Pray, Love, Resist, Create

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Pray, Love, Resist, Create

Steve Hammond

Matthew 6:9-13

November 20, 2016

Did you know that the words our, we, and us occur nine times in the Lord’s Prayer? Do you think that is of any significance?

Prayer reminds us that we are a part of something much bigger than each one of us, or even our own groups and churches. We are in this thing with everyone else.  Prayer is important not just for us who are doing the praying, and not just for those we are praying for. It’s important for those who have no idea or even care if we are praying. Our praying is going to center us for the work that we need to do. It’s going to get us in touch with that place of the Spirit.

So many of us are trying to get a handle on what the meaning of the election of Donald Trump to the Presidency of the United States of America means. Many are wondering how we move forward, especially when there is a lot of fear and concern. Even a conservative Christian acquaintance of mine said he felt that, at best, a lot of good is going to be undone in the coming years.

One of the helpful things that Mary and I came across was something LeDayne Polaski, from the Baptist Peace Fellowship, wrote. She wrote about building communities that love, pray, resist, and create. Mary and I thought that would be a useful article to discuss in church last week, but that never really happened. Even though we were encouraged to focus on that article and not use that time to analyze the election results, people were feeling the need to do that analyzing.

That’s okay because it was obviously a need people were feeling. And something kind of interesting happened after we finished the service and our Community Meeting. People were cleaning up and hanging around and talking.  While that was going on, Mary and I heard some conversations that we thought might have taken place during the worship service.  People were talking about the struggles of building community that is comforting and welcoming to people who have vastly differing political viewpoints. We heard suggestions about initiatives we could take as a church, ways to channel our needs to respond, ways we could work with other organizations and churches in the community. We did succeed, I hope, in getting started what will be a sustained conversation about how to build these communities of love, prayer, resistance, and creation and other ways we can move into the future. And we have heard more this week

Because there is this usness, weness, ourness to prayer, that’s one of the ways we can work at being a community of love. There is much going on that is so far beyond easy answers and simple analysis. Behind every political issue are people, people who are often in pain. And, as I mentioned last week, there is plenty of pain to go around.

The pain that lots of white middle class people are feeling is real. We did see that in this election. But I have also been hearing and reading about the pain that other people are feeling. I listened to a couple of podcasts this week hosted by African-American folk. Now there’s a lot of pain. And some of that was because there is the feeling that now the election is over, the emphasis has been on the economic displacement that so many people, especially white people, are feeling. The people I was listening to fear the blatant racism that was being appealed to in this campaign is being minimized. As more than one of those participants on that podcast said, the feeling is that white folk are trying to put the covers back on something that had been uncovered in this campaign. They also pointed out that Trump won the majority of white voters in every income category from under $20,000 to $200,000+.

We are hearing from lgbtq folk and they, too, feel like the anti-gay bigotry expressed in this campaign is now also being minimized. There is a lot of fear there.

Our own granddaughter was in tears when she heard about the election results because she thought her father would be sent back to Venezuela. It doesn’t matter to her that he is now a citizen of the U.S. She just knows the fear that so many others are feeling not only because of what they imagine might happen, but because of what they heard during the campaign.

So there is plenty of fear from small town Ohio to the inner cities of this country. Communities of love know that listening is important, letting others tell their stories is important. Communities of love will hold all this complexity, all these stories, all these fears in their hearts.

Here is how complex it can actually get. Mary and I were talking last Saturday with a young pastor who had a key leader resign from her church which she’s only been at for a couple of months.  The denomination’s leadership sent out a rather middle of the road statement calling for unity and the acceptance of one another’s differences. The person left the church because he said this was a time for the church to take a clear stand against the evil he saw represented by Donald Trump, and it wasn’t. That person was going to be the lay worship leader in that congregation last Sunday morning. He wasn’t there. And he told his Pastor that he couldn’t see himself being found in any church again. There have been similar disruptions in congregations where it is felt that the Pastor and/or church is not taking a strong enough stand in favor of Donald Trump.

What was that woman who wrote the letter from the denomination supposed to say right after such a divisive election? There was nothing she could have written that wouldn’t have caused some people to leave the church. Maybe she shouldn’t have written anything. But is that what we want? Our denominational leaders just acting like everything is normal? This is the time we need to hear from them, but there are so many people wanting to hear different things.

Communities of love know that the answers aren’t as simple as we want them to be. I want to create a couple of bumper stickers. One would say make nuance great again.  The other would say make America complex again. Communities of love know that you have to learn to deal with ambiguity, paradox, contradictions because the people who need our love are more than the sum parts of our politics.

One of the reasons we pray is because it helps us to love people. The contradiction to the inner journey of prayer is that it gets us beyond ourselves. It not only gets us in touch with God, but it gets us in touch with others. The differences between us don’t matter so much when we are praying for others.

