On September 21, Leonard Cohen Turned 80. With or Without a Cigarette, It’s Time to Celebrate.
“I hope I stay on the road a little bit longer - but you may not be so enthusiastic when you hear my reason. You see I want to start smoking next year when I'll be 80. It's been a long barren time. I think it’s the right age to recommence.” —Leonard Cohen
I dreamed you were in Florence, singing on some stage. Your back was to the men, the women by your sides. Your melody was tranquil, just humming do-re-me-fa, la-fa-re-me-do. And when there was commotion, some men quarreling behind the scene, you turned and faced them calmly, beseeching, “Gentlemen, let’s sing.”
You have left us these past months, ceased your universal tour. It gives us time to miss you, and wonder what you mean. This week you will be eighty, there’s no question, you are old. Your bones may creak or ache and I’ll guess your heart’s a little tired, but from outside looking in you seem settled in a pretty gentle space.
So in the dream your melodies kept coming, like a river from its source. “You’re doing it,” someone shouted. “It’s exactly what we want!” People were casually swaying until your voice started to get hoarse. “Well, I’m glad you like it,” you croaked joyfully, “I call this solemn mingling my little Florentine Prayer.”
Andrew W.K. at the Village Voice received a question from someone whose brother was diagnosed with cancer. In his grief, he is frustrated by his grandma’s prayers and sees them as “superstitious nonsense.” Andrew’s brilliant response is a very worthwhile read, in which he positions prayer as a posture of humility, a deep realization of our smallness.
When senseless tragedy occurs, people of faith often rush to explain and control. As finite human beings, we are limited in our knowledge and power, which makes us uncomfortable. When we encounter something incomprehensible, we are driven to explain it. When a situation reels out of control, we long to control it. We invite God to fill those gaps of our discomfort, our lack of understanding and control.
We look for redemption stories, the ways God is bringing about good through a tragic situation. We do this to avoid letting the grief overwhelm us. Like grandma, we pray because we are hoping to claim some power in our helplessness. Our prayers end up being more beneficial for ourselves than the person we are actually praying for.
Unfortunately, what happens then is we cease to need God beyond the quick explanation. We’ve tidied up the situation with reverent prayers and spiritual meaning. We’ve quickly salvaged the ecosystem of our faith despite a tragic intrusive incident — our belief in the God of the gaps remain intact. Everything stays the same. When we do this, we are making God into an idol, one that explains and controls according to our sensibilities.
The reality of climate change can be tough information to absorb, and if you’ve known for a while, it can just plain get you down. Yes, rising carbon pollution is leading to global warming. The impacts are already happening now, especially in poor countries and on our coasts. So now what? In the face of a problem on a global scale, what are we to do? Here are four suggestions.
The massive scale of global warming is a reminder that we are only human. It’s overwhelming to think about and difficult to know where to start. The good news is, God is waiting for us to hand over all our burdens. This is God’s world, not ours – a perspective that can inform not only our outrage over what humans have done to the creation, but also our response. We can be the hands and feet of Christ, doing the work God calls us to do, but we are not the saviors of the world. Knowing that can be both humbling and strengthening. Prayer is a great place to start if you’re trying to figure out what to do about climate change, and it’s an equally important place to return to if you’ve been fighting the good fight for years (exhaustion and burnout are a real thing in this line of work!).
I have so much emotions and thoughts in my mind, heart, and body – in light of the oh-so-much that is going on all around the world – including the utterly tragic, brutal, and unnecessary “death” of Michael Brown.
But I thought it would be helpful to share a few thoughts how churches, Christians, and leaders can be engaging the events of the past 11 days in their respective churches – now and in the future. I’m not suggesting that pastors have to completely alter their sermons or Bible studies, but to altogether ignore the injustice of Michael Brown’s death would be altogether foolish.
To be blunt and I say this respectfully,
The integrity of the church is at stake because when it’s all said and done, it’s not a race issue for me — it’s a Gospel issue. It’s a Kingdom issue. We shouldn’t even let isolated issues in themselves hijack the purpose of the church. The Gospel of Christ is so extraordinary that it begins to inform (and we pray, transform) all aspects of our lives. So, in other words, we talk about race and racism because we believe in the Gospel.
So, here are five suggestions for Christians, leaders, and churches.
Just because interfaith, interracial, and varied ethnic groups share a common cause doesn’t mean a diverse coalition can hang together.
It often takes prayer. And not just a “Bless this group, Amen,” invocation.
