Prayer for the End of White Privilege

Our hearts this evening are heavy.  They are heavy from crying out in grief and pain for yet another unarmed young man is shot and killed by those who are called to protect and serve.  How long shall this continue in our neighborhoods?  How long will people’s grief remain unabated?  How long will this injustice across our nation remain unseen, uncomprehended by White America? For too long, White Privilege has separated the people of this nation. For too long White privilege has covered the eyes and ears of White America so these actions by our police are not seen for what they are.

Transform our grief to righteous anger.  Let us have anger that rips off the scales of blindness so the eyes will see with understanding.  Let us have anger that like a skillful surgeon’s knife cuts out the gangrene of white privilege and racism to enable people to heal into wholeness.  Empower with a Mother’s love that will protect her children fiercely. Empower us with a Compassion that will reach out to intervene when we see abuse and injustice in our communities.

May our actions be a comfort to those who weep for their children. May our actions be our prayer to change our land into a land of freedom and justice for all its people.

In the name of the author of love, justice, and mercy, we pray.   Amen.

 

This prayer was offered by me, Rev. Fred L Hammond,  at a Memorial Service for Michael Brown at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa, held in solidarity with Brown Family in Ferguson, Missouri. (c) 2014

Feel free to use with credit of author. 

When Praying is Sufficient

I have done lots of praying this past week but as a person who does not believe in a God who answers prayers, my stating that I have done lots of praying is going to need an explanation.  How could I be praying if I do not believe in a God who answers?  What possible good would my praying have if it is not directed to someone or something?

And for the record, I did not begin my prayer To Whom It May Concern as in the Unitarian Universalist joke.  No my prayers are aimed at no deity other than the mystery of life and my humble role in its unfolding.

We began our service today with The Prayer of St. Francis. It has been attributed to Francis of Assisi, the monk of the 13th century. However, the prayer in its current form can only be traced back to 1912 when it first appeared anonymously in French in La Clochette, a spiritual magazine.  It is most likely not a prayer written by St. Francis.

But regardless of the origin, the prayer has universal appeal to Christians of all stripes as well as people of other faith traditions.  It is a prayer asking for the willingness to change one’s behavior.  A softening of the heart is being sought.

Where there is hatred, let me sow love. Where there is despair, hope.

This is a prayer that although it petitions a higher power, is also asking the person to focus on behaviors that potentially would change their immediate environment if they were attentive to their surroundings. How might a person sow love where there is hatred?  What might that look like?  What might that look like in the neighborhoods of Gaza and Jerusalem, where hatred has once again spilled over? I saw a photograph of two young boys; one Jewish, one Palestinian arm in arm. Sowing love might look like that, not simply a photograph but the actual friendship between members of the two rival groups.   Or what might it look like here in Alabama where people are upset over the election results and want to secede from the union.  What might a focus on harmony look like in our country? Poking fun at their obvious disdain for the election results is probably not sowing harmony—Just sayin’.

The Prayer of St. Francis is popular because it resonates deeply with human nature.  Everyone one of us has experiences where negative emotions have appeared recalcitrant and wanted to find a way to resolve them.  This prayer addresses these states of the human condition. It leaves the door open as to how these conditions might be resolved but it posits the desire into one’s consciousness which in turn might lead to a specific action. Perhaps an action that one person can do. Perhaps it will be an action that a small group can do or perhaps an action that a sweeping movement can do. How might these seeds of love, hope, compassion be sown in our families, in our communities, in our nation today?

The human condition is also addressed in a Buddhist Metta, a sample line might be “May I live in peace and harmony with all beings.[i]” It is setting the intention and then the desire to focus on this intention with mindfulness.  What would living in peace and harmony with all beings look like?  The Buddhist is examining this thought in the Metta.  The prayer is not addressing a deity but it is setting the intention and is opening the door for the mind to thoughtfully ponder what might be done to achieve this desire.

The Prayer of Jabez became popular a few years ago.  It is the prayer by a person found in the book of First Chronicles in the Hebrew text.  Not much is known about him other than his mother naming him Jabez after a difficult labor which means “he makes sorrowful/ pain”.  He issues a prayer to God requesting blessing and ends the prayer with “that I may not cause pain.”  The text tells us that God granted his request.

