Re-Imagine Prayer

As we start a new school year together and consider the mission and vision of our University, there is an acute awareness for the need to work toward a more just and humane world. Multiple systems of injustice have in an organized and systematic way worked to insure systems of inequality where the haves get more and the have nots get less. Marginalization and disenfranchisement seem to be celebrated while justice and equity seem to be demonized. Power, greed, control, and false narratives have taken center stage in national and international politics to the degree that there is very little honor left in the public square. In the face of all of this, the field of religion has been rocked by scandal and the public perception of those who work in religious life has been marred. IMG_3521

Humanity is made up of innumerable individuals, no two alike, and yet society is a composite whole moving gradually toward collective ideas and characteristics (Holmes, This Thing Called You 1997). How do we respond to the state of emergency our world finds itself in? Perhaps the answer lies in a return to prayer. Not the type of prayer that is filled mindless or empty platitudes, rather payer that is centered in deep faith that calls humanity to its highest ideas and character.

Despite what may appear, we are not, by choice or ideology, a culture set against solitude, interiority, and prayer. Nor are we more malicious than past generations. We differ from the past more by busyness than badness (Rolheiser 2013). All of our religious traditions have in common a commitment to prayer. The prayer I believe we need is a movement of thought, within the mind of the one praying, along a definite line of meditation; that is, for a specific purpose (Holmes 1997). This prayer is effective because a person’s thoughts become the law of her or his life. As the life of the individual goes, so goes the life of the community, region, nation, and ultimately the world. Prayer is our ability to raise our consciousness above the limitations of the physical plane in connection with any matter and as we see and speak things above what our senses behold we begin to respond to the physical in different ways (Fox 1966). It makes little difference the circumstance or its cause; prayer changes the way one responds to both circumstance and cause, because prayer changes the one praying!

IMG_3517Prayer is a form of thought, and negative thoughts (prayers) can create negative experiences! Professor William R. Parker of Redlands University investigated prayer therapy and discovered that unless prayer is positive it may be dangerous. The thoughts or desires we hold eventually conquer and control our lives (Holmes, A New Design for Living 2010). We can literally teach ourselves and the world around us to function in unhealthy ways if our hearts and minds are tuned to the frequency of negativity. Perhaps our news cycles have been informing our prayers and we can no longer see the ways in which we are complicit in cultural norms that are destructive to human flourishing.

Real prayer has power, not through repetition, rather through genuine belief and acceptance. It is the law of life that as we think and speak we also act.  It is a greater law of life that as we think and speak towards others they respond in kind towards us. This does not mean that every individual will return our kindness, but society becomes the best version of itself when the individual is the best version of themselves. This best self is centered in affirmative prayer that calls us to transcend the bruises of everyday life and seeks to see that which reflects the goodness of The Divine. Prayer gives us the opportunity to experience consciously striving to integrate one’s life in terms not of isolation and self-absorption but of self-transcendence toward the ultimate value one perceives (Hartin 2010).

What if our religious organizations, churches, temples, or houses of worship began to re-imagine prayer? What if we became the places where we make prayer for ourselves, communities, regions and nations? What would the world look like if people of faith really began to pray?

Feel free to comment below.

Peace Is Possible,

Rt. Rev. Edward Donalson III, DMin | Director of Liturgy and Worship | Assistant Clinical Professor 

SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY | SEATTLE UNIVERSITY

Works Cited

Fox, Emmet. 1966. The Sermon on the Mount. New York: HarperOne.

Hartin, Patrick J. 2010. Exploring the Spirituality of the Gospels. Collegeville: Liturgical Press.

Holmes, Ernest. 2010. A New Design for Living. Edited by Willis H. Kinnear. New York: Penguin Group.

—. 1997. The Science of Mind. New York: G.P. Putnums Sons.

—. 1997. This Thing Called You. New York: Penguin Group.

Rolheiser, Ronald. 2013. Prayer: Our Deepest Longing. Cincinnati: Franciscan Media.

 

 

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Is Your Church Relevant ?

IMG_3601Viable religion is one that has a working reciprocity with the culture that produces it or with which it interacts (Townes 1995). The call and task of our religious communities lies in the ability to impact the society each assembly operates in. The task of religion is not isolated to personal salvation, rather it is a transformative agent in the world. Healthy religious practices seek to provide a way for individuals and communities to name their experience and to live in response to it. In many ways, religious communities are countercultural models of an alternative set of values and practices to those of the larger society (Allen 2008). Religion stands amidst in the society as a witness of the highest potential of that society and calls all the members of the community to their highest expression. Those concerned with religious experience, whether they are religionist or not, are the most severe critics of social norms and practices, recognizing that humanity’s alienation from the whole, is a threat to individual and collective salvation.

