Monday, January 19, 2009

Gay bishop: 'Bless us with tears'

If a bishop spoke at a nationally televised event attended by 400,000, would anyone hear the prayer?

Not as many as you might think.

The Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson, the Episcopal Church's first openly gay bishop, delivered the invocation before Sunday's We Are One inaugural concert. But HBO started its live coverage after the prayer, and a problem with either the microphone or the speakers kept many in the audience from hearing his words.

I'm not among those who attribute this to a conspiracy to silence the controversial clergyman, whose election as bishop has stirred conflict and possible schism in the worldwide Anglican Communion. But I do think it's a shame, because the prayer is unusual in what it requests from God. How many of us would ask for the "blessings" of tears, anger and discomfort?

Here is what Bishop Robinson prayed:

“O God of our many understandings, we pray that you will bless us with tears – tears for a world in which over a billion people exist on less than a dollar a day, where young women in many lands are beaten and raped for wanting an education, and thousands die daily from malnutrition, malaria, and AIDS.

"Bless this nation with anger – anger at discrimination, at home and abroad, against refugees and immigrants, women, people of color, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people.

"Bless us with discomfort at the easy, simplistic answers we’ve preferred to hear from our politicians, instead of the truth about ourselves and our world, which we need to face if we are going to rise to the challenges of the future.

"Bless us with patience and the knowledge that none of what ails us will be fixed anytime soon, and the understanding that our new president is a human being, not a messiah.

"Bless us with humility, open to understanding that our own needs as a nation must always be balanced with those of the world.

"Bless us with freedom from mere tolerance, replacing it with a genuine respect and warm embrace of our differences.

"Bless us with compassion and generosity, remembering that every religion’s God judges us by the way we care for the most vulnerable.

"And God, we give you thanks for your child, Barack, as he assumes the office of President of the United States.

"Give him wisdom beyond his years, inspire him with President Lincoln’s reconciling leadership style, President Kennedy’s ability to enlist our best efforts, and Dr. King’s dream of a nation for all people.

"Give him a quiet heart, for our ship of state needs a steady, calm captain.

"Give him stirring words; we will need to be inspired and motivated to make the personal and common sacrifices necessary to facing the challenges ahead.

"Make him color-blind, reminding him of his own words that under his leadership, there will be neither red nor blue states, but the United States.

"Help him remember his own oppression as a minority, drawing on that experience of discrimination, that he might seek to change the lives of those who are still its victims.

"Give him strength to find family time and privacy, and help him remember that even though he is president, a father only gets one shot at his daughters’ childhoods.

"And please, God, keep him safe. We know we ask too much of our presidents, and we’re asking far too much of this one. We implore you, O good and great God, to keep him safe. Hold him in the palm of your hand, that he might do the work we have called him to do, that he might find joy in this impossible calling, and that in the end, he might lead us as a nation to a place of integrity, prosperity, and peace. Amen."

It is true, of course, that prayers need not be televised or amplified to reach the One to whom they are addressed. But I believe this particular prayer is worth reading, pondering and taking to heart. God save us from complacency!

What if you were asked to pray publicly for our incoming president? What would you say to God in earshot of a nation?

Monday, January 5, 2009

Mirth or madness

"Going deep sounds like an important thing to do," a friend told me after reading yesterday's post. "But it also sounds boring. Is it possible to take the spiritual life seriously without being so ... well ... serious?"

I laughed, as she knew I would. We've been friends long enough to have poked fun at most everything, from politicians to disasters to our families to death itself. But it's not the cynical sort of humor that sneers at the thought that anything has value. Instead, it is the kind of joke that helps us to take human fallibility lightly (especially our own).

Or as the always quotable G.K. Chesterton put it:

“Life is serious all the time, but living cannot be. You may have all the solemnity you wish in your neckties, but in anything important (such as sex, death, and religion), you must have mirth or you will have madness.”

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Tread water or dive deep in '09?

Every Sunday at my church, we confess "things done and left undone." I've left this blog undone for far too long, more out of lack of time than lack of interest.

But one of the gifts of a new year is the motivation to reset priorities -- to make a conscious decision about what duties or passions we'll give the best of ourselves to in the coming months.

It's so easy to slip into the habit of treading water rather than diving deep. To flail about, fighting every wave, complaining that the sea ought to be still and calm. Life rarely is.

Over the years I've found, as perhaps you have as well, that when I give spiritual matters a higher priority in my life -- when, as Thomas R. Kelly wrote, I "live from the Center" -- it makes all the difference. For me, that higher priority will include an intentional increase in prayer, reading and writing, including this blog.

How do you intend to live differently in 2009?