I think I mentioned an encounter I recently had with someone that I am on a board with. If I am on one end of the Christian and political spectrum, he holds the place on the opposite side. We had some board business we needed to tend to and during our conversation he mentioned a pretty tough family situation. So I have found myself praying for him and his family.

We recently had another board meeting. Before this time we weren’t cold with each, but we just operated in different spheres, not paying much attention to each other. But during this meeting he did things like you do with friends at meetings. He would look at me and roll his eyes when someone was going on way longer than needed. He also looked at me and raised his eyebrows when someone else made a point that was really irrelevant to the business at hand. We are not going to be BFF’s, but something is different. On this level, anyway, prayer does change things.

We build communities of love and prayer. And we will need communities of resistance. Well, actually, like with all of these the building will need to continue.  It’s not like most of us haven’t been finding plenty to resist no matter who is President. And we resist together, not because we just want things to get better for us, but for everybody. Martin Luther King, Jr. always said the resistance he helped lead was for white folk as well as black folk. Prayer and love lead to resistance. You just can’t sit back without challenging the things that are hurting the people we love and are praying for. Christianity has had a hard time ever since it forgot it is a resistance movement.

It is helpful that LeDayne reminded us that we need communities of creation or communities that create. I knew long before this campaign even began that there was this storm of change headed right for the church and we need to get ready for it. But now I’m thinking maybe it’s a hurricane and there is going to be much more rebuilding to be done than we even initially thought.  It has not gone unnoticed that Donald Trump received 80+ percent of the Evangelical vote and a majority of the Catholic vote. Many of those voters, of course, see the results of this election as God’s intervention to get the nation to a better place. Others see the church as betraying them, as standing with a person who is attacking them. It only increases the feeling among too many that the church is irrelevant if not dangerous. Increasingly, people who don’t know us will walk by this building with not a little bit of suspicion about us. This is why it becomes so important to think even longer and even harder about what we are going to create together and how we are going to rebuild for the future that is ahead.

Like I said a couple of weeks ago, the way we are going to meet the future is by remembering who we are now. We are the Body of Christ. We are a community that prays and loves and resists and creates and gets to bring the living presence of Jesus to this world.

Mary and I also had ECO last Sunday. We knew that students were feeling pretty raw about the election and wondered if they would want to talk about that rather than continue with our Bible Study in Luke’s Gospel. They wanted to do the Bible Study. The whole election thing came up tangentially, but our time together was much more about how they responded to what we were reading there together. And it was good. After everyone else left, one of the students stayed behind to talk to with Mary and me. This student has been having a rough time lately and wanted us to know how important ECO has been.

That’s what this is all about. People responding together to what we are learning about following Jesus and building communities of prayer, love, resistance, and creativity where we can catch courage from each other, no matter what’s ahead.

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After worship we got to practice a bit of the joy of community by being with each other and decorating for Advent and Christmas.

When Don Parker got home from all the morning’s events, he wrote this poem in response to the morning’s service. In the bulletin for the service I included a quote from Kathy Kelly  “I really do think we catch courage from each other.”

The Epidemiology of Keeping a Healthy Soul

(Epidemiology: the study of the causes and transmission of diseases)

There is much that can infect the soul–

to its detriment or to its benefit.

It has always been this way

no matter whose soul we consider,

whether high ranking or low, fully educated

or illiterate, religious or agnostic.

The environment that we live in, that bathes our souls,

is full of agents that can invade the spirit.

They tend to gather in identifiable places

and congregate in distinctive habitats;

not always easily spotted or quickly evaluated,

they are readily known by their affect on the soul.

Shall it be for our betterment or detriment,

the agents we acquire that infect our souls?

The outcome is not dependent on chance

nor is the result influenced by impulse.

What we choose and where we linger

factor large in the health of our souls.

There are voices and places that highly favor health,

that offer hope, courage, empathy, kindness,

that invade the soul with things that heal,

encourage, invigorate, inspire.

To be infected by the agents of healing and growth

we must seek them out and remain in their presence.

The most potent of these agents are highly contagious

and can spread from person to person.

Therefore, seek out the places where you can catch courage

from others who have already contracted it.

Linger in the places where you can catch hope

from those whom it has already engulfed.

Frequent the company of those who are infected with kindness,

who can't help but pass it on.

Cherish the friendship of those who are smitten with empathy

and fervently watch for signs of your own infection.

Always be alert to the many ways that you can catch love,

for it is an antidote to all the hurtful agents of the soul.

Do not hesitate to welcome into your presence

others who desire to catch any of these from you.

They should be aware that these agents are exceedingly contagious

and are transmitted through communities of people

who are in close contact with each other

and who value the health of their souls.

© Don Parker, November 20, 2016