My own Christian faith tradition, in order to be more viable in the world, must recognize its exposure to and role in the patriarchal, paternalistic, domineering society. She must be in the world engaging a prophetic dynamism that is forever questioning the status quo and striving toward conversion on all levels. This means that our faith must engage the process of protest, self-criticism, self- denial, and reform; so that the voice of the church will be credible in a society yearning for liberation (Häring 1970). A church who does not consistently seek to impact mythology, historical analysis, social organization, political organization, creative motif, and ethos of the world around it fails to be at all relevant to the community. By disengaging the culture, a church ceases completely to live out its vocation in the world, and in doing so betrays the very Gospel for which it pretends to stand.

IMG_0986Whatever hermeneutical lens your local assembly engages we can never forget that theology functions within the church. Its task is to ensure the authenticity of the church. That theology is impotent if the church does not act out the Gospel it has received. James H. Cone taught us well that theology is that discipline which has the responsibility of continually examining the proclamation of the church in light of Jesus Christ and then to criticize and revise the language of the church (Cone 1997). Our theology has failed if we are not confronting the evils of this society with its failure to live into the highest ethics and values. Far too much of our highest humanity has been sacrificed to social norms such as extreme capitalism, consumerism, materialism, militarism, war, violence, rape culture, patriarchy, imperialism, and whole host of interlocking social systems. By in large our religious communities seem to have lost the vocal critique of these systems that serve only to oppress and dehumanize the world around us.

IMG_6118What would happen if the church and all religious organizations began to engage in cultural dissidence that seeks to counter the hegemonic narrative of oppressive power? What if we began to craft liturgies that seriously envisioned and revised our collective resistance in terms of the liberating message of all the prophets?  What would it look like for your local assembly to participate in a principled public criticism of and opposition to systemic injustice (Hendricks 2011)? What if the church began to take seriously the lived reality and embodiment of Jesus (Wallace 2002). The poor Jewish Jesus with his non-normative body who shows up with an anti-imperialist message over against the religious tradition of his time.  It is Jesus who unhinges the relationship between the underprivileged and the privileged: born in a manger and becoming King of the Jews without amassing either wealth or military might. It centers the Jesus who is incarcerated and dies in a government-sanctioned execution. What if we engaged preaching that lifted Jesus in his lived reality as a practicing Jew living in a territory controlled by Roman political, military, and economic forces.

If our liturgies employed this prophetic critique, we might have viable religion and be relevant in the world.

Please feel free to comment below.

Peace Is Possible,

Rt. Rev. Edward Donalson III, DMin | Director of Liturgy and Worship | Assistant Clinical Professor 

SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY | SEATTLE UNIVERSITY

Works Cited

Allen, Ronald J. 2008. Thinking Theologically: The Preacher as Theologian. Minneapolis: Frotress Press.

Cone, James H. 1997. Black Theology and Black power. MaryKnoll: Orbis.

Häring, Bernard. 1970. A Theology of Protest . Toronto: Doubleday.

Hendricks, Obery. 2011. The Universe Bends Toward Justice . Maryknoll: Orbis Books.

Townes, Emilie M. 1995. In a Blaze of Glory: Womanist Spiriutality As Social Witness. Nashville: Abingdon Press.

Wallace, Maurice O. 2002. Constructing the Black Masculine: Identity and Ideality in Afircan American Men’s Liturature and Culture 117-1995. Durham and London: Duke University Press.

 

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Why #BlackLivesMatter Must Matter In Religious Space

IMG_3005Killing unarmed Black men is an American sport. Black and Brown bodies are under assault walking down the street carrying skittles, driving in cars, listening to music, and yes even minding their own business in their apartments. From the dehumanizing chattel slave trade to the demoralizing institution of slavery, and from the era of lynching to contemporary police brutality the most dangerous thing one can be in America is Black. Without a serious response to this reality religion ceases to be of any real usefulness in our current cultural reality. For any spiritual people to ignore this fact or downplay the insidious evil visited upon Black and Brown bodies is to make that religious group complicit in each death. For me, as a constructive theologian with a liberative lens, Christian theology is language about God’s liberating activity in the world on behalf of the oppressed. Any talk about God that fails to make God’s liberation of the oppressed its starting point is not Christian (Cone 1999). That is not to let any religious group off the hook, rather it situates me particularly in my own religious sensibilities. This however extends to  all faith traditions in that authentic religious engagement is that which leads to human flourishing through relationship with Mystery.

