Prayer As Protest (1 of 4)

On Monday night my friend, David Swanson, pastor of New Community in Bronzeville, organized a prayer time that included dozens of clergy and hundreds of participants. It was a time of prayer at the Chicago Police Department’s administrative headquarters, prayer specifically and protest generally, insofar as prayer is a particular protestation.

I wanted to follow up to reflect on the action in a few posts. This one is meant to guide my thinking and stepping forward, perhaps, the first being an attempt to sit with and pray with the scriptures informing such prayerful acts.

I invite you to join me in holding some of these heavy words as you pray around some of the sad realities happening in Chicago these days. Where I’ve included only single verses, feel urged to visit the contextual addresses so as to pray more fully.

by Dariusz Sankowski

God said, “I’ve taken a good, long look at the affliction of my people in Egypt. I’ve heard their cries for deliverance from their slave masters; I know all about their pain. And now I have come down to help them, pry them loose from the grip…” (Exodus 3:17, MSG)

Whenever the Lord raised up judges for them, the Lord was with the judge, and he delivered them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge; for the Lord would be moved to pity by their groaning because of those who persecuted and oppressed them (Judges 2:18, NRSV)

In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord; in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying; my soul refuses to be comforted (Psalm 77:2, NRSV)

This is what the Lord says: “At just the right time, I will respond to you. On the day of salvation I will help you. I will protect you and give you to the people as my covenant with them. Through you I will reestablish the land of Israel and assign it to its own people again (Isaiah 49:8, NLT)

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end (Lamentations 3:22, NRSV)

Even though the destroyer has destroyed Judah, the Lord will restore its honor. Israel’s vine has been stripped of branches, but he will restore its splendor (Nahum 2:2, NLT)

And I will deal severely with all who have oppressed you. I will save the weak and helpless ones; I will bring together those who were chased away. I will give glory and fame to my former exiles, wherever they have been mocked and shamed.(Zephaniah 3:19, NLT)

…for your Father knows what you need before you ask him (Matthew 6, NRSV)

But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.’ (Luke 10:10-11, NRSV)

I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him (Ephesians 1:17, NRSV)

So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while.(1 Peter 1:6, NLT)



For Future Generations

Have you seen this letter?  It’s rich with words that, I imagine, you will agree and disagree with given our increasingly divisive political discourse around marriage.  It is, in part, a completely pastoral letter, written by Catholic bishops for their flock in England and Wales, where pastoral has to do with the recognized church leadership giving sound, biblical, and/or theological guidance to those members in their care, particularly, and in this case, when it comes to the issue of marriage in the UK.

These letters are worn and read into the fabric of Christians, and people familiar with Christianity, no matter whether Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant.  A portion of the Christian Scriptures are essentially pastoral letters which address timely concerns.  Of course, the “damaging pages” of our Scriptures make a broader impact since they are canonized within the Bible.

Take a look at the letter.  It’s a touch longer than you may be accustomed.  I found it originally here.

Do you learn anything from it?  Does it widen or shrink your own views about marriage?  Does it help you see what this church in the UK is passing on to future generations?

This week the Coalition Government is expected to present its consultation paper on the proposed change in the legal definition of marriage so as to open the institution of marriage to same-sex partnerships.

Today we want to put before you the Catholic vision of marriage and the light it casts on the importance of marriage for our society.

The roots of the institution of marriage lie in our nature. Male and female we have been created, and written into our nature is this pattern of complementarity and fertility. This pattern is, of course, affirmed by many other religious traditions. Christian teaching fills out this pattern and reveals its deepest meaning, but neither the Church nor the State has the power to change this fundamental understanding of marriage itself. Nor is this simply a matter of public opinion.

Understood as a lifelong commitment between a man and a woman, and for the creation and upbringing of children, marriage is an expression of our fundamental humanity. Its status in law is the prudent fruit of experience, for the good of the spouses and the good of the family. In this way society esteems the married couple as the source and guardians of the next generation. As an institution marriage is at the foundation of our society.

There are many reasons why people get married. For most couples, there is an instinctive understanding that the stability of a marriage provides the best context for the flourishing of their relationship and for bringing up their children. Society recognises marriage as an important institution for these same reasons: to enhance stability in society and to respect and support parents in the crucial task of having children and bringing them up as well as possible.

The Church starts from this appreciation that marriage is a natural institution, and indeed the Church recognises civil marriage. The Catholic understanding of marriage, however, raises this to a new level. As the Catechism says: ‘The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, by its nature is ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring; this covenant between baptised persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament.’ (para.1601)

These rather abstract words are reflected however imperfectly in the experience of married couples. We know that at the heart of a good marriage is a relationship of astonishing power and richness, for the couple, their children, their wider circle of friends and relations and society. As a Sacrament, this is a place where divine grace flows. Indeed, marriage is a sharing in the mystery of God’s own life: the unending and perfect flow of love between Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

We know, too, that just as God’s love is creative, so too the love of husband and wife is creative of new life. It is open, in its essence, to welcoming new life, ready to love and nurture that life to its fullness, not only here on earth but also into eternity.

