By Eduard Loring, from the April 2016 issue of Hospitality, the newsletter of Atlanta’s Open Door Community
“I will never pray again. I have prayed and prayed and nothing ever happens. I am finished.” So said the 90-year-old grandmother last week when her grandson Mark overdosed on heroin. Mark’s father died 6 years ago from esophageal cancer. Face, mouth, throat deranged. Spoken word distorted. Unintelligible if more than one syllable. Tobacco kills. God forgives a repentant addict; God does not stop the side effects of the sin, though the power of Love’s prayer, and medicine, exercise and nutrition can mitigate the fury of the Evil One and her daughters Tobacco and Heroin. Often heal.
Three years ago, before Mark’s death, her grandson Luke overdosed on heroin. Zoe, mother and grandmother, was devastated. She had been “shielded” from the truth of Luke’s disease, which was addiction. This was done in the name of love. Soft, denying, lying love. No one human being is addicted. The family or community is addicted. When the truth is twisted in love to protect someone or to keep the truth from the public (all truth is ultimately public) for reputation or status, the truth is transmogrified into a lie. Then destruction smiles in the shadows and coughs when you would kiss. Like war, truth is the first casualty of addiction. Grandmother Zoe went into the depths of her soul when she learned of Mark. She prayed with the Psalmist:
2 Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am languishing;
O Lord, heal me, for my bones are shaking with terror.
3 My soul also is struck with terror, while you, O Lord—how long?
4 Turn, O Lord, save my life;
deliver me for the sake of your steadfast love.
5 For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who can give you praise?
6 I am weary with my moaning;
every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping.
7 My eyes waste away because of grief; they grow weak because of all my foes.
Zoe knew God heard her anguish. But God did not act.
9 The Lord has heard my supplication; the Lord accepts my prayer.
Zoe obeyed St. Paul. She prayed without ceasing. She prayed without consequence. Her decades and decades of faith and prayer she flushed down the toilet. She is cast into the abyss of a dark hole where only the winds scream among the planets and no one and no thing gives a damn. Zoe is likely to lie down in darkness in a short expanse of time and timelessness.
Zoe has been captive of the White Christ and bound in chains to this abstract non-being. White Christ love is sentimental and ultimately afraid. This is why so many evangelical Christians are flocking to Donald Trump, who claims the same tradition of faith as the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa whose God willed apartheid. Trump confesses faith in the God of Southern Presbyterians whose God willed slavery, white supremacy and the dissolution of the nation. (Encouraging lynching, a favorite Southern song was “Hang Abe Lincoln from a sour apple tree.” I sang it often at the KA House at Presbyterian College). Sentimental love leads to abstract and misdirected prayer. White Christ prayer uses God to solve problems, to bless the military and patriotic football games, and to give us what we earnestly desire but are not willing to work for ourselves. (Makes us prosper. Ah, here is the key. Avoid action for the radical Jesus of the gospels and get rich!)
Today there is a method of prayer that is sweeping the nation. Helpful for busy golden-idol worshippers, the simple prayer is this: “Thank you, thank you, thank you. Wow, wow, wow. Help, help, help.” I use this prayer myself to guide me when I am rushing around Atlanta. I add content: “Thank you, O God of suffering and defeat, for the readers of my writings. Wow, to Creator/Redeemer. You made this day, this oak tree, my beautiful Murphy who is my life partner. Help, Oh God of the Prophets, Martin King, and Dorothy Day, Give me the strength and grace to work for ‘justice which is love made public.’” (C. West) Cool, huh? And all this at 60 mph!
We have plenty of White Christ prayers and prayer
concerns at the Open Door Community. Some are abstract: “I lift up the Open Door Community.” To where, I wonder? Others’ prayers are dead works: “Please house the house- less,” but they never act to house the homeless. Or prayers as a substitute: “Please end the death penalty,” without visiting
a prisoner or protesting prison slavery and death as punish- ment. This is pious passive prayer. What about Zoe’s constant prayer of love and anguish over Mark’s addiction? Her fear that he might kill himself? “Oh, God of mercy and freedom, please do not let Mark overdose. Please God of love, free Mark from his addiction. Help, help, help.” Why did God not act? Why is Mark dead? Why could Mark not get the mon- key off his back? Is this God’s failure? Zoe certainly prayed without ceasing and stood in a long tradition of prayer. I have begged God to keep Murphy alive while she is dying of can- cer. Am I a fool? Am I a man of the White Christ?
God does not act by herself. God will not on her own stop Mark from overdosing or Murphy from dying of cancer. God will not house the homeless or stop the death penalty. God will not act for justice by godself. God can and does help me save myself from myself. What do I mean?
There are in the Black Jesus Discipleship Movement two dimensions of prayer: inward and outward. God in Jesus Christ and God in the Holy Spirit are personally available in the prayer of love, meditation, confession, repentance and forgiveness. God is love; God is life force in a battle with Evil and Death. This work of love gifts us with character forma- tion, discipleship biblical values and the courage to die to the self, to pick up one’s cross and live the life of the Black Jesus in our own place and period of history. Without regular prayer we become dependent on God to live our lives for us. We ask God to solve our problems, to make us rich as we turn our backs on others and let them die. Inward prayer brings peace and wholeness, compassion and hope for the other, the world and the earth.