The task of theology is to critique and revise the language of the church. This includes not only the language of uttered speech, but also the language of radical involvement in the world (Cone 1997). Theology is always political, and the #BlackLivesMatter movement is one of the most important theopolitical movements of our time. Politics is the ancient and honorable endeavor to create a community in which the weak as well as the strong can flourish, where love and power can collaborate, and justice and mercy can have their day (Palmer 2011). By its nature, which includes its social engagement and praxis, the #BlackLivesMatter movement is both a political and theological movement. It is a movement of radical solidarity not born from political theory, but rather out of a shared, lived experience and circumstance.  #BlackLivesMatter is more than a slogan; it is indeed a movement because—based on its tenets—it seeks action. Movements are not mere intellectual pursuits; they are primarily concerned with how one changes the system (Fromm 1994). It is our task, as practitioners of the sacred, to assist people in plumbing the depths of their own humanity, where transcendence, mystery, being, and even love are discovered, and then to bring those qualities found in the center of life into the world (Spong 1998).IMG_3004

The ethos of the ministry of Christ was constantly befriending the friendless and identifying himself with the underprivileged.  According to the New Testament (Luke 4:18-19), Jesus’ self-proclaimed mission is inexplicable apart from others. Others, of course, are all people, particularly the oppressed and unwanted of society.  Here is God coming into the depths of human existence for the sole purpose of striking off the chains of slavery, thereby freeing humanity from the ungodly principalities and powers that hinder people’s relationship with God (Cone 1997).  As Jesus becomes a friend to outcasts (Matt. 11:19), inviting them to eat with him, he epitomizes the scandal of inclusiveness for his time. What is manifested in his healing of the sick is pushed to an extreme in Luke 11 by his invitation to the ritually unclean to dine with him (McFague 1987).  Even the crucifixion of Christ models the praxis of his ministry in that it most clearly and radically identifies Jesus with the slave community. It forged an inextricable bond between the two. Through the cross, Jesus’ suffering and the slaves’ suffering of his era and all times become one (Douglas 1994).  The life and praxis of Jesus then does three things: (1) reflects an intimate relationship between Jesus and the oppressed; (2) radicalizes the oppressed to fight for their freedom; and (3) highlights the contradiction between the Divine and the oppressor.

IMG_2999#BlackLivesMatter is an important social transformation movement, not only for Black people but for the whole of U.S. society. It echoes the themes of dignity of the Black Power movement for the Black community and speaks truth to the power of the dominant culture.  It is true that talk about liberation becomes hard to justify where freedom appears as nothing more than defiant self-assertion of a revolutionary racial consciousness that requires for its legitimacy the opposition of white racism. However, it is also true that we are in a historical moment that demands opposition to imperialist, white-supremacist, capitalist, heteropatriarchy (Sanders 1998). What the church must do in this era of police brutality and the worthlessness of Black bodies is more than chant #BlackLivesMatter. The church must center Black and Brown bodies and their survival as paramount to its message and mission. We must respond.

Ask yourself in what ways is my church intentionally centering Black and Brown bodies in our message and mission through each liturgical exercise and budget decision?

Please feel free to comment below.

Peace Is Possible,

Rt. Rev. Edward Donalson III, DMin | Director of Liturgy and Worship | Assistant Clinical Professor 

SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY | SEATTLE UNIVERSITY

 

 

Works Cited

Cone, James. 1997. Black Theology and Black Power. Maryknoll: Orbis Books.

—. 1999. Speaking the Truth:Ecumenism, Liberation, and Black Theology. MaryKnoll: Orbis Press.

Douglas, Kelly Brown. 1994. The Black Christ. MaryKnoll: Orbis Books.

Fromm, Erich. 1994. On Being Human. New York: Continuum.

McFague, Sallie. 1987. Models of God: Theology for an Ecological, Nuclear Age. Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

Palmer, Parker J. 2011. Healing The Heart of Democracy. SanFrancisco: Jossey-Bass.

Sanders, Cheryl J. 1998. “The Problem of Irrelavance in Black and Womanist Theologies.” In What Does it Mean to Be Black and Christian: Pulpit, Pew, and Academy in Dialogue, Volume 2, edited by Forest E. Harris Sr, 73-82. Nashville: Townsend Press.

Spong, John Shelby. 1998. Why Christianity Must Change or Die. New York: HarperSanFrancisco.