It became popular with the prosperity gospel preachers and new thought practitioners as a prayer to gain prosperity.  The difficulty with saying this prayer is the formulaic aspect of it for gaining prosperity.  Say these words in a ritualistic manner every day for at least 30 days and low and behold, you are prosperous in all things. This is the prayer on the surface and it is how Bruce Wilkinson in his book on the Jabez prayer encourages people on how to increase their lot in life.  When the Prayer of Jabez is approached in this manner it encourages magical thinking.  It becomes a potion, an incantation for a life of ease.

Life was never meant to be easy.  Life can be enjoyable.  Life can be an adventure.  Life can be fulfilling. But life is not meant to be easy. It may have easy moments when things are moving along smoothly but those moments are the extent of the easy life.  So those who pray this prayer as a formula for the easy life will be sadly disappointed.   Even Bruce Wilkinson, the author of the popular book was to be sadly disappointed.

In 2002, he used the profits to go to Swaziland to set up an orphanage for children orphaned by the AIDS pandemic.  A noble cause.  Certainly this was an increase in his territory. He had grand visions.  But a Wall Street Journal[ii] story reported in 2005, that he “resigned in a huff from the African charity he founded” allegedly because the people of Swaziland did not comply with his demands.  There is a life lesson here and the answer is implied in the very prayer he promoted[iii] but apparently refused to see.

Beneath the surface of this prayer there is something being asked of the pray-er.  ‘Increase my territory’ implies a relationship with the world that is more than just acquiring wealth.   It requires taking on more responsibility and being held accountable for one’s actions. In the case of Mr. Wilkinson’s grand intentions of using his new found wealth, it meant listening to the needs of the people he felt called to serve. Instead he went to be the savior of these children. But what was required of him was to honor their culture in humility. He had a responsibility to honoring the worth and dignity of the people he wanted to help. This noble task was not about him as an evangelist or savior.  It was about being accountable to the territory he was entering.  Being kept from evil requires being attentive not only to the events that are happening around the person but also attentive to the impact of one’s actions so “I may not cause pain.”  This is a prayer that while being addressed to God is also about taking responsibility for one’s journey through the world. It is not a mantra to be repeated in a rote fashion but rather wrestled with in relationship with one’s own life circumstances.

What territory in my life am I required to be responsible for?  How am I being held accountable to the tasks set before me?  How am I being attentive so that I am being kept from harm?  How am I being attentive to the responsibilities that I have so that all who may be impacted by my responsibilities and behaviors are also kept from harm so that I may not cause pain?  These are the questions that are raised with this prayer and the answers are probably not ones that fall from on high into one’s lap.  The answers come from dialog, from being in relationship with others, from being attentive to the needs presented, and they come from walking humbly in the path of life.

The Serenity Prayer is another popular prayer that is about discerning the way through our life. The prayer was written by theologian Reinhold Niebuhr.  Niebuhr wrote extensively on theological ethics before, during, and after World War Two. The horrors of this war from the Nazi and American concentration camps to the release of the atomic bombs over Japan are the backdrop of his writings and the circumstances in which this prayer was created.

It is a pragmatic prayer not given to the illusion that all things will be fine and dandy.  Again, this is a prayer that while it addresses a higher power, requires the person to wrestle with the words in relationship with their own circumstances.  What are the things in my life that cannot be changed and therefore accepted as they are?  What are the things in my life that can be changed?  Are the things that can be changed worthy of my efforts to change them?  Are there indicators or sign posts that I need to be paying attention to, which would determine something as changeable versus non-changeable in my life?

The practicality of this prayer to be applied to daily life won this prayer into inclusion of Alcoholics Anonymous circles.  The second stanza includes their famous tag line, ‘One day at a time.’  It recognizes that life includes hardship. The second stanza also contains allusions to the last week of Jesus’ life of accepting the world as it is and not fighting it.

Now I told you I have been praying a lot this past week. These were the prayers that I found myself referring to this week.   I prayed that I would be a comforting presence to members of our congregation.  I prayed that I would be mindful in my behaviors to offer the support needed for family members to make critical decisions in the care of their loved ones. I prayed that I would find the right words to share at the right moment to lessen the deep pain, I knew would be felt.  My prayers were not to a deity but they were uttered with the humility of the unfolding mystery called life.  I knew that my words might not make a difference, or that my presence might not make a difference but I believed the attempt was an important one to make. Perhaps in a moment of transcendence, in a moment of grace, the realization of being loved would break through and soften the moment, ease the transition from this life or ease the acceptance of a life transitioning to death.  It matters not to me if the person recognizes that moment as God’s love or human compassion—if only it would provide some comfort in our human hour of need.

