Summer Reading: Deep Is The Hunger

There is a universal urgency for both personal and social stability. … [There are] deep strains and stresses in the soul of a people, for which they had no preparation and from which there seems to be no sure basis for recovery. (4)

So observes Howard Thurman — pastor, author, and formative theological influence on the Civil Rights Movement — in his book Deep Is The Hunger: Meditations for Apostles of Sensitiveness (Harper & Brothers, 1951). Our hungry and restless spirits are easily overwhelmed by the world’s changes and chaos, of which we are both a cause and a product. Deep Is The Hunger offers Thurman’s response to our spirits’ dilemma, instructing that the grounding for our spirits can be found by cultivating a sense of history, a sense of oneself, and a sense of the holy — not merely for our individual peace of mind, but for the challenge & nurture of our communities in the work of reconciliation.

HThurmanDeep Is The Hunger is a collection of Thurman’s meditations, each drawn from the deep well of a man whose abiding faith, pastoral sensitivity and thoughtful study are deeply rooted in God. Depending on one’s season or context, any given meditation can be a cool sip or a refreshing douse.

As I read Deep Is The Hunger, I feel like I’m gleaning — to shift metaphors from the well to the harvest — from work that has already yielded a great harvest (the college students Thurman mentored, his influence on the Civil Rights Movement, his founding of a multiracial congregation, to name only a few highlights of his ministry). Even after all that his ministry has yielded, after all of the seeds Howard Thurman has planted, still the richness of Thurman’s wisdom remains for you and I over fifty years later. Read one meditation each day, or sit with one across the course of a week.

Sunday Prayer

O God of light, we are in awe of your wisdom.
O God of night, we are enraptured by your mystery.
You are the fiery spark in our lives, the deep and wild joy.
You are the familiar song in our hearts, its tune beloved across time.

And now, O Holy Spirit, whisper the prayers of our hearts into the ear of God.

We are complicated people in a complicated world.
(It’s difficult to know where to begin.) We are prone
to pick and choose with our love, to dig deep loyalties,
to set our sights on justice by branding “right” and “wrong.”

(We ache for Leah or we side with Rachel, we wonder about Zilpah and Bilhah, but truly all four mothers are weeping over their sons & daughters who live with fear in a land that is endlessly claimed, divided, embattled.)

How should we pray without betraying our own biases?
Your favor is for all people, your love cannot be withheld.
We pray that those in mourning will be comforted with Rachel
and we ask that those longing for recognition will find companionship with Leah.

Holy Spirit, whisper the prayers of our hearts into the ear of God.

Do not stand apart from us or leave us alone, O God;
this we fear most of all. Every day we scramble to feel
your comforting presence. We would rather cling tightly to you
than ever be cast out or sought out or even sent out to work & grow.

(If we are the mustard seed, or the yeast and flour; if we are the pearls and treasures, or the netted fish; in any event, we must change — grow and move, be found and be put to use — and we are afraid of change.)

How would we know you if not through fear and doubt?
Distill within us the truth: that we are not separate from you.
Teach us one more truth, we pray: that we are not separate from
one another, but all gathered like the birds into the shelter of your love.

O Holy Spirit, whisper the wisdom of God into our hearts.

You are the way by which we live, O Christ.
You are the treasure in which we delight.
You are the love by which we grow.
In all things, we love you. Amen.

A pastoral prayer on the Revised Common Lectionary readings for today (especially Gen 29:15-28, Matt 13:31-52, Rom 8:26-39); cross-posted at RevGalBlogPals.

Nothing (and Everything) That Separates Us

not anything
can separate us from
You . . . but what about everything
that separates us from
You within others?

not anything
can separate us
from Your love enfleshed
within every single one
within all people

not anything
can separate us
You have made us to be
diverse in Your love
not divided

not anything
ethnicity and gender
age and talent and family
blessed by differences
called by one Love

not even angels
not systems not rulers
not war not hardship not hunger
we are different not separate
one Love, one Breath

yet the pervasive lies
of separation and “better than”
are killing us: Renisha McBride, Eric Garner,
children at the border, children in Gaza
nothing, and yet . . . everything

not anything
can separate us
from Your love in all people;
we confess everything
that does.

artwork by my youngest

artwork by my youngest

Summer Reading: Mutiny!

As protest movements multiply and the global economy lurches from crisis to crisis … it seems that we actually need the pirate spirit of Roberts, Teach and Fly to rise strongly again and come to our aid. (37-38)

IMG_20140721_224814 - Version 2Mutiny! Why We Love Pirates and How They Can Save Us may very well be the book of 2014 for me. I’m enthusiastic about an author who can tilt her/his head sideways to look at the world askew and connect dots across the breadth of our collective & individual lives. Author Kester Brewin examines the histories and mythologies of pirates, notes our continued fascination with and animation of them (Jake and the Neverland Pirates, anyone?), and ventures to ask why pirates remain essential to our social landscape.