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The Power and Purpose of Eulogy

Rev. Jasper Williams Jr.The attention of our nation and the world has been arrested in the last week by the public celebrations of the lives of both The Queen of Soul, Ms. Aretha Franklin, and The Maverick, Senator John McCain.  While these two celebrations of life were vastly different in that they represented the community norms specific to their individual social locations, religio- cultural norms, and ethnic backgrounds, each featured opportunity for speech making. The occasion of public speaking at the funeral of those who have transitioned the earthly plane of consciousness is perhaps one of the most sensitive moments in the liturgy. Through the witness of mass media, we have seen examples of both the best and worst execution of the task on full display as the world has mourned collectively.

Death is one certainty in every life, the one inevitable event. But every death is unique and has different impact on individuals, families, and communities. We must never pretend that it is unimportant or underestimate the effects of how a person dies on those who remain, but we must also remember that death no matter how it comes, is common to us all (Chapman 199Image result for john mccain funeral9). With that in mind, the liturgy must bare all the dignity and respect human transition deserves and hold special care for those who mourn. Speaking at the funeral is an honor, but we must never forget it is a liturgical act. It is sacred, and as a part of Holy Ritual, it must not be treated as a platform for personal agenda. As it is a liturgical act, a ritual, it is therefore an exercise of communal speech. The eulogist must be particularly aware that preaching does not take place in a vacuum, but within the action and discipline of the assembly. Dogma is embodied in the assembly. It can even be argued that the eulogist gains importance primarily because they are servants of the assembly (Lathrup 1998).  It is a momentous disservice to the family, the assembly, and the deceased for the eulogist to offer words that are tone deaf to the community they stand in service of.  The highest honor the eulogist can give to their call is to speak Gospel in such a way that it resonates in the hearts of the assembled.

As a Bishop, my own postcolonialist sensibilities call me to acknowledge, and share with the clergy in my charge, that cultures themselves are always mixed, even “mongrel”, ever-changing amalgamations of social influences. Even our liturgies are hybrid and intermingled because we are living in and enjoying the fruits of many cultures (Wilkey 2014). The Eulogy must be the most transcultural moment that reaches beyond the eulogist personality and speaks to the assembly words that help put life and death, particularly the times and season of the deceased, into context for the assembly. The eulogist engages, together with the whole church, in moral formation and character development (Anderson 1993). This happens partly through direct moral teaching, but primarily through retelling the Gospel narrative and the narrative of God’s work in the life of the deceased.  It is the creative rehearsing of this material blending the ancient text with the contemporary witness of the life of the deceased that cultivates the moral imagination of the assembly. The Eulogist should never marginalize or demean the assembly; there is no room in this liturgical moment to allow one’s personal agenda to overshadow the lifting of the collective consciousness.

Image result for Aretha funeralThe eulogist must never forget that everyone wishes that when they are eulogized, they are forgiven. That any and all lapses, greed, errors, would be looked upon with charity or at best spoken about in charitable context (Baldwin 1955).This is the last thing the assembly can give to each other: the agape, grace, and forgiveness commanded by Holy Writ. This is not cheap grace that excuses a person’s failings; this is a communal forgiveness which allows the assembly to move on to resurrection. The eulogist never forgets the message is to the living.  The family is primary witness of the life of the deceased, but the whole assembly together is witness to the eulogy and call is to engage the assembly in the work of better living in preparation for their individual and collective transition. Central to the service should be the love and the care of those dealing with grief and loss. Never should these moments be taken to invoke fear for that would be the most egregious form emotional abuse and spiritual manipulation. There is a way to lift up the values of the community and even its theological claims without victimizing those already traumatized by grief and loss.

As we consider the power and mistakes of our most recent public celebrations of life let us consider the purpose for which we gather in ritual when those we love and cherish transition.

 

Please feel free to comment below.

 

 

Peace Is Possible,

Rt. Rev. Edward Donalson III, DMin | Director of Liturgy and Worship | Assistant Clinical Professor 

SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY | SEATTLE UNIVERSITY

 

Works Cited

Anderson, Terence R. 1993. Walking the Way: Christian Ethics as a Guide. Vancouver, BC: Regent College.

Baldwin, James. 1955. Notes of A Native Son. Boston: Beacon Press.

Chapman, Raymond. 1999. A Pastoral Prayer Book: Occasional Prayers for times of Change, Concern, and Celebration. Harrisburg: Morehouse Publishing.

Lathrup, Gordon W. 1998. Holy Things: A Liturgical Theology. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Wilkey, Glaucia Vasconcelos, ed. 2014. Worship and Culture: Forgien Country or Homeland? Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

 

 

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