There is one more prayer that I find myself uttering.   The 13th century mystic Meister Eckhart said If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.  Thank you is a prayer.  I say thank you when I look at the flowers blooming out front of this church.  I say thank you when I see children laughing and playing.  I say thank you when I observe the members of this congregation be so generous with their time in support of others.  And I say thank you for this life that I am living as it is filled with wonder, filled with interconnections of love. When hardships befall us as they are bound to from time to time, I find myself saying thank you, not for the hardships but for the response of the people around me who step forward with love and compassion.

This past week many people stepped forward and their presence was deeply appreciated.  Thank you… it is the prayer that is more than just two words.  It is a prayer of reception. When a person says thank you, especially in difficult times, it is an acknowledgement of humility. It is an acknowledgement of love shared.  It is an acknowledgement of our interconnective needs of one another.  If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.  Blessed Be.


[iii] http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2006/february/8.76.html

 

“When Praying is Sufficient delivered to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa by  Rev. Fred L Hammond 18 November 2012 ©

9/11 reflection

Seven years ago, I was driving to work on a beautiful fall day when I heard on NPR that a plane had collided into one of the World Trade Towers in New York City.  At the time, it was not known if this was a small plane or a large plane.  Soon we were to know the horrific truth that this was no accidental collision but a well orchestrated plan of attack as a second plane aimed for the second tower.  Fear loomed large that day. 

I lived only 65 miles from the center of Manhattan in Danbury, CT.  There were many people that I knew who worked in the towers or nearby and by mysterious grace they were fine.  I decided to keep the agency I ran open for business in case any of our clients needed someone to talk about what they were observing  / feeling.   In retrospect, I needed to keep the doors open so I could talk about what I was observing /feeling. 

A couple of things happened in Danbury that I am still very proud.  As the news unfolded and we learned this was done by arab terrorists, the Jewish community offered escorts to the women of the Islamic mosque in town to enable them to do their shopping.  It was evident that a backlash on anyone of Arabic descent was going to occur.   Jews and Christians attended the Islamic mosque in prayer and as watchful eyes for any potential hate crime to occur.   The interfaith community gathered in a way that had not happened as fully before.  Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Unitarian Universalists, and I am sure a few more faiths gathered in prayer representing all these faiths.  I was proud of Danbury’s response.  In other communities to vent ones frustration and anger, hate crimes increased against Arabic people; yet in Danbury we were able to say no to this sort of irrational response to something so horrific.  I believe we are better for it.

I wish I could say that Danbury’s response mirrored the country’s response.   Sadly, I cannot.  The days and months that followed, I saw our government use every fear inducing tactic imaginable to increase the anxiety of the American People against a nebulous enemy.  Our government whipped us into such an anti-Arab anti-Islam sentiment that when we were told that a dictator known for his vile and hateful cruelty against his own people was somehow connected to the airplane hijackings aimed at destroying American lives and symbols of our democracy, we bowed and said Amen to our government’s plan to wipe them from the face of the earth.   

A few of us felt aghast at such a plan.  I joined the millions who gathered in NYC to protest going to war against Iraq. The day we gathered the US government raised the terrorist alert to Red to try to keep us from speaking and gathering.  We were not all allowed to join the site of the protest at the UN building on the east side.  I was with people who were sidelined by police in a more central location in the city.  So we were cut off from what the speakers were saying.   And at some appointed hour, the police came in with busses and horses to round us up should we not disburse.  Instead of announcing by bull horn that the protest at the UN building was over, to disburse, we were pushed by the encroaching police in riot gear and on horses against the buildings.  Children were separated from their families under the crush.  The crush was to force feed us like a river down pre-determined channels.  It worked but the image remains in my mind as to where our country is heading as these are the tactics used by regimes that do not tolerate freedom of speech or the right to assembly. 

