Tuesday, April 23, 2013

You Can't Pray A Lie

Recently, my friend Karen Zacharias asked her readers what adventures of goodness we had been on lately?  Avdenture of goodness...?

Well, some may not see it so; but it came during the prayer time at Operation Nightwatch worship on Sunday. We, of course, had the people of Boston, the runners and families, the community of West, Texas on our list. Our soldiers and their families. Then, someone led by the Spirit of God piped up and said we should pray for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and his family. We did.

After catching our spiritual breath over the shock of that, the still, small voice of grace finally leads us to ask, "Why would we not?" Indeed. A few seconds later, someone else asked that we pray for the President and his family and advisors. Indeed, why would we not? And just a thought... with the approval of Congress at an all time low, why would we not be praying for them? Instead of complaining.

It was Mark Twain who perhaps gave the advice on prayer that to me ranks only a short step below the Lord's Prayer itself. It's actually a chapter title from Huckleberry Finn: You Can't Pray a Lie. Praying for wounded, grieving people comes naturally. Praying for those who cause such things is hard. Because it can't be a lie. But the gospel we had just shared from John 10 is about the voice of the Shepherd who calls together a disparate bunch of sheep who would otherwise never hang together. Whose voice do we hear? Whose voice did the Tsarnaev brothers hear? What voice could they no longer hear? Who are our shepherds?

Good prayer doesn't come easily. It comes hard. I'm thankful for the homeless voice who led us to that hard spot of necessary prayer. An adventure of goodness, you might say. No lie.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Hearing Voices

The Lord be with you!

On Monday, my daughter in California asked that we pray at Operation Nightwatch Bible study (Tuesday evenings) and worship for the tragedy of Boston. She's a runner, planning to be in PDX next month for only a half marathon this time. I told her, "We pray at Operation Nightwatch every time there is good news and heartbreaking news." We pray.

Been thinking again about the sheep metaphor from John 10, as I do whenever the image comes up. Perhaps 15 years ago, a friend brought me a news item from the Capitol Press, an agriculture newspaper published in Salem. A local Jewish man, Dan Florea, had contracted with an area farmer to raise a flock of "Jacob sheep", direct genetic descendants of the sheep tended in Palestine 2K years ago. They were being raised as a source of the ram's horn, shofar, for the call to worship.

Eye opening, this sheep story. Little buggers are only half the carcass weight of modern breeds. Anything but dumb white cotton balls. Brown, white, black, tan, blotchy, spotty, speckled. All different. Rams have huge horns. Even mature ewes do. But mostly, Florea's description of their personality is what struck me. Strong-willed, stubborn, fiercely independent. Pretty well capable of taking care of themselves in the wilderness alone, thank you very much. They bear about as much resemblance to modern day sheep--and our understanding of them--as wolves and coyotes do to lapdogs.
Jacob sheep would never submit to being herded by a sheepdog. In fact, the only way they could ever be turned into a flock or community of any kind was by learning as young lambs to identify the voice calls, the songs, of their shepherd who led them out in the AM to pasture. That's why sheep of several flocks could all be gathered into a single shelter overnight and separate themselves out as their shepherds called and sang to them in the morning. And of course the shepherd knew his own. No two looked alike!

Jacob sheep. Not at all unlike congregations. Not at all unlike the human community that finds itself in the wilderness of chaos, war and strife. Bombings. Shootings. Bickering over everything and going nowhere... 
What voices do the perpetrators hear? What voice can they no longer hear? What voice do they need to hear? What voice do our leaders and caregivers hear? Who are our shepherds?

Blessings in being that voice!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Whodunnit? Why?



The list of enemies without is nearly endless, the default list we go to when asking why.

The list of enemies within is more problematic, much more difficult for us to see and confront.

Discipline yourselves, keep alert.  Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour.  Resist him, steadfast in your faith...  1 Peter 5:8-9  NRSV

Peter uses the metaphor of the lion only because he didn't know the metaphor of the booby trap, the Bouncing Betty mine, the IED, the sniper, the Stealth fighter, the Predator drone and the Hellfire missile, or the backpack pressure cooker.

At least a lion roars and breathes. The things that lurk inside us are quiet. The first thing they go for is the window shades, the curtains, the blinds. If these can be drawn around our minds and our hearts isolating us from our common humanity, we can be led into anything. We can be walking in the broadest daylight with 20/20 corneas and retinas and yet be stone-cold blind, enveloped in darkness. Let us pray for light and the ability to see.

Over a century ago, Black Elk prayed a good prayer:

"Grandfather (Tunkashila), Great Mysterious One (Wakan Tanka), You have been always; and before You, nothing has been. The star nations all over the universe are yours, and yours are the grasses of the earth. There is nothing to pray to but You. Day in, day out, You are the life of things. Grandfather, all over the world the faces of living ones are alike. In tenderness, they have come up out of the ground. Look upon your children with children in their arms that they may face the winds and walk the Good Road to the Day of Quiet. Sweeten our hearts, and fill us with light. Give us the strength to understand and the eyes to see. Help us, for without You, we are nothing. Hetchetu aloh (this is true)."


Hehaka Sapa (Black Elk, "Joseph Black Elk" after his baptism) was truly a seer whose words we do well to ponder. One of the most sacred spaces I have ever visited is the little Lakota prayer garden built outside the little Neihardt Museum in tiny Bancroft, Nebraska. It was there that newspaper editor, poet and author, John G. Neihardt, wrote of Black Elk's life and the end of "Sioux" culture, after visiting Black Elk whose life spanned from the Civil War to the candidacy of Dwight Eisenhower. He was nearly blind, but certainly able to see. The composite prayer above written by Neihardt is basically a summary of how Black Elk saw himself, life, the Creator, creation and humankind. It's a timeless creed for life that I know by heart and say frequently to remind myself.