Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Charm City, Where Is Your Charm? A Prayer for the People of Baltimore

Christ of cross and empty tomb, we pray for the city of Baltimore. We pray for people who have grown tired and angry after generations of despair and marginalization. We pray for those whose voices have long been silenced and those who have felt their only remaining option is to respond with the same sort of aggression that is taking the lives of their brothers and fathers, mothers and daughters, sisters and close friends. 

We pray for the echoes of saints gone before, whose voices remind us that violence begets more violence. In the same breath, their prophetic witness underscore riots as the response of people unheard. God who listens, help us to hear. Help us to heal. Help us. 

We pray for the families whose loved ones have lost their lives through the abuse of power and pervasive profiling. We pray we honor their pleas for change, justice, and reconciliation- movements fueled not by the same violence that claimed their beloved but through honest discourse and peaceful demonstration.

We pray for those charged to protect, who more often than not do their duty despite the danger. We pray for those who abuse their authority, distort their call, and neglect their obligation. Soften their hearts and confront their conscience.

We pray for local residents and businesses, whose communities are on fire, small business inventories looted, and homes vandalized.

We pray for schools forced to close.
We pray for teachers and educators in the classrooms that will reopen.
We pray for children of Baltimore
who watch
who listen
who learn from the activity of those around them.
We pray for a brighter future and safer neighborhoods, where they can play and laugh freely. 
We pray children find mentors able to lead them to be peacemakers and culture shapers in ways generations before have failed them

We pray for faith communities and churches to be at the forefront of transformation and compassion, reconciliation and hope. May pastoral leadership ease racist and divisive rhetoric that only slows progress. May new language of unity and understanding, solidarity and equality be proclaimed from pulpit to pavement.

We pray for the label of “thug" to be erased from speech rooted only in prejudice.

We pray for government officials whose humanity is no different than those who leave streets in ruins. We pray for the difficult decisions they are forced to make at a moments notice.
We pray their leadership will not be corrupted by political agendas or party affiliations.
We pray for the governor and mayor to work together for the benefit of those who elected them.

We pray for rioters, whose actions are misguided and mission near-sited.
We pray for elders and teachers, parents and mentors to embrace those whose behavior
breeds chaos versus change. May they dare to confront with caution and wisdom. 
May they remind disturbers, while their rage may be warranted, their response has a dead end.
We pray for protesters who march and cry out in peaceful demonstrations, that their witness gains more coverage and traction than public disturbance.

We pray for the media that covers the stories and unfolding events; may truth trump profit margins and marketing strategies.

Spirit who breathes new life, we pray for resurrection possibilities from Ferguson to New York,
Atlanta to Cleveland, L.A. to Baltimore. We pray for charm city to reclaim its charm. 
We pray for a better and brighter tomorrow despite a dark and despairing yesterday and today. Lord, have mercy. Lord, hear our prayer. 


Note: Say what you want about sports, they often elicit prophetic voices in the midst of society's greatest and most challenging moments.  The response of executives from within the Baltimore Orioles has once again affirmed this truth:

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Why Didn’t Jesus Have Any Girl Friends? What My Daughter and Mary Magdalene Taught Me About Empowerment, Representation, and a Search for Belonging

A few months back, my daughter and I were reading a story about Jesus and the 12 disciples.  As my bright and inquisitive little girl listened, her eyes were fixed upon the related illustration of Twelve men gathered around their Teacher.

That’s when she asked, “Daddy, who are these guys?"

I responded, “They are Jesus’ friends. The Bible calls them disciples."

“Where are the girls?” she quickly replied back. “Why doesn’t Jesus have any friends who are girls?"

After a brief pause in awe and wonder, I began to explain how Jesus actually did have of friends who were girls. We even read, both previously and in the days that followed, stories that celebrated women in the Bible.

I will never forget this late-night and formative chat. Hidden within my daughter’s bold yet innocent question was a desire for validation, recognition, and empowerment.  She wanted to be able to identify with the characters in the story and be assured that Jesus’ crew was not some sort of exclusive boys club. She wanted to know girls had a place in Jesus' circle of friends, too.  

If we are honest, her questions are also our questions: Do I belong? Do we have a place within Jesus’ circle of friends?

One of the great calls of the Christian church is to empower and equip diverse leadership.  We are to proclaim to our congregations and the world, “You belong. You are welcome. You can have a seat at the table.” We are to affirm the unencumbered YES of God in Jesus Christ.

Which means, when people walk into our congregations and look at the faces of those who preach in our pulpits, lead in liturgy, sing in worship, and serve in governance, they should be assured of representation and validation to the best of our ability. 

Recently, CNN has aired a series based on the book, Finding Jesus.  The episodes explore the historical Jesus, Biblical stories, and other related and often controversial moments in Christian history.  When Finding Jesus engaged the resurrection, the contributors highlighted Mary Magdalene in a way I had never previously considered:
"Mary Magdalene is the first one to whom the risen Christ appears. So she is of immense importance to Christianity. For that hour or two, Mary Magdalene is the only one who knew about the resurrection; and so Mary Magdalene was the church.” (Father James Martin)
Mary Magdalene was the church.  This courageous and compassionate, yet often overlooked, friend of Jesus was the first preacher, teacher, and recipient of the good news of life beyond the grave. While the boys back home were stuck in despair, God chose Mary to be the one to first find hope and new life. I think my daughter would be more than satisfied (or at least will be when she is old enough to comprehend the significance).

Yet, for generations, this hour was the only hour in which her witness was credible and permissible. In other words, it didn’t take long for the church to return to paternalistic and homogenous patterns of leadership by silencing, or at least deeming less valid, the likes of Mary Magdalene. Tragically, in far too many places, this is still the case.

But if it were not for Mary Magdalene and the witness of one of Jesus’ most trusted confidants and companions, there may not be a church today.  If God’s people had not trusted the voice of the woman from the margins, who had personally experienced the resurrected Christ, the Twelve would have remained in their doubt and despair.

And so would we. 

As I continue to wrestle with Eastertide, both the curiosities of my daughter and the power of Mary Magdalene have raised a few questions of my own. 

Who in our midst have encountered the resurrected Christ yet have not been given proper voice and place in our congregations and communities? 

Who among us have found validation in the risen Savior only to meet resistance and exclusion within our places of worship? 

Who are today's Mary Magdalenes?

My prayer is that there would not be a single person whom, when they walk into our churches and faithful ministries, does not find representation and affirmation that they indeed belong. After all, who knows what Mary Magdalenes of today can teach us about resurrection in the midst of pervasive and debilitating despair?

May we all venture to listen...