Prayer

The Power of Fasting

Courtesy of Fast for Families

President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama visit the #Fast4Families tent. Courtesy of Fast for Families

Do you believe in the spiritual realm? I mean really believe; not in your head — in your disciplines?

Do you believe that spiritual power can alter, transform, or even redeem social, institutional, structural and even legislative power?

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately. I’m not sure I really believed … until recently.

On Sunday mornings, in the midst of our safe sanctuaries, our five-song worship sets, our 15-minute sermonettes and our one-hour services that can be timed with an egg timer, how does our worship and our practice offer witness to the reality of the spiritual realm? How do our disciplines engage the inner world beyond the good feeling we get from songs that comfort us? Comforting songs are valuable in our worship. In fact, God uses those songs to remind us of the ways the Holy Spirit interacts directly with us, knows us, and knows our most intimate needs. But how does our worship — how do our congregations’ spiritual disciplines strengthen our understanding and engagement with the powers, the principalities, and the world beyond our own homes and sanctuaries?  

 “For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).

In Gratitude to My Sojo Family

The Sojourners family

The Sojourners family

Time became suspended for my family and me when Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines nearly a month ago.

Days blurred into one another as my mom attempted to contact her family in Leyte, one of the Philippine islands directly hit by Haiyan. With her mother, siblings and family members still living in the Philippines, my mom feared the worst as she helplessly watched news reports of the typhoon’s devastation and destruction.

Together, as a family, we waited in agony for answers. Would my grandma and relatives survive? If so, when and how would they contact us without power or phone lines? Would this storm wipe out every connection we have to my mother’s homeland?

Two weeks after Haiyan upended our lives, grief gave way to joy as we received word of my family’s safety. My nanay (grandma) and several of my titas (aunts) and titos (uncles) lost their homes, but they managed to survive one of the most powerful storms recorded in modern history.

As you can imagine, there was much to be grateful for when I gathered with my family for Thanksgiving. At our table, we gave thanks to God for this miracle, knowing all too well that many Filipino families were not as fortunate or still waiting for news about their loved ones. We also remembered those who helped us during this time of uncertainty, especially the Sojourners community.

Feast with Your Family this Thanksgiving; Then Fast with Us Next Week -- for Families in Great Distress

Mementos in the fasting tent in remembrance of those who have come before us. Photo: Sojourners/Brandon Hook

The debate about immigration reform has been very productive in America over these past several years. And that debate has been won — by those who favor a common sense agenda for reform.

Two out of every three Americans now favor fixing our broken immigration system — two out of three! According to a recent report by the Public Religion Research Institute, 65 percent of Americans say that the U.S. immigration system is either completely or mostly broken. That same report found that 63 percent of Americans favor immigration reform that creates a pathway to citizenship, crossing party and religious lines. 60 percent of Republicans, 57 percent of independents, and 73 percent of Democrats favor a pathway to citizenship.

However, a minority of lawmakers — almost all white legislators in artificially gerrymandered white Congressional districts — is blocking a democratic vote on immigration reform. The Senate has already passed a bipartisan bill to reform the immigration system; written and forged by an impressive coalition of Republican and Democratic Senate leaders. And if a similar bill was put to a vote in the House of Representatives, it would also pass.

A Prayer for Marissa Alexander

Jesus Cervantes / Shutterstock

A woman praying. Jesus Cervantes / Shutterstock

Jesus, please be with Marissa Alexander today.

You know Marissa, the 32-year-old mother who fired a warning shot in the air to ward off her then-husband who was threatening to abuse her. You know that she tried to claim stand your ground and was denied by State Attorney Angela Corey who said Alexander fired her shot out of anger, not fear. You know that Corey’s office prosecuted George Zimmerman and did not block Zimmerman’s lawyers from embedding the language of the stand your ground statute in his jury’s instructions. You know that Zimmerman was declared not guilty based on that language, while Alexander was sentenced to 20 years in prison because of 10- to-20-year mandatory minimum sentencing requirements in Florida. 

It's Time to Fast and Pray

Brandon Hook/Sojourners

Jim Wallis speaks at the #Fast4Families press conference before the fast. Brandon Hook/Sojourners

(Editors Note: On Nov. 12, faith, immigrant rights, and labor leaders launched the “Fast for Families: A Call for Immigration Reform and Citizenship,” taking place on the National Mall. The following remarks are from Jim's speech given at the event.)

Despite the overwhelming public support — among all political stripes — to fix our broken immigration system, Washington's utter political dysfunction is blocking change.

It is time to pray and fast for a change that now feels like a "miracle." And that's what we now pray for. Pray against the racial fears and messages that are being used against immigration reform. Pray for courage and character on all sides — for Republicans who believe in an inclusive party and nation to stand up to Republicans who want an exclusive party and nation and for Democrats not to use this as a political issue for their self-interest. Pray for political leaders to do what few of them do well — to put other people's needs, especially poor and vulnerable people's needs, ahead of their own political agendas.

Supreme Court Wrestles with How 'Religious' Prayer Should Be at Public Meetings

Demonstrators hold signs in front of the Supreme Court on Wednesday. RNS photo by Katherine Burgess

The Supreme Court struggled Wednesday with a case that asks whether government bodies can open with prayers that some people find overly religious and excluding.

From their lines of questioning, it’s unclear whether the court is ready to write new rules on what sort of prayer falls outside constitutional bounds. And more than one of the justices noted that just before they took their seats, a court officer declared: “God save the United States and this honorable court.”

Few court watchers believe the justices will rule all civic prayers unconstitutional — the nation has a long history of convening legislative bodies with such language.

Rather, the question raised by Town of Greece v. Galloway is how sectarian these prayers can get.

Supreme Court to Consider Religious Prayer At Government Meetings

Photo courtesy of RNS

Supreme Court building in Washington, DC (2009). Photo courtesy of RNS

WASHINGTON — In a case that could determine restrictions on expressions of faith in the public square, the Supreme Court on Wednesday will consider religious prayers that convene government meetings.

At issue in Greece v. Galloway is whether such invocations pass constitutional muster, even when government officials are not purposefully proselytizing or discriminating.

Can a town council, for example, open its meetings with prayers invoking Jesus Christ, as happened repeatedly in the town of Greece, N.Y.?

“There’s a whole lot at stake here,” said Ira Lupu, a law professor at George Washington University who specializes in the First Amendment’s religion clauses.

“This case is about first principles: whether the government of a town, acting through its town board, can advance a particular brand of Christianity or any other faith,” said Lupu.

On the other side of the question, Jeff Mateer of the Texas-based Liberty Institute invokes free speech rights and hopes the court will reason that government has no business parsing the words of those who wish to pray in a public forum.

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