Prayer

Continuing to 'Run the Race With Perseverance'

Silhouette of young man running, KieferPix / Shutterstock.com
Silhouette of young man running, KieferPix / Shutterstock.com

I finished my first Boston Marathon in 2002, running with two parishioners to raise funds for our church. The experience was exhilarating, and I’ve run the course six times since, relishing each year the cascade of powerful moments. Speaking as a preacher, the marathon was the sermonic gift that kept giving: the challenge of Heartbreak Hill, the boost even we slow runners get from cheering multitudes, the necessity of water and salty snacks. And Hebrews 12 gives us our text: “Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us …”

With last year’s Boston Marathon, however, everything changed. Our church did have a runner in the race — he crossed the finish line six minutes before the first bomb exploded — but any interest in locating metaphorical gems was overshadowed by the real-time incursion of evil. Some parishioners knew victims, others were near the scene, and everybody joined in the immediate grieving of our city.

When we learned later that the perpetrators were Muslim, we felt another round of anguish, fearing that the incident could trigger a wave of religious prejudice and bigotry. 

VIDEO: How to Build a Memorial Prayer Altar

From graffiti memorials and ghost bike displays to crosses on the side of the road, public memorials serve as visible reminders of the fragility of life. In “'We Will Never Forget You'” (Sojourners, May 2014), Brittany Shoot explores the “public nature of grief” and the sacred act of remembrance offered through public memorials.

Watch this Sojourners video to help you create your own memorial prayer altar in remembrance of those you love and will never forget.

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Praying for a Breakthrough on Climate Action

Man praying for the earth, Gandolfo Cannatella / Shutterstock.com
Man praying for the earth, Gandolfo Cannatella / Shutterstock.com

As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) releases a groundbreaking and comprehensive report detailing the impacts of climate change as “severe, pervasive, and irreversible,” young evangelicals across the United States are coming together to pray for urgent and responsible climate action to protect life and defend their future. Organized by the Young Evangelicals for Climate Action, the Evangelical Environmental Network, and Renewal: Students Caring for Creation, prayer events are being held across the Nation — and on more than 20 Christian campuses — in recognition of April 3 as the 2014 National Day of Prayer for Climate Action.

While evangelicals are not typically associated with climate action, YECA spokesperson Ben Lowe points out,“Climate disruption is not just a scientific or political issue — it’s first and foremost a moral issue and biblical issue … It’s about protecting life and, as evangelicals, we’re particularly concerned about the ways our pollution and political inaction is affecting the poor and those who are most vulnerable.”

Communities around the world are already experiencing the negative impacts of climate change. The new IPCC reports details how the poorest countries are being seriously affected by climate change, with severe consequences to global food security, human health, and economic development. The poor will not be the only ones influenced by climate change, as IPCC Chairman Rajendra Pachauri says, "Nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impacts of climate change.”

Sloth: Missing the Call for Sabbath

Baby sloth, Vilainecrevette / Shutterstock.com
Baby sloth, Vilainecrevette / Shutterstock.com

Sloth. It’s not just a strange, adorable animal we love to watch in videos. It’s also one of the “Seven Deadly Sins,” and one that I find hanging around in my daily life.

I didn’t think about sloth in particular when I chose my Lenten practices for this year, but it turns out to be the very beast (sorry) I’m trying to walk away from.

To be clear, I’m a pretty active person. I walk to work, run long distance, and I’m also very social. But the fact is, every night I look forward to getting home and enjoying what I tell myself I’ve earned: as much time on the couch watching TV and eating as I want. It’s relaxing, I figure, and takes no mental or physical energy.

This is the proverbial sloth in the room.

Yes, unwinding is good, but here’s the problem: I’m not really getting any rest from this. Sure, I’m lounging, and my brain takes a rest if I’m watching something inane; but as a Christian, rest means something different than it does for other people. Rest means Sabbath. Sabbath is the day of the week that we hold sacred, the day when we rest from our usual work and worries, the day that we give back to God and use to worship God. So ironically, my approach to getting the sloth out of my life is to bring the Sabbath into it, at the end of each day.