This is a high and noble vision, for marriage is a high and noble vocation. It is not easily followed. But we are sure that Christ is at the heart of marriage, for his presence is a sure gift of the God who is Love, who wants nothing more than for the love of husband and wife to find its fulfilment. So the daily effort that marriage requires, the many ways in which family living breaks and reshapes us, is a sharing in the mission of Christ, that of making visible in the world the creative and forgiving love of God.

In these ways we understand marriage to be a call to holiness for a husband and wife, with children recognised and loved as the gift of God, with fidelity and permanence as the boundaries which create its sacred space. Marriage is also a crucial witness in our society, contributing to its stability, its capacity for compassion and forgiveness and its future, in a way that no other institution can.

In putting before you these thoughts about why marriage is so important, we also want to recognise the experience of those who have suffered the pain of bereavement or relationship breakdown and their contribution to the Church and society. Many provide a remarkable example of courage and fidelity. Many strive to make the best out of difficult and complex situations. We hope that they are always welcomed and helped to feel valued members of our parish communities.

The reasons given by our government for wanting to change the definition of marriage are those of equality and discrimination. But our present law does not discriminate unjustly when it requires both a man and a woman for marriage. It simply recognises and protects the distinctive nature of marriage.

Changing the legal definition of marriage would be a profoundly radical step. Its consequences should be taken seriously now. The law helps to shape and form social and cultural values. A change in the law would gradually and inevitably transform society’s understanding of the purpose of marriage. It would reduce it just to the commitment of the two people involved. There would be no recognition of the complementarity of male and female or that marriage is intended for the procreation and education of children.

We have a duty to married people today, and to those who come after us, to do all we can to ensure that the true meaning of marriage is not lost for future generations.

With every blessing

Most Reverend V. Nichols, Most Reverend P. Smith

Relationship Abuse & Faith pt 2

Religion does great good and great harm and the deciding factor between the two options is often tied to how a person interprets that religion’s sacred text.  That is true for my faith and probably every other faith.  How I interpret and interact with the Christian scriptures will influence and shape what I do with those interpretations.  Another way of saying that is that theology effects ethics.  How I live is influenced by what I read.  And so on.

When it comes to intimate abuse or domestic violence or abuse in relationships, this has great weight.  For people of faith, relationships are often viewed and embraced through the lens of faith.  When religion or faith works (i.e., when faith is working on you), everything changes because of that religion or faith.  Everything excludes nothing.  How you engage in and develop relationships will be adjusted or approached through the experience and understanding of your faith.  I think this relates to relationship abuse and interpreting our texts in the following ways.

  1. Staying close to our sacred readings helps us define abuse.  When our readings build on a foundation of love or justice or hope, it is easy to locate abuse or violence when it happens.  In my faith tradition, love is seen in the personal life and ministry of Jesus.  Jesus, in love, lived and died by love, because of love, and in order to extend perfect love.  There’s no way I can express faith in Jesus and not follow that example in my marriage.  That means I’m looking out for my wife’s growth and peace and nurture, not her harm.  Debbie Jansen, in the article I linked in yesterday’s post, says, “If a dysfunctional definition of faith allows one partner to destroy the talents and abilities of their spouse, it can only be labeled as abuse.”
  2. Relationships are places of redemption.  Jesus is not the only exemplar in my tradition.  There are others in our scriptures and there are others in our corporate faith tradition called life.  In other words, another source of how we think and talk about God is people (and the relationships we’re in).  We get to look at the lives of others and witness how God has used those good people to be redemptive in relationships.  So we look for women who use their identities as women to be redemptive, pulling the men around them to be something better, something different, something closer to the Divine.  Or we watch and learn from the men who hold their relationships with increasing gentleness because they have been redeemed or blessed or loved by God.
  3. The reality of abuse changes how we talk about God.  How we speak of God and God’s relationship to creation has always been important.  Always.  And the real and harsh truths associated with violence makes God-talk that much more significant.  For instance, growing up in a Baptist church, we learned to speak of God as a Father to the fatherless and a Mother to the motherless.  But those same Baptist communicators would shudder if I said to them that they were doing the same thing that my seminary profs taught me to do in acknowledging that God can be talked about in both masculine and feminine terms.  The presence of brokenness in the form of relationship violence makes those connections more important, particularly since everybody can’t always relate to the over-used and often destructive masculine images of God.  Those biblical images have to be paired with others that are fresh or new and still biblical.