Prayer

meditation: life is in the blood

In the last two years often conflicting lines have passed through me: my Christian faith, my American nationality, my black identity. I live thankfully free of direct affect of violence and racism, so these are psychological lines, but true and real nonetheless. As I consider the line of racial violence running from Trayvon to Charleston, and the lines of political rhetoric that cross through the Church, I find myself meditating on how God regards the spilling of innocent blood.

God is an avenger of the blood of innocents. The blood of Abel cried out to God for justice against his brother, Cain, in Genesis 4. The blood cries out because, as we find tucked away in Leviticus, life is in the blood, and because there is life in it, atonement is in the blood.

Where division has rent the social fabric, only blood can sew it back together. Where sin has bruised a soul, only the welling up of blood can be a balm. Where hatred, envy, lust, cowardice and other sins have separated souls from God and each other, only blood can make them one.

We see this most clearly, of course, in the spilling of Christ’s blood on the cross. The blood of this pure innocent forever cries out to God for vengeance, but also makes makes peace between God and us all, stranger and stranger, family and family. The very justice Christ’s blood cries out for, it also creates by its righteousness.

We are seeing more than ever that the spilling of innocent blood brings life. The blood of Pinckney, Hurd, Coleman-Singleton, Doctor, Lance, Sanders, Jackson, Simmons and Thompson is bringing life by drawing disparate people, separated by the sin of racism, together, and breathing life back into our nation by the taking down of its symbols to a satanic belief that people may be sold and enslaved as cattle. Innocent blood should never be spilled, yet we thank God, because He turns its spilling from death to the issuing forth of life.Yet among the hope, we must consider warning.

Innocent blood also cries out for vengeance. At the end, God’s martyrs will cry out, and their blood will be avenged, and what will become of their murderers in that day? The hidden, spiritual Powers that run the world have martyred God’s people and destroyed the lives of innocents – but we Christians have often submitted ourselves as the Powers’ willing instruments. When God closes history, will the blood on our hands condemn us? Do we suppose we also escape vengeance?

As I consider the political rhetoric of my Christian brothers and sisters, I hear the writer of Hebrews: you have not yet resisted to the shedding of your blood. I wonder if we American Christians have any concept of what this means, to resist sin, the Powers, and the god of this age, in a self-sacrificial way, laying our lives on the line for the truth?

We produce pulpit rhetoric against a few sins, yet ignore the blood on our hands – the sins so insidious they run deep through the heart of our communities: individualism, racism, imperialism, gluttony, capitalistic greed and in-hospitality – only to name the worst. Few if none of us are innocent – and none of us wants to be victims like Jesus was, for fear it denies our American, post-Enlightenment, rights-laden-with-few-responsibilities identity. Yet, if we were to pursue blamelessness, self-sacrifice, to resist sin to the shedding of our own blood, rather than continue to ally ourselves with the murderous sin structures created by the Powers, how much life would be unleashed on the earth? How might the kingdom of God flourish?

Christ, may we know. Let us know what it means to resist as you did, and, mimicking you, achieve to some extent a life of pure blamelessness. Avenge the blood of the innocent, we pray, and come in your justice. May you also have mercy on us, and on all those used by the Powers – they know not what they do. Purify us, we pray, that your gospel that we have tarnished may once against glitter as gold. Theotokos, Blessed Joseph, and all the angels and saints, please, pray for us.

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jottings: the missal, june 15th

Opening to Matthew 5:38-42…

“you have heard it said… but I say to you…”

The world has become cacophonous. There is no longer a Center that holds – perhaps it does, but the people no longer believe in it. The Center is no longer singular but plural, dispersed throughout the flow of human relations. We are the Center, we are the Sacred, truth originates in us, not elsewhere.

