Other Vehicular Pathways of Prayer

By Bayo Akomolafe, a re-post from social media (August 9, 2021)

Growing up in an evangelical Christian community meant I was coached to think of prayer as a direct line to heaven – a telephone call I could make anytime I wanted. The problem was: God didn’t always pick up.

How does one make sense of that?

Competing theologies of prayer had different ways of making sense of divine rejection. God said no when we had not atoned for unconfessed sins, intoned one theory. Another theory presumed the pre-eminence of God’s Will, an intelligently composed plan so far-reaching in its consequences, so cosmic in its details, so wise in its objectives, that the only way an omniscient, omnibenevolent deity could ensure its completion was to lovingly reject our counter-proposals scripted in mortal and flawed ignorance. The clergy class therefore exhorted us to “pray in God’s will”: that is, to learn the details of this vast fabric of Being, and thread our petitions through the embroidery of this predetermined material. If the answer we sought wasn’t coming, we were to keep praying anyway (“delay is not denial”). The rumour that God worked in mysterious ways kept things fresh and exciting.

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Los Samaritanos

An update from Chava Redonnet (right), the priest at Oscar Romero Inclusive Catholic Church (Sunday, August 8, 2021).

Dear Friends,

Three years ago we invited some folks in Batavia to get together and talk about how we might support people being released from the detention center. Fili and his family had noticed that there was a need. We wanted to respond as St Romero’s but soon realized that we needed people who lived closer to the center, and needed the input and participation of people and churches in Batavia. The group that met that first night included several pastors – Presbyterian, Methodist, UCC, and myself, as well as some folks not connected with churches. It took us a while to figure out the details, but eventually we had a sign hanging up in the gas station where people are left to wait for a bus, with a number to call if you needed help and a bilingual person holding the phone, who could alert folks that there was a need. Fili told us that we should include on the sign the message, “You are not alone.”

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A Public Accounting

Photo credit: Joe Henson

An excerpt from Isabel’s Wilkerson’s Caste: The Origins of our Discontent (2020).

Our era calls for a public accounting of what caste has cost us, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, so that every American can know the full history of our country, wrenching though it may be. The persistence of caste and race hostility, and the defensiveness about anti-Black sentiment in particular, make it literally unspeakable to many in the dominant caste. You cannot solve anything that you do not admit exists, which could be why some people may not want to talk about it: it might get solved.

The Absentee Landlord

By Greg Jarrell, re-posted with permission from his website (July 29, 2021). A sermon on Psalm 118 and Mark 12:1-12.

In January of 1960, Martin Waters of Waters Insurance and Realty stood before the Charlotte City Council to make one last plea to stop Urban Renewal. The council was set to vote that night, after a decade of starts and stops, to formally adopt the recommendations of the Charlotte Redevelopment Commission and to submit their final plans to the federal Urban Renewal Administration. The council planned to seize and destroy the Brooklyn neighborhood, a historic Black neighborhood that had been, for decades, one site of Black thriving and creativity in Charlotte. It had also been subjected to the long siege of Jim Crow policies. The vote in council chambers seemed like just a formal step, a foregone conclusion, but several people stood to speak in protest anyway.

They weren’t the first to lodge a protest. The local NAACP chapter in 1950, under the leadership of Kelly Alexander, Sr., had pushed a 10-point plan to remake Black neighborhoods in Charlotte. That plan argued for basic infrastructure, and for the elimination of exploitative landlording relationships that caused untenable living conditions for many tenants. Accomplishing even half of the NAACP’s plan would have radically altered the shape of those neighborhoods, including the Brooklyn neighborhood that in 1960 was in the crosshairs of the Redevelopment Commission. The NAACP plan might have eliminated the possibility of Urban Renewal a decade later by making it far more difficult for local white leaders to declare the area a “slum” and schedule it for demolition. (Doubting the tenacity of Charlotte’s elite in following through on a land grab might be a mistake, though.) Charlotte’s public and civic leaders ignored Alexander and the NAACP. And, landowners in Brooklyn – 90% or more of whom were white – went on ignoring the eroding conditions of their rental properties, though never ignoring the rent.

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Your Integrity is not Flammable

By Nichola Torbett, a sermon re-posted from her blog The Longing is the Compass

I am grateful to Marvin K. White and the members of Glide Memorial Church for inviting me to bring this word on Sunday, July 25, 2021. The focus scripture is Daniel 3. If you prefer, you can watch the video here, following a short introduction from Marvin.

