Prayer

Faith Leaders Want Americans to Pray for Collegiality

RNS photo by spleeness via Flickr (http://flic.kr/p/dvwqfk).
The U.S. Capitol building at sunset. RNS photo by spleeness via Flickr (http://flic.kr/p/dvwqfk).

WASHINGTON — At a time when the ideals of compromise and collegiality seem like a distant dream in the nation’s capital, an unusually diverse coalition of religious leaders is asking Americans to pray for civility.

“Through daily prayer, we are calling on the ‘better angels of our nature’ needed to sustain our nation and solve problems,” said the Rev. Peg Chemberlin, immediate past president of the National Council of Churches and one of the faith leaders taking part in “18 days of Prayer for the Nation.”

Prayers began Thursday, the first day of the new Congress, and end on Jan. 21, the day of President Obama’s second inauguration.

Faith leaders from left, right and center have signed on, including Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, Richard Land of the Southern Baptists’ Ethics, and Religious Liberty Commission and Richard Cizik, president of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good.

The Faith & Politics Institute, a nonpartisan group that nurtures the spiritual life of members of Congress and their staffs and presses political foes toward civil debate, organized the days of prayer and an online “commitment to prayer” page to document participation.

Finding God's Presence in the Midst of Hardship

Photo: Prayer circle, © Brett Jorgensen / Shutterstock.com
Photo: Prayer circle, © Brett Jorgensen / Shutterstock.com

Joey Ekburg, Executive Director of the North Park Friendship Center, was never one to mince words. “We pay almost twice the amount for food, and we have more clients than ever before.” It took awhile for the words to sink in and the math to play out in my head. I was never great at math, but the implications were pretty obvious.  

I looked over at the people sitting near the entrance, waiting to pick up food to make it through the week. I wondered what would happen if this food pantry were to run out of food or if the unthinkable were to happen — the Friendship Center suddenly shutting its doors. 

The Albany Park neighborhood in Chicago has served as an entry point for generations of immigrant families, including my own. Many of them come to America looking for a fresh start. Sometimes that search becomes reduced to finding a fresh meal. 

Celebrating the Miraculous on World AIDS Day

Drummers and dancers perform songs to educate a community about HIV and AIDS in Zambia.

As people of faith, it is not uncommon to pray for miracles when faced with overwhelming obstacles. For many of us, AIDS has been one of those mind-boggling, heart-wrenching causes that has wreaked havoc on the world and been the subject of many prayers. 

Since the early days of the disease, the focus has been on a cure. Researchers worked tirelessly for it and the faithful asked God to provide it. But the cure has never come.

And yet, as we mark another AIDS Day this Saturday, Dec. 1, there is evidence of the miraculous. 

After 24 years of commemorating this day with grim statistics and little hope, there is finally good news. 

Millions of people are receiving treatment. Many fewer people are dying.

The new infection rate has dropped by 50 percent or more in 25 countries since 2001. With access to treatment, being HIV-positive is now considered a chronic disease, not a fatal one.

9mm Golden Calves

BACK IN 1990, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) issued this warning: "The religious community must ... take seriously the risk of idolatry that could result from an unwarranted fascination with guns, which overlooks or ignores the social consequences of their misuse." Two decades later, about 660,000 more Americans have been killed by guns, with a million more injured.

These figures convince me that what was a risk in 1990 has become our reality today: For too many, guns have become idols. They claim divine status; make promises of safety and security they cannot keep; transform people and neighborhoods; create enemies; and require human sacrifice.

Not all gun owners have permitted their guns to become idols or absolutes. In fact, a recent poll shows most gun owners and NRA members, in contrast to public perception, believe personal freedom and public safety are complementary, not contradictory. But those few who hold the microphone at the NRA (the wealthy manufacturers and the gun zealots who do their bidding) have permitted their fascination for guns to supplant God and God's requirements for human community.

An idol's followers boldly claim divine status for it. Former NRA executive Warren Cassidy was clear when he boasted, "You would get a far better understanding [of the NRA] if you approached us as if you were approaching one of the great religions of the world." Not to be outdone, Charlton Heston, during a speech as NRA president, intoned, "Sacred stuff resides in that wooden stock and blued steel—something that gives the most common man [sic] the most uncommon of freedoms, when ordinary hands can possess such an extraordinary instrument that symbolizes the full measure of human dignity and liberty."

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Watch the Vote: A Prayer for America

Close-up of a statue and an American flag, Purestock / Getty Images
Close-up of a statue and an American flag, Purestock / Getty Images

It’s here, God — Election Day in America. Today is the day when Americans everywhere are given the privilege and responsibility to exercise dominion (agency) at the polls.