The world is so… loud. And this is why. So much I have heard said, Lord. Yet, to whom else shall I go? You and you alone have the words of eternal life. Revise the narrative I have learned so well from birth. Teach me your way so I may know You, know life. Strengthen me to have ears to hear you, and you alone. Give me the refuge of silence, and the discipline of asceticism, so I may emerge to spread your kingdom, as you did, Lord, from the desert. Keep my grounded in you, so I may withstand the torrent of words. Protect me from the Evil One. Amen.

On the Lord’s Prayer…Your will be done/on earth as it is in heaven

Volumes more insightful than my own have been written on the Lord’s Prayer, by vaunted academics to ancient saints. In this series, “On The Lord’s Prayer”, I do not claim to greatly advance the discussion, merely to share thoughts. Dive into the discussion — what does the Lord’s Prayer say to you?

We have now reached the critical turn. The religion of Jesus is always double-edged: our demands upon God put demands upon us. I reject the supposition however that the religion of Jesus is quid pro quo, as many believe and others suggest without thinking. If we use the trope of movement it helps us understand the religion of Jesus – somewhere in space and time a meeting place toward which God ever moves; for our part, we are either approaching that place or retreating from it. There is no static position in Jesus’ religion. This is key to understanding the deeper layers of “Your will be done/on earth as it is in heaven”. (more…)

On the Lord’s Prayer… “Blessed is your name/Your kingdom come…”

Volumes more insightful than my own have been written on the Lord’s Prayer, by vaunted academics to ancient saints. In this series, “On The Lord’s Prayer”, I do not claim to greatly advance the discussion, merely to share thoughts. Dive into the discussion — what does the Lord’s Prayer say to you?

The exultant hope of “You are in heaven” continues on in the next words of the Lord’s Prayer: “Blessed is your name/Your kingdom come…” We do not yet know what this kingdom is like, but we know the character of the one we call on, this is why we call him blessed. In the words that come later, we imagine that kingdom, but for now what issues from our lips is an urgent request and proclamation.

URGENT REQUEST

Prayer speaks both to God and to the powers. We urgently request of God, maker of all things and the one we call ruler of the heavens, to have his title honored and to bring his kingdom.  Only the Father can do this. The Apostles asked Jesus if it would be now, soon after his resurrection, that the kingdom would come. The Lord replied that only the Father knew, and he would bring all things to fruition in time.

The Apostles forgot, in their excitement and absent the Spirit, that Jesus said the kingdom wouldn’t come by our seeing or by man’s actions. Rather, it comes without anyone knowing, quietly, just as Jesus came, and just as he came by the will of the Father, so has and so will the kingdom. But man can bend the will of the Father. If it weren’t so, Abraham interceded for Sodom in error and all your prayers are foolishness.

We know prayer isn’t foolish but vicarious. Prayer is vicarious because God wants us to know what he is doing, as our friend and Father, just as he did for Abraham. He makes known his will so that we can partner with him in it, whether by prayer to dissuade, persuade or simply agree with him. As a good parent bends their will and actions to their child’s plaintive cries, so God to our prayers.  Tweet: As a good parent bends their will and actions to their child's plaintive cries, so God to our prayers. http://ctt.ec/RzccM+

PROCLAMATION

Prayer also speaks to the powers: the stoicheions, as Paul called them, those invisible structures over creation, intended to mediate God’s sovereignty over mankind, but corrupted by sin and now serving as our oppressive overseers. The powers are also the object of our prayers and evangelism; to them we make not requests but proclamations in word and deed. In prayer, evangelism and prophecy we command them to honor God’s title and subject themselves to the kingdom of God already at work in the world.

By our prophetic acts and works of mercy and justice, we undo the tangles of sin and set straight lines out of crooked, making reality out of a kingdom unseen but at work in the world, until it works through the dough and the birds nest in its branches.

A DECISIVE BREAK

The words, “Blessed is your name/Your kingdom come…” of the Lord’s Prayer evoke these hopes and actions. But more is required. As the Psalm of Ascents begin, it shows a man sickened now by living among sinful men, as Lot’s righteous heart was sickened by his time in Sodom. But we must not be like Lot and only leave by God’s compulsion.