Then there is outward prayer, classically called petition: plead, beg and cry for others, the world and now the earth which, like America, is dying. This is bourgeois prayer, White Supremacy prayer, don’t get riled up prayer, where manners are more important than truth, prayer where one is protected from the radical, life-changing encounter and struggle with the Black Jesus. Abstract passive prayer seduces the person of prayer into believing they are praying discipleship biblical prayer. These are folks who pray for U.S. soldiers to live and Isis soldiers to die, for their team to win the championship, that only people of the same color and status will move into their neighborhood and join the neighborhood watch to keep an eye on the poor and strangers.
Jesus teaches a way to pray and a prayer for our per- sonal and shared prayers. He teaches the way and the content in his neglected Sermon on the Mount. The Black Jesus Manifesto along with Luke 4:16-30, The Nazareth Manifesto, are part of our canon within the canon. They are our primary scriptures inside the whole book, which is full of patriarchy, is proslavery, homophobic, conquest-filled, celebrating the so- called “chosen people” and their submission to the state. This is true for literalists who, like Scalia, believe we can under- stand the “original” meaning of the U.S. Constitution, which, of course, no one can, unless they get into a time machine and fly backwards into the time of the “original” document.
How are we to pray? Jesus makes it plain. There are three steps and one must pray all three with words and deeds, with soul and flesh:
7“Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 8For every- one who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. (Matthew 7:7-8)
This way of prayer is very hard. It is going up the rough side of the mountain. It is the narrow way and the hard road. This way of prayer few travel, and above all else the admonition, “pray without ceasing,” is very inconvenient. There is no microwave oven for a quick hot prayer or the melting of God’s chosen frozen.
As Mother Pollard told Martin, “God is always with you.” She also told this epiphany of the Black Jesus: “My feets is tired but my soul is rested.” Over and over and over again she asked God for the white people to treat her and her people as human beings. God did not act. But, oh, children, let me tell you GOD HEARD. Just as God listened to Zoe suffer for Mark. God listens to the cry of the poor with head bowed, ears straining. But God did not act for Mother Pollard. Jesus told Mother Pollard to take another step. “Get up off your knees and search/seek.” She did. First, she listened to the followers of Booker T. Washington, who said to conform to white folks and work hard. (This is the Republican ideology today.) But she kept on searching. She ran into Ed Nixon and the NAACP, who dared to live by DuBois’ call to revolt, cross the color line and fight for justice and freedom from white control. Wow. The Holy Spirit gifted her and she made a choice — one of the most important choices in human history. She chose life over death, blessing over curse, freedom over bondage, Black Jesus over White Christ. Yet, God did not
act. What the hell? Three hundred thirty-nine years of white hate, white whips, white lynching, White Christ teaching that Blacks are inferior and are to work for whites for nickels and dimes. I was taught this myself. I even had a professor at Columbia Theological Seminary in the 1960s who would not let African American students in his house. There is a church in Atlanta today that has a window honoring James Henley Thornwell, the architect of such fecal matter. Why not give up? But Mother Pollard did not give up. Never gave up. Those who find a balm in Gilead do not give up. Somehow they know Jesus is with the disinherited.
So what does the Black Incarnate One say? “Take another step. Go. Yes. Get up. Stand up and Go.” Find the door and knock. Knock ‘til midnight if need be. Knock ‘til the door breaks down. Knock on the door of power, prison, City Council, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and certainly the devious Paul Ryan. Knock on the doors of banks. Please go and knock on the door of a church that follows the Black Jesus. Follow the Black Jesus and you will find an answer to your prayer and the answer may not be what you want. God’s word may be “no” to your plea. However, God’s answer to Mother Pol- lard was “yes.” God acted: loud, angry, clear, judging white folks and White Christ. The God of Martin Luther King Jr. and the followers of the Black Jesus disrupted business as usual and began the slow violent death of the Southern Way of Life and the wilting of the Magnolia Myth. Yes, God answers prayer when we ask, seek, knock and fight together. But if you ask and do not seek, God will not act. If you ask and seek and don’t knock, God will not act. If you ask and seek and knock, God is likely to act.
Now, Jesus ain’t funny. He actually means much of what he says in the Gospel and other writings of the New Tes- tament. Mother Pollard was persecuted, hated by whites and the local Black preachers of the White Christ. Folks yelled at her and dehumanized her in the ways that only deformed White Christ followers can do. These folks believed and believe that there is a gospel that says one can own slaves and be a Christian too. How else is the Ku Klux Klan a claimer of Jesus Christ? How else can the majority of evangelicals today claim Donald Trump as the spokesperson for their White Christ values? Today we see the same way of death clothed in the sheep cloth of ravenous wolves: people who claim Jesus but do not house the homeless and who accept the death penalty.