Scripture tells us every human being is made in the image of God. We are, therefore, equally worthy of protection of the law. The United States Constitution and its Amendments tell us we are equally worthy of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Yet, at this very moment, laws stand poised to snatch dominion from the hands of the poor, the weak, and the vulnerable, ethnic minorities, students, and the elderly. Some scurrilous elected officials have worked behind the scenes to suppress the ability of voters to elect the person of their choice — all for the sake of politics

Jews Rally Around Woman Arrested for Praying at Western Wall

Man praying at Western Wall. Photo by Ryan Roderick Beiler.

JERUSALEM -- Jews from Manhattan to Mozambique held prayer vigils on Monday to protest the arrest and incarceration of an Israeli feminist as she was leading 250 American Jewish women in prayer at the Western Wall. 

The Oct. 16 arrest of Anat Hoffman, who co-founded Women of the Wall to enable Jewish women to pray together at the wall, has elicited outrage, especially from American Jews, the vast majority of whom do not practice Orthodox Judaism.

The wall, one of the holiest sites in Judaism, has segregated prayer sections for men and women. Israeli regulations on holy sites forbid “conducting a religious ceremony contrary to accepted practice” and “wearing unfit attire.” 

Hoffman was officially arrested on charges of "disturbing public order."

People of Earth...

THE SKIES LOOK different to me these days. The soft and tranquil clouds of my youth that often reminded me of cute Disney characters—a misty Dumbo drifting languidly overhead—have mostly been replaced by dark and threatening formations, more reminiscent of Disney’s lesser-known films, such as Godzilla vs. The Little Mermaid: This Time It’s Personal. More specific, the violently roiling skies of late are like a scene from Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds, where intense storm clouds heralded an alien invasion.

Which is why I always carry a prepared speech of surrender in my backpack, in case I need to immediately declare loyalty to a superior race. Although, so far, the alien presence has been pretty unimpressive, consisting mainly of crude, humanoid Kardashians attempting to assimilate quietly. One hopes that when the next prototypes arrive, they will better conceal the vaguely reptilian features of their planet’s indigenous life forms. Not to mention vice presidential hopeful “Paul Ryan,” whose hairline displays the telltale widow’s peak once thought to be a unique facial characteristic of earthly vampires, until NASA rovers spotted it on a rock on Mars. (Mars reportedly privatized its health care for seniors decades ago, and just look at the place now: not an elderly person in sight.)

BUT WHAT WAS I talking about? Oh yes, the weather. The typical forecast this summer included phrases such as “hurricane-force winds,” “damaging hail,” and “start hoarding toilet paper.” Of the four mature trees in our yard, only one remains, having survived repeated gale-force winds through pluck and attitude, although having a trunk the circumference of a grain silo probably helped. (I could never get my arms around it for a hug, back when I used to do that sort of thing.)

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A Prayer for the Anniversary of 9/11

Anthony Correia / Shutterstock.com
Photo via Anthony Correia / Shutterstock.com

Good and gracious God,

Today we come before you with heavy hearts
as we remember the events of 9/11.

For some of us today is a mixed bag of emotions.
We hurt deeply for those who lost their lives
and those who lost their loved ones.
We mourn the nearly 3000 who died that day.
We are humbled by the bravery of the first responders.
We continue to grieve with our neighbors
in the loss of our national innocence -
our false sense of constant safety.

How the Lord’s Prayer Saved a 9/11 Survivor

Credit: RNS photo courtesy John Mahony
For John Mahony remembers how prayer helped him the morning of Sept. 11. Credit: RNS photo courtesy John Mahony

Out of the chaos, to the rhythm of the Lord’s Prayer, John Mahony, a retired U.S. Army colonel who was managing projects for Blue Cross/Blue Shield, sensed something that reminded him of when his mother would wrap him up as he’d climb out of a cold swimming pool, and he would be held, safe and warm, in loving arms.

“As I walked down that stair, somewhere between the 12th floor and the 10th, somewhere between ‘Our Father’ and ‘Thy will be done,’ that same feeling came over me," Mahony said. "Suddenly, I was wrapped in warmth, and love, and comfort. In that smoky, wet stairway, in a burning building, surrounded by a thousand frightened people; I felt wonder. I felt God’s peace, and I knew that regardless of the physical outcome, everything would be all right.”

A Labor Day Prayer

In their annual Labor Day statement, the U.S. Catholic bishops call for “national economic renewal that places working people and their families at the center of economic life.” Issued by Bishop Stephen Blaire of Stockton, Cal., chair of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, the statement emphasizes the reality that Millions of Americans suffer from unemployment, underemployment or are living in poverty as their basic needs too often go unmet. This represents a serious economic and moral failure for our nation.”

The bishops then cite related issues in the news.

On the deficit:

“Public officials rightfully debate the need to reduce unsustainable federal deficits and debt. In the current political campaigns, we hear much about the economy, but almost nothing about the moral imperative to overcome pervasive poverty in a nation still blessed with substantial economic resources and power.”

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