In doing so, Brewin doesn’t stop with pirates of lore but rides a wave across events both recent and historic, fact and fiction — from unsanctioned British publishers of the early 18th century to Arab Spring protestors ignited by the death of Mohamed Bouazizi in the 21st century, from the tales of Captain Hook to the adventures of Luke Skywalker. Dare to tilt your head with Brewin and witness the patterns of death imposed — not by pirates, as we are so often taught — but by systems of power & wealth. Dare further still to hear and delight in the tales of pirates who laughed in the face of death-by-system, choosing to live defiantly in new and more equitable ways.

It’s worth clarifying for us church types (who should all go read this book right. now.) that pirates are not the equivalents of prophets, a descriptor used frequently — and too loosely, imho — to proclaim ourselves bold for preaching an uncomfortable word to the comfortable or daring to name a “political issue” from the pulpit. Prophets and pirates risked far more than we, but to my point, the two are distinct in their relationship to those systems of power & wealth. Prophets envision and announce a new system, while pirates could care less whether the old system continues or dawns anew; pirates create their own just, inclusive communities outside of the system entirely.

This, then, is what we can take ‘pirate’ to mean: one who emerges to defend the commons whenever homes, cultures or economies become ‘blocked’ by the rich. … What makes pirates so frightening to the powerful [is that], rather than challenge them to a fair fight like good revolutionaries should, pirates raise two fingers to the whole charade. (47, 50)

Mutiny! is worth the read if you are passionate about social justice … but Kester Brewin doesn’t limit himself to observations of society and systems; he ventures into the deep waters of psychology, religion, faith, and (a good preacher’s thesis) the ever-important question, “What are we going to do about it?” Spoiler alert on piracy and Christianity: yes, Jesus is a pirate — How did I never before connect Golgotha to the Jolly Roger?! “Place of the Skull” + cross/crossed bones?! — but how exactly Jesus achieves his piracy may be less obvious and worth reading to discover!

But the particular religious kernel I’m still savoring is Brewin’s take on the parable of the prodigal son. Hint: it’s a tragedy, not a happy ending. Hint: the wandering younger son came this close to being the parable’s pirate/hero. Hint: oh my gosh, you need to read this book because I will never see the prodigal son parable in the same way again! I won’t even hold you to agreeing with Brewin’s interpretation, though it is brilliantly twisted and insightful.

I am setting down Mutiny! with a sigh to continue on to another book on my summer reading list, but I am (as evidenced above) a completely convicted fan of Mutiny! Watch for pirate references and images to begin sneaking into my work. 🙂

The skull and crossed bones does not just mean ‘we are bringing you death’; rather it announces, ‘we are the dead.’ We, the shat-on, the abused, the flogged, the ones you treated as less than human, have escaped your power, have slipped away from the identity you foisted onto us … and thus [are] free of all fear. (53)

Sunday Prayer

One stone at a time, O LORD, we lay down our burdens.
One ladder rung at a time, we reach toward your grace.

You, O God, are wholly magnificent. We praise your beauty with every sighting of a hummingbird, with every sigh over the sunset, with every smile at a flower, with every warm embrace of a person — of all people — made in your image.

One stone at a time, O LORD, we lay down our judgments.
One ladder rung at a time, we reach toward your peace.

You, O God, are holy and mighty. Before your strength the mountains kneel and the oceans prostrate. In the shadow of your wrath the nations lay down their arms and the powerful cry out for mercy. By your power, creation gives birth to life.

One stone at a time, O LORD, we lay down our vanity.
One ladder rung at a time, we reach toward your splendor.

You, O God, are watchful and broken-hearted. We join our tears to yours over bloodshed and bombing. We sit vigil with you at borders and at bedsides where life is fragile. We hold hands with you to support sisters & brothers in need of food, shelter, safety, hope.

One stone at a time, O LORD, we lay down our self-absorption.
One ladder rung at a time, we reach toward your broken body.

You, O God, are brilliant and faithful. We trust that you are about the business of planting new seeds and refreshing arid hearts. We believe (carefully) that you are burning away all that separates us from you. We know that you are plowing the fodder for a rich harvest.

One stone at a time, O LORD, we lay down our fears.
One ladder rung at a time, we reach toward your vision.

You, O God, are good and abundant. Already you have dealt kindly with us, connecting us one to another and calling us yours. Grant us the blessing of courage to draw near to you by drawing near to each other. Grow within us the peace and humility to love fully.

One stone at a time, O LORD, we lay down our burdens.
One ladder rung at at time, we reach toward your grace with a grateful “Amen.”

This prayer is based loosely on today’s scripture readings in the Revised Standard Lectionary (Gen 28:10-19a, Ps 139, Is 44:6-8, Ps 86:11-17, Rom 8:12-25, Matt 13:24-43) and the Narrative Lectionary (Ruth 1-4); it is cross-posted at RevGalBlogPals.