A new study by three sociologists finds that three out of four interfaith civic coalitions turn to what the sociologists have dubbed “bridging prayer” — interactive, participatory, and often innovative prayers and rituals that highlight their shared identity as people of faith.
When you truly experience the love of God, there is nothing you won’t do for God. When you are truly thankful for salvation, no place is off limits to share the gospel. When you read Matthew 25, you are willing to dwell in any environment to be the hands and feet of Jesus. Our compassion compels us to love without conditions and work beyond the hours of Sunday morning.
We see the necessities of the people, so we respond with passion and purpose. However, we often push ourselves beyond measure and forget to allow God to nurture and nourish our own souls, so that we are able to pour out into others.
Just in time for the 70th anniversary of D-Day Friday, the U.S. Senate by unanimous consent passed a bill to include a prayer plaque at the National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.
“O Lord, give us Faith,” the prayer reads in part. “Give us Faith in Thee; Faith in our sons; Faith in each other; Faith in our united crusade.” It concludes: “Thy will be done, Almighty God.”
The U.S. House will have to approve the bill, known as the World War II Memorial Prayer Act of 2013, before it heads to President Obama’s desk for his signature. But political pundits say there is little doubt the House will approve the measure since it passed a similar version of the bill last year.
An interfaith coalition has again asked the U.S. House of Representatives to reject a prayer plaque at the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.
The proposed plaque, which is under the consideration of a House subcommittee, would feature a prayer spoken by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt on the radio on D-Day, June 6, 1944.
“O Lord, give us Faith,” it reads in part. “Give us Faith in Thee; Faith in our sons; Faith in each other; Faith in our united crusade.” It concludes with, “Thy will be done, Almighty God.”
The coalition — a mix of religious and secular organizations that includes the Center for Inquiry, a humanist organization; three Jewish groups; the Hindu American Foundation; and the United Methodist Church – said the prayer does not reflect the religious diversity of the United States.
There’s a place in the cultural conversation for both friars and fools, for those who discern truth through contemplation and prayer, as well as those who seek to reveal it through satire and silliness. But it’s not every day that both come together for substantive (if not always serious) theological conversation.
Aric Clark, Nick Larson, and Doug Hagler, also known online as Two Friars and a Fool, host such conversations on their blog and podcast about theology and spiritual practice, sexuality, and popular culture. They recently combined forces as well for their first book, Never Pray Again: Lift Your Head, Unfold Your Hands and Get to Work. The intentionally provocative title emphasizes the need for Christians to get outside of our own heads and churches, and about the business of being the hands and feet of Jesus in a world in need.
I chatted with the trio recently about their new project, as well as the “Never Pray Again” coloring book, which they crowd funded through a recently successful Kickstarter campaign.
The great rejoicing after the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling on public prayer reminded me of the infamous line from an officer who commented on the destruction of a village during the Vietnam War: “We had to destroy the village in order to save it!”
There isn’t much to celebrate in the high court’s decision in Greece v. Galloway to allow sectarian prayers to be spoken in all kinds of public meetings. The big loser in this judicial decision was prayer itself — its uniqueness and its authenticity.
How to talk with our children about homelessness.
The Pew Research Center’s look at “The Shifting Religious Identity of Latinos in the United States” also examined their beliefs, behavior, and views on social issues. It finds that, beyond the church doors in the lives of the faithful, there are distinct differences between Hispanic evangelicals and Hispanic Catholics:
Catholics are less likely than evangelicals to:
- Attend services weekly — Catholic, 40 percent; evangelical, 71 percent
- Pray daily — Catholic, 61 percent; evangelical, 84 percent
- Take a literal view of the Bible — Catholic, 45 percent; evangelical, 63 percent
- Think abortion should be illegal in all/most cases — Catholic, 54 percent; evangelical, 70 percent
On my way home one day this past winter, I saw a woman standing at an intersection, holding a cardboard sign saying she had nothing to eat. Her face was red from the chilling wind. She looked forlorn.
I stopped for the red light and grabbed my wallet to get a few dollars for her. Oops, all I had was a $20 bill. That’s more than I’d intended to give her.
She looked forlorn. I couldn’t just drive past.
I lowered my window and handed her the bill. Her eyes brightened. She grabbed my hand tightly with both of hers — she wore knit gloves that left her cold fingers unprotected. She squeezed hard.
“Thank you,” she said, pumping my hand. “God bless you! Thank you! Thank you!”
As I raised the window, I watched her step back, go to one knee, clasp her hands, look up to the sky and mouth the words, “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” Then she made the sign of the cross.
At that moment, it struck me: I’d become the answer to her prayer.