In the years since the beginning of this unjust war against an innocent people who we now know had nothing to do with the events on 9/11.  I feel betrayed by my own government.  The government has lied to us repeatedly and continues to instill fear and hatred into our hearts.  It has used this event to turn against our neighbors from the south who seek to live a better life. Fear has been carefully and manipulatively manufactured against undocumented workers and families.  And we used 9/11 to turn them into enemies of our nation when they are not enemies at all.   Homeland Security has become misguided in its mission to protect this country from terrorists.  Instead it sees all immigrants as a sort of terrorist and encourages the citizens of this country to do the same.   Hatred and xenophobia are at an all time high in this country of bountiful. 

I shudder when I hear candidates for the highest office of the land state their beliefs that Iraq and Iran are the battle grounds in the spiritual fight of good and evil.  I shudder when I hear candidates state that it is God’s will that this battle be fought by us today. I shudder when I hear candidates state that this is a war between Christianity and Islam.  Because these are words that have been used by dictators and totalitarian leaders for centuries to coerce their people into submission. 

It was not so long ago, that America saw the horrors of one such dictator who marched across Europe, rounding up 11 million Jews, gays, and political opponents sending them to concentration camps to be gassed or tortured to death.  The argument used: it was a war between Christianity and Judaism.  We were in denial that this could happen.  We are in denial that it is still happening in parts of our world today.  Yet, this dictator used language of faith for his arguments and the religious people gave ascent because they were also fearful.  Fear is a powerful tool for submission of the masses.  Fear if not checked will crush a person’s / a nation’s spirit just like a dog who has been abused who comes whimpering at the call of its owner. 

So as I mourn today in remembrance of the thousands of lives lost on 9/11, as I mourn the thousands of Americans lost in Afghanistan and Iraq, as I mourn the even more thousands of Afghanis and Iraqis whose lives unknowingly were going to be caught up in the aftermath of this day, seven years ago;  I also mourn the loss of my country that has allowed its will to be crushed by a deceitful government.  This is not what America hopes to be.  These are not the ideals we proclaim loudly to the world. 

I pray for America’s repentance in its arrogance in thinking it is the world’s savior. I pray for America’s people that we will let go of paralyzing fear and embrace love and compassion for other nation’s people.  I pray that America will once again capture the vision of its integrity and dignity and respond from this core and not from deceit and shear military power.   I pray that America will begin to understand that with great gifts and riches are also given great responsibility and accountability to the world community.  That this abundance is to be shared not hoarded.  Not doled out as charity where the poorer  nations grow reliant on it or beholden to do our biddings, but shared in a manner that enables self-empowerment and development of emerging equal partners in the global community.  I pray that America will turn from its domestic sins of racism, xenophobia, and corporate greed to enable all of its citizens; its people, its wildlife, its vegetation to thrive within its borders.   Blessings, SerenityHome

Published in: on September 11, 2008 at 10:30 am  Comments Off on 9/11 reflection  
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Life as a source of the unfolding mystery

One of my congregants sent me a news story from yesterday’s Washington Post about Rev. Robert Seargears worship services.  He has been doing a series of dramatic lessons from this summer’s block buster movies.  

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/08/30/AR2008083001704.html

 He dresses up in character, portrays something of the story then reveals how the struggle the character or characters are facing can teach us something about God or the parables of Jesus.  Some of the characters he has portrayed is the Joker from the Batman movie Dark Knight, Indiana Jones, and the Incredible Hulk.  It has been both controversial and stimulating for his parishioners.   His Assembly of God district thinks it is inappropriate to use the movies to teach biblical truths.  

It is creative if nothing else.  However, he is highlighting something that we Unitarian Universalists have claimed as one of our sources that inform our faith.  ” Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openess to the forces that create and uphold life… ”  All of life can be seen as pointing to the unfolding mystery if we would simply be open to the possibility. 

Of course, it requires that we are open to seeing life as being able to reveal itself as an unfolding mystery.   That is where, I believe  a spiritual practice comes in.  Whatever we use to pause and reflect on the wonder of life in and around us, would be important to be able to notice the possible lessons and wisdom life has for us.   I do several different types of prayer and meditation.  When I am out of doors, I seek to become mindful of all that is around me.  I want to hear everything that is of nature.  The birds singing in the trees, the rabbits rustling in the bushes, and honey bees buzzing full of pollen and nectar.  I want to notice everything that is of nature.  The blueness of the sky, the varying shades within the roses of a rose bush, the ants scurrying on the ground.   I remember some of my most difficult decisions were made during these times of mindfulness.  It wasn’t that I was thinking of those decisions to be made, instead I was focusing on what was around me. 

