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A Prayer for Super Bowl Sunday

Today is the day on which people in the U.S. consume more food and alcohol than on any day except Thanksgiving. Celebration. Getting together with friends. Being reminded of all that unites us and draws us together… Embracing commercials and commercialism. Bread and circuses are entertaining, and fill you for a little while.

And yet…

Today in Syria the bombs still fall.

And today in Guatemala… the maras.

And today in Yemen… drone strikes.

And today in Nigeria… Boko Haram.

And today in New York City… #blacklivesmatter

And today in Paris… the 19th arrondissement.

And today in Englewood… Hamilton Park.

And today in Kolkata… Songachi.

And today in Rio… Complexo do Alemao.

And today in Freetown… Kroo Bay.

And today in my neighborhood…

Alcohol abuse. Violence against women. Isolation. Systemic violence. Oppression. Marginalization. Oppression. Depression. The search for meaning. Hopelessness. Apathy. Exhaustion.

And into this world we wade – committed to doing the hard work of love, of forgiveness, of reconciliation, of listening, of sharing, of connecting, of reaching out, of listening to those we want to ignore, of avoiding simplistic narratives and attempts to other…

“There is something about love that builds up and is creative. There is something about hate that tears down and is destructive. So love your enemies.” ~ Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

We look for beauty. We notice the image of God in all people. And we search for God in all things. In the darkness… and in the spotlights… with trust that if we keep looking for God, God will find us. And maybe we will find that God has already found us, even before the looking began.

A Prayer for Super Bowl Sunday
~ Walter Brueggemann

The world of fast money,
and loud talk,
and much hype is upon us.
We praise huge men whose names will linger only briefly.

We will eat and drink,
and gamble and laugh,
and cheer and hiss,
and marvel and then yawn.

We show up, most of us, for such a circus,
and such an indulgence.
Loud clashing bodies,
violence within rules,
and money and merchandise and music.

And you – today like every day –
you govern and watch and summon;
you glad when there is joy in the earth,
But you notice our liturgies of disregard and
our litanies of selves made too big,
our fascination with machismo power,
and lust for bodies and for big bucks.

And around you gather today, as every day,
elsewhere uninvited, but noticed by you,
those disabled and gone feeble,
those alone and failed,
those uninvited and shamed.
And you whose gift is more than “super,”
overflowing, abundant, adequate, all sufficient.

The day of preoccupation with creature comforts writ large.
We pause to be mindful of our creatureliness,
our commonality with all that is small and vulnerable exposed,
your creatures called to obedience and praise.

Give us some distance from the noise,
some reserve about the loud success of the day,
that we may remember that our life consists
not in things we consume
but in neighbors we embrace.

Be our good neighbor that we may practice
your neighborly generosity all through our needy neighborhood.

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Problems solved or mysteries lived

I never thought I would see Lenny Kravitz cry on stage. But as the show went on, he just seemed to get more and more frustrated. I felt a little bad for the guy, to be honest. I mean, on the one hand, he’s Lenny Kravitz. But on the other, no matter how many times you repeat your song lyrics and ask the crowd to sing along, it’s not gonna change the fact that the crowd of 300,000 people on the Copacabana beach were primarily Portuguese speakers, and don’t understand what you’re saying, and even though they were super excited to be there, weren’t really able to sing along…

Of course, the five english speakers I was tagging along with didn’t really know the lyrics either – we were just there cause…  I mean, c’mon, how often do you get to go see a free Lenny Kravitz concert on the beach in Rio?

I was reminded of this ridiculous scenario the other night as I was driving home from my internship out in the suburbs, listening to a podcast of Walter Brueggeman teaching an Old Testament Survey workshop. As he closed out a portion of his talk, he said:

“For the most part, the wisdom teachers are problem solvers. But they knew that underneath the problems are mysteries to be lived with.

One of the problems with an electronic culture is that everything turns into a problem to be solved.

Creation is a mystery to be lived with, and not a problem to be solved…”

I turned it off to think about his words for a moment in silence, but right then Lenny Kravitz began blaring through the radio, and I was back on that beach in Rio.

As the two threads wove together in my mind, I smiled at the beauty and absurdity of it: Brueggemann and Kravitz combining to remind me of truth, of experience, of lived hope, of a time when I was learning to give up expecting God to solve my problems, or the problems of the people I cared about, and embrace the mystery of faith and trust and dialogue and honesty and anger and questions and relationship with God in all its wonder and complexity.

—–

The time around the concert was tumultuous. I had recently moved into the favelas, and was confronted on an almost daily basis with police brutality, gun-fights around the corner between traffickers and cops, friends dying of drug overdoses or drug-deals gone bad, systemic oppression and hopelessness and despair. I saw lots of problems that needed to be fixed.

But God wasn’t doing it. At least not the ways that I wanted it to happen. The violence continued. Bullets flew. People died. Hope died.

And yet…

Mystery. Beauty. Death was present. But even as death seemed to reign, there were signs of resurrection, of new life, of people transformed and choices made new, forgiveness opening doors and hearts, people risking love even in the darkness. This was the Kingdom at work.

This tension goes back to the disciples. I think of them asking Jesus, “Lord, are you now going to restore the Kingdom of Israel?” They wanted flash. They wanted bang. They wanted power. They wanted solutions. They wanted the Kingdom to come in now – powerful and majestic and impossible to miss. They wanted torture to stop, chemical and nuclear weapons destroyed, the oppressors ousted, the vision of Isaiah brought to earth where every one could sit and eat under their own fig tree, “and no one would make them afraid,” and freedom and liberty and justice for all.

And against that stands the path of Jesus.