Mother Pollard’s feet hurt. Her soul was bruised as her self-esteem soared. (There is no Black Jesus Discipleship without physical pain.) She walked the streets and she walked the streets. Every step she took, even as she grew tired, God was answering her prayer. God was acting. Finally, on Thursday, November 15, 1956, God acted through the vote of the Supreme Court — much like the Evil One is doing today. Segregation, which still exists in most churches today, was declared unconstitutional on public buses in Alabama. But gallons of Black blood were yet to flow. A danger of prayer is the cost to the one who prays and her communities. Like the cost of Bible study at Mother Emmanuel AME on the evening of June 17, 2015. Nine people were killed by a son of the Jesus Christ of the Ku Klux Klan and many church sermons: my son Dylann Roof.
Under the guise of “religious freedom,” Georgia legisla- tors want to affirm that Christians can hate others (Muslims, Black Christians, radical disciples) and not sell cupcakes to queers. A primary aim and purpose of the gospel of Jesus Christ is to break down dividing walls among ALL people. White Christ Christians have not heard or practiced it that way. To practice segregation is to be of the Anti-Christ. It is turning the gospel of love and freedom against itself.
On December 20, 1956, young Martin and the Montgomery Improvement Association called off the boycott. The next morning, those who “marched on ‘til victory is won” prayed, rode the buses and sat where they desired. In 1963, when Mother Pollard died (she was born before Plessy v. Ferguson), she was a freed woman. She had learned how to pray. She asked. She got up off her knees and sought. She knocked on the door. God answered her prayers. She received. She found. The door was opened to her. Why not give it a try? Of course, if you only know the White Christ, you will have to change your way of living.
What does this say to Grandmother Zoe, a child of God, created in God’s image, and beloved of God? Unfortunately, she was formed and committed to a White Christ church and its crippled theology of prayer. She did not get the gift that Nibs Stroupe received. He, too, was brought up and formed in a White Christ church, yet through his suffering, loss and grace he was able to meet the Black Jesus and change the direction of his journey toward the Beloved Community/ Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.
Praying for addicts must include refusing to be co- dependent, which is one of the hardest acts for a family or community based on love. We have just failed “Andy.” We were blind (our responsibility) to his cocaine addiction. We prayed but continued our co-dependency. Oh, how difficult is the cross. How difficult is a love that is harsh and dread- ful when compared to the love of illusions and softness. But God seldom acts when one prays for the end of addiction, even after a family/community refuses co-dependency. How many folk have you known who have gone through program after program always to come home again to the same family patterns?
To pray for an addict one must seek help. God does not answer prayer that does not seek. God does not of herself offer A.A. meetings or halfway houses. But God does give love, anger, power to seek help for an addict. The Leadership Team required “Andy” to go to A.A. long before we realized he was addicted to cocaine. No one enforced it. We were indi- vidualistic. We did not love “Andy” into the accountability requisite of the cost of discipleship with the Black Jesus. If we only seek, God does not act.
In seeking, we find the door upon which we must knock. We knock and we cannot take no for an answer. When Fulton County stopped in-patient care for addicts and when the white business community recriminalized drunk- enness and drug behavior that was disorderly, the Evil One won a big victory. We did not, neither Zoe nor I, knock on the doors of the county or on the doors of Central Atlanta Progress where, at that time, the CEO was a Presbyterian and another White Christ Christian who voted for this filthy, killing legislation. God has not yet acted in response to our prayers for addicts. Poor addicts go to jail. Rich folk go to $1500 per week residential programs to get them ready to continue their pursuit of the Golden Calf. God has not said no. She just has not yet acted. Have we found the right doors? Do we have enough Black Jesus disciples knocking? Why are drugs illegal?
Lastly, let me say what is the hardest of the hard: the cross with only little signs of resurrection. We hope against hope; while hope unborn has died. The deeply loving (agape at its finest) act of accompanying an addict without being co- dependent is hard as hell. Agape love is tested, but God acts: we walk through fire and are not burned. We are tossed by flooding waters but we do not drown.
Mark overdosed. Zoe lost her faith when he died. This is the cost of White Christ faith. I work daily with former Christians who lost their faith because the white church is conformed to our White Supremacist culture and govern- ment. Might God have acted if Zoe asked, sought and knocked? We do not know. Many addicts are yet to kill themselves; the loss of lives will continue as the power of Whiteness shines in the darkness. But we are joining Mother Pollard, who lost 3,672 sons and daughters to the lynching trees as she walked and walked along the sidewalk of Mont- gomery until victory was won.
“Andy” dosed and dosed but did not overdose. He loved the Open Door Community, he fed the hungry and he visited regularly in prison where a number of African American prisoners loved him. He is chained to cocaine. Will you join the Open Door Community in our fumbling way of repentance? We are trying to put ourselves back together again as we ask, seek and knock. For then, we hope, God will act. Can we restore Zoe’s faith? Can “Andy” find a way out? Will the abandoned poor die invisible deaths? Will the prison- ers die listening to the radio calling them animals that should be tortured to death? Of course, lethal injection is torture. Let’s pray together. Let’s get God to act. Thank you.
Eduard Loring is a Partner at the Open Door Community. (firstname.lastname@example.org)