There is a part of you that can never be taken from you, cannot be sullied, cannot be co-opted, cannot be killed. This part of you is something I will call your integrity. It is made up of who you are created to be, the people you come from, the web of life that has sustained you all these years. Your integrity is your umbilical cord connecting you to the source of all the love in the universe. And that connection can never ever be severed. It CAN be ignored. It can be buried. You can try to walk away from it, but it will never actually leave you. Your integrity is not flammable.

Let me tell you a story.

Once, not so very long ago, there were three young people. History has assigned them he/him pronouns, but I don’t think history ever asked them about that, so we will call them by their names. Except that their real names have been lost. You see, these youngsters…their people had been overrun by a mighty and land-hungry empire, and the most promising young people, including our subjects here, were taken away as prisoners of war, seized from their families and communities and brought to the emperor’s court, where they were “educated,” “civilized” if you will. As part of this process, these young people were given new names, names from the imperial language, names that maybe were easier for their captors to pronounce, names that made more sense to the good citizens of the empire. How many know that naming is power? Our friends’ new names were Shadrack, Meshach, and Abednego. 

And they were smart and talented kids, so the functionaries of the land groomed them for leadership—within the very empire that had ripped their lives apart. This is what empires do—they offer us secure roles n exchange for our loyalty to the regime. 

Anyway, around this time, the emperor fashioned for himself a god, a golden statue just outside the courtly walls. I don’t know the name of this god, but it might have been named The Economy, or Profit Margin, or Respectability,, or Social Status, or Whiteness, or Buy Now Before This Deal Gets Away—something like that. And then the emperor issued a decree to all those who kept the empire running—the judges and lawyers, the doctors and nurses, the teachers and nonprofit directors, the pastors and the Amazon warehouse workers. “Henceforth,” he said, because he liked to use fancy words like that, “whenever you hear the sound of the advertising jingle, the cash register, the Venmo app, the police siren, the national anthem, the text notification, or the ice cream truck, you will bow down and worship the god of the empire, and whoever does not bow down and worship will be thrown into a furnace of blazing fire.

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For Sharing and Abundance

by Lydia Wylie-Kellermann.
From Dirty Prayers: Pocket Prayers to Read in the Garden.

As I gaze upon this little garden
I see not time scarcity
or profit motive
or long term financial yields.

I see a harvest of abundance
Some for my mouth
more for my neighbors
some shelved for the long winter
And yet more will fall like manna.
Squirrels will feast
worms will fill their bellies
and little by little capitalism with crumble.

The Logic of the Cross

By Tommy Airey, re-posted from Easy Yolk

On the cross, Jesus cried out in Aramaic, his native tongue, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabbachthani. Many who overheard it thought he was calling out for the prophet Elijah. He was actually quoting Psalm 22 from the Hebrew Bible: My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? I learned in seminary that in the Jewish tradition, when folks quote the first verse of a Psalm, they are not sound-biting, but referencing the entire chapter. The next line of Psalm 22 goes like this: Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? Jesus’ higher Power was a Sabbath God who shows up in the text hearing and responding to the groans of those oppressed and impoverished by the policies of Solomon.

In Genesis, it was the blood of murdered Abel. In Exodus, it was the Israelites groaning under slavery to Pharoah. In the Psalms and Prophets, the sighs and cries consistently come before the One who hears. In James, it was the unpaid wages of the day laborers crying out. In Romans, all of creation is groaning with labor pains, longing to be released from bondage, and the text says that, in our weakness, we do not know what to say in our prayers—but the Breath of God intercedes for us with groans that go beyond our glossary.

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For Each Child That’s Born

A collective poem from The Sandbox Revolution: Raising Kids for a Just World.

For each child that’s born
Earth waits with her gift and wounds;
The creatures smile and weep;
The waters and winds rush and grow still.

A monarch unfolds its wings,
A beak breaks through its shell,
A tadpole finds legs,
And a million larva take flight.

For each child that’s born,
The Balance shifts to make room
and matter, time and light bend around
The squalling cries.

For each child that’s born,
An ancestor lives.
May this child ancestor be welcomed
as a previous, sacred being
By all of creation-
As a partner and friend.
May their landing be gentle
and our protection and love be fierce.

May this child be a joyful wake-up call to each of us
To live with gusto and stillness,
With righteous anger and creative action,
With tenderness and compassion.
May we say that your birth breathes life in each of us.

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