“Yes, that will happen, but not in the way you want it to happen.
Yes, I will make all things new, but it will be like a slowly growing tree instead of an avalanche of light.
Yes, there is hope.
Now go.
Forgive.
Serve.
Give.
Love.”

That is the mystery…

And how do we live that?

“Now if I’d seen him, really there, really alive, it’d be in me like a fever. If I thought there was some god who really did care two hoots about people, who watched ‘em like a father and cared for ‘em like a mother…well, you wouldn’t catch me sayin’ things like ‘there are two sides to every question’ and ‘we must respect other people’s beliefs.’ You wouldn’t find me just being gen’rally nice in the hope that it’d all turn out right in the end, not if that flame was burning in me like an unforgiving sword. And I did say burnin’, Mister Oats, ‘cos that’s what it’d be. You say that you people don’t burn folk and sacrifice people anymore, but that’s what true faith would mena, y’see? Sacrificin’ your own life, one day at a time, to the flame, declaring’ the truth of it, workin’ for it, breathin’ the soul of it. That’s religion. Anything else is just…is just bein’ nice. And a way of keepin’ in touch with the neighbors.”

She relaxed slightly, and went on in a quieter voice: “Anyway, that’s what I’d be, if I really believed. And I don’t think that’s fashionable right now, ‘cos it seems that if you sees evil now you have to wring your hands and say ‘oh deary me, we must debate this.’ That my two penn’orth, Mister Oats. You be happy to let things lie. Don’t chase faith, ‘cos you’ll never catch it.” She added, almost as an aside, “But, perhaps, you can live faithfully.”

~ Granny Weatherwax, in Carpe Jugulumby Terry Pratchett

May you live today faithfully…

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A prayer for MLK day

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Martin Luther King Jr.

Some of us are old enough to remember
      the balcony in Memphis,
      the sanitation workers' strike,
      the shot that broke flesh,
      the loss of Martin,
            and then the mule-drawn wagon,
                          and the funeral,
            and the riots, the violence, the fear,
                          and the failure.

All of us know the crowd in D.C.
     and "I Have a Dream,"
     the Birmingham jail,
     the broad stream of violence, 
       and his steadfast nonviolence
                      in Albany and 
                      in Skokie and 
                      in Selma.

All of know his awesome, daring speech, 
     his bravery, his hope, and his generative word.
And we know the relentlessness of our government
     in pursuit of him
    and the endless surveillance and harassment 
                           of this drum major for justice.

At this distance, we have little access
     to how it was then concerning ambiguity
              and fear
              and reluctance
              and violence
              and injustice.

We do not doubt that you have persisted
     even beyond Martin's passion,
     even beyond Martin's brilliance,
     even beyond Martin's fidelity, and
                         his loss.

We do not doubt that through him and beyond him,
     you, holy God of the prophets,
          are still pledged to justice and
                                      peace and 
                                      liberty for all.

We remember Martin in gratitude...
                      and chagrin.
And we pledge, amid our stressed ambiguities,
              to dream as he did,
              to walk the walk
              and to talk the talk of your coming kingdom.

We pledge, so sure that your truth
    will not stop its march
        until your will is done on earth as it is in heaven. 

From Prayers for a Privileged People ~ Walter Brueggemann

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Celebrating Epiphany

Today, January 6, was the last of the 12 days of Christmas – the end of the season of Christmastide. This is the day we remember the visit of the Wise Men from the East, and in a broader sense, the revealing of Jesus to the non-Jewish community and the reminder that the Kingdom of God is open to all, no matter their tongue, tribe, or nation. Brian Zahnd mentions that after the Magi encountered Jesus, they went home another way… And therefore Epiphany is the day that we celebrate the truth that an encounter with Jesus will always lead us to take another way – a NEW way.

At Epiphany, we celebrate once more the birth of Jesus – the gift of newness, the unexpected “thrill of hope” that shoots through us when new possibilities are revealed, new opportunities are before us, and new life springs up where before there was only death. Because of this, we have hope – and we are reminded once more that “He is making all things new…

Walter Brueggemann reminds us of what it means to celebrate this epiphany:

There is a time to be born, and it is now

There is a time to be born and a time to die.
And this is a time to be born.
So we turn to you, God of our life,
                   God of our years
                   God of our beginning.
      Our times are in your hand.

Hear us as we pray:
     For those of us too much into obedience,
          birth us to the freedom of the gospel.
     For those of us too much into self-indulgence,
          birth us to discipleship in your ministry.
     For those too much into cynicism,
          birth us to the innocence of the Christ child.
     For those of us too much into cowardice,
          birth us to the courage to stand before
               principalities and powers.
     For those of us too much into guilt,
          birth us into forgiveness worked in your generosity.
     For those of us too much into despair,
          birth us into the promises you make to your people.
     For those of us too much into control,
          birth us into the vulnerability of the cross.
     For those of us too much into victimization,
          birth us into the power of Easter.
     For those of us too much into fatigue,
          birth us into the energy of Pentecost.

We dare pray that you will do for us and among us and through us
     what is needful for newness.

Give us the power to be receptive,
     to take the newness you give,
     to move from womb warmth to real life.

We make this prayer not only for ourselves, but
     for our school at the brink of birth,
     for the church at the edge of life,
     for our city waiting for newness,
     for your whole creation, with which we yearn
          in eager longing.

There is a time to be born, and it is now.
    We sense the pangs and groans of your newness.
    Come here now in the name of Jesus.  Amen. 

From Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth Prayers of Walter Brueggemann

For birth is not easy. It is painful. Frightening. Unsettling. But it is worth it.

May we have the eyes to see that which longs to be birthed in our hearts and in our lives in this coming year, the courage to welcome it, and the grace to persevere…

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