. Amy Butler from Riverside Church in New York City, Sister Donna Markham of Catholic Charities USA, Fr. Anthony Messeh of St. Timothy and St. Athanasius Coptic Orthodox Church, and Pastor Ann Lightner-Fuller of Mt. Calvary A.M.E. Church, and as we met and chatted in the Blue Room while we waited for the President and Vice President to greet us before the breakfast, we shared this common feeling. Who were we to be doing this? At one point, Fr. Anthony said, “I’m just waiting for someone to tap me on the shoulder and tell me they made a mistake!”
Eight years ago, a 25-year-old, grad-school-student, fanboy-and-campaigner-in-chief Justin would have been unreservedly and unabashedly over-the-moon about an opportunity like this — and please don’t get me wrong, I was excited. There were a lot of things I thought about saying to the President — “Big fan, sir!” or “We’re praying for you!” or “Come visit The District Church — we’re just a couple miles up the road!” or “How about that Championship game last night?”
But all that came out was, “Great to meet you, Mr. President!” And then I had nothing.
The breakfast itself was a fun thing to be a part of, too. From Vice President Biden’s opening remarks to President Obama’s reflections (and jokes, the man’s got a great sense of humor!)to the song by Amy Grant (a childhood musical hero of mine) to the scriptures read from 1 Corinthians and Mark’s Gospel to the homily on having the courage to hope and keep moving forward, the event was a thoroughly Jesus-saturated. It felt like an extension of Easter Sunday.
And I guess that’s what God has impressed upon my heart this weekend and through the prayer breakfast: we all need the gospel and the gospel is for us all. Before the breakfast, I met Rev. Lennox Yearwood of the Hip Hop Caucus, and we both commented on how even famous people need Jesus, how even nice suits and dresses can’t hide the things that we all have to deal with.
All Holy Week, I've been listening to Hozier's “Take Me to Church” — an odd sort of spiritual exercise, I suppose.
At first it was the hauntingly catchy refrain: “Take Me to Church” — and after all I would be going to church all week this week, the holiest of weeks in the Christian calendar. Maundy, or Holy, Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Vigil, Easter Sunday.
The refrain was jarring against the artist's desired impact of the song, that in fact no one would be taken to church, that no one would trust the institutional church that has proven so dogmatic, divisive, violent, and decidedly un-Christlike in its practice as to become "a fresh poison each week."
“Take Me to Church” is about sexuality, about dogma, about prayer, about worship, about heaven, hell, life, death, sacrifice, sin, confession, and absolution. It’s about Catholicism and Protestantism and Jesus and atheism and fear and hope and love.
We each see pieces of it. Many American viewers saw Hozier's music video and wrongly assumed he was gay — that the sum of his message was about the church's persecution of homosexuality. And even though Hozier is not gay, he did mean to indict the church for its horrible treatment of the LGBTQ community — but the message of his song goes beyond sexuality.
Hozier is an Irish singer, a man who grew up with the deadly legacy of Catholic-Protestant war, a man whose national church was beset by sexual abuse scandals and pews full of dogmatic believers who had never read the Bible. Masses in many cases were dominated by ritual and women and babies sent away to church-run facilities, like the one where the bodies of nearly 800 infants were recently found in an unmarked mass grave.
Americans can look on the Irish church with judgment, yet our own church scandals and hypocrisy can fill even more pages.
As a pastor looking toward Easter Sunday 2015, I see something else in these lyrics. I see and hear a deep longing. Not only for sex. But a longing for the God who came to earth in Jesus, who died and rose again because of love.
I asked colleagues and friends about their responses to this song, as it dominates airwaves during Holy Week, and no one seemed to want to broach the topic. Too sexual, some said. Another, that "it could not be redeemed." Another, that "people would be too offended."
You hear a voice speaking
about a bird dragging its dark universe
of feathers across your yard,
and you realize it must be you
telling the boy how you carried its body
beyond the ambit of your dogs.
One eye, round as a coin,
fixing fear upon you, the other,
half shut. How the bird hauled
its body back into your yard,
dying with a will you could only
admire. Am I the bird?, the boy asks.
In this Lent reflection, Grant and Uncle Graham Paulson talk about cultural genocide and forgiveness in the same breath. It is an honor to listen to someone who is possible of such a witness.
A new survey shows in stark relief that what some are calling the Great Decline of religion in America continues: Since 2012, the U.S. has about 7.5 million more Americans who are no longer active in religion.
Last week, the 2014 General Social Survey was released. The GSS is the gold standard for sociological surveys. Funded by the National Science Foundation, this multimillion-dollar study gives us the most accurate data on American society — including religion.
(An important point to remember as you see the data: Each percentage point increase represents a growth of 2.5 million adults. So a 3-point rise in secularity, for example, means that about 7.5 million people left religion since 2012.)