There is a palpable energy that electrifies college campuses during the first week of school. Somehow the mystical vitality of expectation mingles with apprehension in a way that makes one aware that life happens in the tension of both. I have been watching students as they move about the campus of Seattle University to manage activities to housing, classes, and campus life in general; all the while noting maybe for the first time that this pace is about more than those immediate issues. Students seem to be pushed forward by the urgency of now. It is this particular moment in human history that seems to be driving students away from one thing and toward another. What I am really observing is the historical context that gives meaning to movement of the people.
As I contemplate the historical context of our students, my mind naturally begins to make some comparison with the context of the followers of Jesus. Jesus, the Palestinian Jew, born under Roman occupation into the experience of poverty lived under leadership very similar to what we are experiencing in the United States now. The people of Jesus suffered under those who were able to use force; their social position no doubt gave rise to resentment and clannishness (Fromm 1966). The ruling Roman elites made up one percent of the population while the overwhelming majority of the populace lived under the system of poverty that uber-wealth creates. Caesar built towering buildings that bore his name and furnished them in gold and it is against this backdrop that Jesus began to teach.
Prayer was and is essential to Jewish faith and culture. The practice of prayer was a topic that intrigued the followers of Jesus as they sought to understand this new way of being in the world suggested by his radically subversive and transgressive teachings. His teaching on prayer would be no different, it too would be radically subversive and transgressive. On at least two occasions recorded in Matthew 6 and Luke 11, Jesus gave a model of prayer. The two accounts have some differences, but the similarities are noteworthy:
- Our Father
- Hallow Your name
- Thy kingdom come, thy will be done
- Provide daily bread
- Forgive our debts
- We have forgiven debts
- Keep us from temptation
The message was clear: Caesar is not the source, and the Roman system (or any system) that creates the experience of poverty for so many is not righteous. Everyone should have their needs met and we should be aware of the ways we are hindering others from having their needs met. There are consequences to injustice and those consequences negatively impact the individual and the community. The core meaning of both versions of the prayer is the same: treat your neighbors and their needs as Holy, that is, by striving to fulfill their needs as if serving God (Jr. 2006).The more I think about the state of the world the more I return to the model of prayer that was taught by Jesus and realize that we have forsaken the true nature of that prayer in most of our liturgical settings. What was once a powerful text of resistance has become in many cases a vain recitation in service of empire. We live in an era of imperialist white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy where hate speech and vitriol is being normalized daily. The vitality of the church and her return to relevance is predicated upon our decision to engage the context of these words by engaging our own context. While pondering these thoughts I approached the adult Sunday School class of my local congregation to see if we could find words that would mirror those of Jesus and articulate our own radically subversive and transgressive prayer for our world today. Here is what one Seattle congregation is praying in these challenging times. I invite you to pray along with us:
Our God, who is known by many names, we give reverence to you, thy kindom come, without empire. Provide daily bread because everyone seeks to flourish. Deliver us from predatory lending and the sins of unrestricted capitalism. Make us mindful of the ways we participated in an unjust system. Deliver us from the effects of oppression, the kindom is one, the power is universal, the glory is divine! Amen.
Peace Is Possible,
Bishop Edward Donalson, III, DMin | Director of Liturgy and Worship | Assistant Clinical Professor
SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY | SEATTLE UNIVERSITY 901 12th Avenue, Seattle WA 98122-1090 Office (206) 296-6357 | firstname.lastname@example.org www.worshipandliturgysustm.com Follow the school on social media: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube | LinkedIn | Vimeo
Fromm, Erich. 1966. You Shall Be As God’s: A Radical Interpretation of the Old Testament and its tradition. New York: Fawcett Premier.
Jr., Obery M. Hendricks. 2006. The Politics of Jesus. New York: Three Leaves Press.