A Prayer for Fred Phelps

Fred Phelps at his pulpit, Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons
Fred Phelps at his pulpit, Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Editor's Note: Fred Phelps, founder of Westboro Baptist Church — best known for anti-gay demonstrations that include picketing soldiers' funerals — is reportedly near death. The following is offered as a prayer.

Good and gracious God,
We lift up a prayer
for the misguided –
for those who hate
and belittle
and abuse
in your name.

For those
who wish to see
the hate go on,
the anger be fed,
the world continue
on its unsustainable path
of division and judgement.

For One Great Prayer

Courtesy Fast for Families
Vice President Joe Biden visits the Fast for Families tent in November. Courtesy Fast for Families

I became a member of Young Koreans United (YKU), a Korean American grassroots group providing solidarity to the people’s movement for democracy, human rights, and reunification of Korea in 1986. YKU was instrumental in forming the National Korean American Service & Education Consortium (NAKASEC); established 20 years ago to build a progressive Korean American voice on major civil rights issues. I joined the NAKASEC board a few years back. Throughout this time, I have tried to provide a clergy presence whenever I can to show that ending the suffering of immigrant families, including that of the 1 out of 7 undocumented Korean Americans, is also a concern of persons of faith.

Crucible of Courage

IN THE PRESIDENTIAL election in Honduras last November, ruling party candidate Juan Orlando Hernández was declared the winner despite serious irregularities documented by international observers. Violence and intimidation marked the campaign period, including the assassination of at least 18 candidates and activists from Libre, the new left-leaning party.

Hernández, past president of the Honduran National Congress, supported the June 2009 coup. His record of operating outside the rule of law includes bold measures to gain control over the congress, judiciary, military, and electoral authority. He helped establish a new military police force in August 2013, deploying thousands of troops to take over police functions. Hernández ran on a campaign promise to put “a soldier on every corner.”

Honduras has been named the “murder capital of the world,” with relentless violence coming from crime, drug cartels, and police corruption. Attacks on human rights defenders and opposition activists have been brutal and have allegedly involved death squads reminiscent of the 1980s. Those working to reverse poverty and injustice receive death threats, priests and lay leaders among them. They are bracing for even greater repression under Hernández’s administration.

The growing militarization of Honduran society, justified as a way of fighting crime, is fueled by U.S. support for the country’s security forces—forces reportedly involved in widespread human rights violations. By denying the repression against social movements, and congratulating the Honduran government for its supposed progress on human rights, the U.S. Embassy has made it possible for rampant impunity to continue.

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Judge Rejects California City’s Religious War Memorial

Photo illustration of planned monument for Lake Elsinore, Calif. Courtesy: The American Humanist Association, public record.

A California federal judge has rejected a proposed religious memorial at a publicly owned baseball stadium as a violation of both federal and state laws.

On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson of California’s Central District ruled that a granite monument depicting a soldier kneeling in prayer before a cross lacked “a secular purpose” and has “the unconstitutional effect” of endorsing religion over nonreligion.

The decision came nine months after a lawsuit was filed by the American Humanist Association, a national organization of nonbelievers. The memorial was planned for city property in Lake Elsinore, Calif., a community of about 53,000 people in Southern California’s Riverside County.

Should Christians Pray in Public?

Couple praying at mealtime, Monkey Business Images / Shutterstock.com
Couple praying at mealtime, Monkey Business Images / Shutterstock.com

Praying out loud had almost become a telltale sign of who was a true Christian and who wasn’t. To this day, I’m not sure (with levity) that you can get served in some parts of Dallas or Grand Rapids if you don’t pray before your meal.

I’ve been pondering this practice for a couple of years now, ever since Tim Tebow’s rise to fame. After touchdowns, he would get down on one knee, bow his head and pray. That gave way to a national phenomenon, “Tebowing,” defined as “to get down on a knee and start praying, even if everyone else around you is doing something completely different.”

Some Christians cheered Tebow for his Tebowing — a bold, fearless demonstration of his faith before millions. He was not ashamed of Jesus. No siree!

On the flip side, some wonder why Peyton Manning doesn’t get with the program, since he also claims to be a Christian. But the superstar Super Bowl quarterback doesn’t feel the need to display his piety. What’s up with that?

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