We are already pilgrims, if we trust ourselves to the name of Jesus. We are already sojourners in this world, seeking a new and better world quite apart from the one we know. Let us make a decisive break from the world and seek and make, in word and deed, a better one. Thus we urgently cry and proclaim, your kingdom come…

This, I believe but too briefly said, is what Jesus meant in this part of the prayer, and what generations of Christians have sought and prayed for all this time. Let us add our voices to theirs.

On the Lord’s Prayer…”You are in heaven”

‘Dynamic’ is the word I would use for this phrase, so easily glossed over. On it’s face, Jesus is simply locating God in heaven, but that simple positioning packs a rich theological punch. Let’s explore what the myriad conclusions we can draw from, “You are in heaven.”

DISTANCING, REVERENCE & CLOSING THE GAP

The sacred is always marked by space, certain thresholds must be crossed, places made more holy than others, it is part and parcel of reverencing something or someone. In our case, God is made holy (to us, in part) by the distance between him and us. God is our father, as Jesus points out in the first two words of the prayer, but he is also in heaven, and we are not. We are not where he is, and he is not where we are. This distance marks off the sacred from the profane.

The first six words of the Lord’s Prayer sum up the tension of the gospel: that we are, yet we are not. We are God’s children, yet we are also distant from him. But, we are also journeying to God. The Way has given us Life and Truth, that we can set off out of the world and towards heaven. Jesus has closed the gap, and in our experience as a Christian, the gap is closing.

So when we pray, “You are in heaven” it is a cry of exultant hope that soon, and very soon, where we are, is where he will be, and where he is, there we will also be.

THE SEAT OF POWER

Locating God in heaven locates him in the seat of power. God is not powerful because he is in heaven, however. It is a signifier to us, to our minds and how we think of things, to understand that God’s location in heaven is a sign to us of his power over all things. His location in heaven puts him as all rule and authority over everything under the heavens: the powers, governments, people, animals, things, nature… he rules it all.

In this respect, “You are in heaven” also exults that God is the ruler of all things, and hopes also that the kingdom of heaven will descend to infuse all things, making them not as they are, and reconciling that creation to God.

POWERING DOWN

At the same time as God is located in the seat of power, we can’t help but notice God is also on earth, in the flesh, as Jesus. It is the mystery of the Trinity that God could be in two different places at once, as two distinct persons at once, fully God, and fully human, filled with the third person, the Holy Spirit. Likely, the Apostles did not understand it at the time, but looking back, I am sure they marveled. So we come to my last point of exploration:

God, though holy and powerful, discarded all this, emptying himself, to become like a Son of Man, all so we could become a son of God.

Jesus inverted the world’s logic by discarding power to gain it. He powered down, coming to be like us, struggle and hurt like us, and his rising tide has lifted all our boats. He redistributed his powerful wealth to us by the Holy Spirit, just as he desired, and was no respecter of persons. It is a powerful theological, social, cultural and political sign to us of how the kingdom of God ought to work.

Jesus called them together and said, You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Mark 10:42-45

Learning to Listen

Is the art of listening dying in our modern culture? Most would say “No.”, since we have access to a plethora of books to read, iPods to listen to, 500+ cable stations and a cacophony of voices vying for our attention. We can even tailor the voices to fit our beliefs and desires, or to fit a locale and culture. We filter our Twitter timeline and our Facebook feed. We add to the noise with our own tweets, posts and, like me, blogs.

The world has become quite the noisy place, and with these increased opportunities have come diminishing returns: we have so much to listen to that we do not listen at all.

For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.  ~ Paul to Timothy

We cope in a few ways, either avoiding, filtering, or drowning it out. None of these will work, and I have tried them all. I want to humbly present to you 4 trouble areas in which we as Christians are terrible listeners, and 4 ways to learn to listen better. (more…)