I remember during one of these times of listening to the sound of swans gliding over a still pond during a cool summer evening contrasted with listening to the rushing sounds of cars on the interstate.  The former seemed to be in the flow of life, of peaceful intentions to swim from one point to another.  The cars seemed to be forcing their way through, with all the crassness of an intimidating bully.  Which way did I want to live my life? 

Life can be our teacher if we let it to be.  And if we intend it, we can find the wisdom of the ages repeated in our daily lives.  For Robert Seagear, he has found an ability to find connections in today’s movies to the biblical truths he values as important for his congregants to grasp and understand.  And perhaps, they are grasping them for the first time, even though they have heard the parables and teachings of Jesus many times over but never in this fresh and creative way before. 

Unitarian Universalist folk singer Peter Mayer has a song that has become popular in many of our congregations, entitled “Holy Now.”   Everything can be holy if we are willing to let it unfold for us like the blossom it is.   Breathe deep the fragrance.  What is life offering us?  An opportunity to love?  An opportunity to heal a relationship?  Life can show us its deepest truths if we seek to be open to it.  Perhaps this is how Jesus heard inspiration whispering to him the parables.    Blessings,

Published in: on September 7, 2008 at 8:14 pm  Comments Off on Life as a source of the unfolding mystery  
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Swimming in the River

I ended yesterday’s post with a metaphor of needing to swim daily in the river in order to be able to swim around the flotsam and jetsam that are also in the river.  Of course, I was writing about spiritual practices and not actual swimming, although some will tell me that swimming is part of their spiritual practice. 

What  spiritual practice do you use in your daily life to help you remain centered and aligned with your core self?  What spiritual practice do you attend to daily to keep you alert and aware to the stream of well-being that I suggest is the undercurrent of all things?  How do we connect to that mystery that is unfolding and leading us forward on this journey? 

The Buddhists practice zazen.  A form of sitting meditation where they clear their minds of the rampant thoughts and seek to become aware of their present moment.  To be fully present to the now is a powerful experience.  It is a means to then be more fully alert to the events of the day.   There is also the walking meditation where the person consciously and deliberately attends to each breath and each movement of the body as they walk.  This again is a means to become more fully alert and aware of the present moment.  There are two blogs that I have linked to that are Buddhist centered; Monkey Mind by my dear friend and colleague Zen Master Rev. James Ishmael Ford and Wildfoxzen by Zen Master Dosho Port.

Christians practice prayer.  There are many forms of prayer.  There are supplication prayers where a person asks for help and guidance.  There is intercessory prayer where a person seeks on behalf of another.  There are prayers of praise where the person expresses their gratefulness and thanksgiving to the wonders and love of life.  There is also centering prayer which is probably the closest to zazen where the person quiets the mind while using a pre-chosen phrase to focus on.   There are also prescribed prayers such as the Jesus Prayer or the prayer of Jabez  or praying the rosary.  These prayers assist the person to focus beyond themselves and their current strife.  The act of repeating over and over again the same words enables the person to transcend their present state and connect to their core self. 

Muslims have designated times, five times a day, where they pause and pray to Allah. This is an act of worship and is most central to the life of a Muslim. There are prescribed prayers that they recite. The act of designated times connects all of the Muslims together.  It enables them to see themselves as connected to a larger whole, to a larger purpose than just their individual lives.  This prayer is also an embodied prayer in that there are different postures with different prayers that one does while praying. 

Pagans use rituals to maintain their connections to spirit.  They  symbolically see the elements of nature as having characteristics that they would want to be balanced in their lives. So they may focus on the four directions; north, east,south, west;  and the four elements; air, fire, earth, water to help remind them of these characteristics.

There are other practices that one may take.  I also incorporate nature hikes where I consciously take note of the beauty of the world around me.  I notice the blooms, the song of the  birds, the evidence of an abundant life around me.  And give appreciation to the universe for all these wonderful creations around me.   Others journal, write poetry, sing, dance as ways of reflecting, connecting, and being in this world.   Blessings abound, Rev. Fred L Hammond

Published in: on May 13, 2008 at 4:27 pm  Comments Off on Swimming in the River  
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