Thursday, February 03, 2011

Intercession....prayer and action...Egypt and elsewhere

The faithful folk of our Morning Prayer liturgies in the office each day have for the past two and a half months been hearing a reading from a collection of daily devotions from "A Year with Dietrich Bonhoeffer," edited by Carla Barnhill for Harper Collins. It is one of those devotionals I picked up a couple of years ago, more out of respect for Bonhoeffer than for anything else. It looked good, but as with most devotionals, my relationship with it was spotty until a few weeks ago. The daily discipline of our morning prayers in the office helps me keep it at hand, and to be frank, Bonhoeffer's "go for the jugular" theology is becoming more and more resonant to what I see happening in the world, and the Church, around me.

Part of his strength is is ability to nail truth to the doors of perception in our lives. A good talent for a German Protestant, but also one that ultimately cost him his life. Being a moral and systematic theologian of uncompromising principles in his era-that of a Nazi-dominated Europe-was at best risky and for most was usually suicidal. Still, he continues to go for broke in his writings, and with that we get the gift of his insight and wisdom. He quite literally writes a "How To" guide for moral discernment in community and in prayer. God bless him and his memory.

Today, particularly, his words tore me up, soul-wise:
"The Hands of Injustice": When the mouths of the world's rulers remain silent about injustice, their hands invariably commit acts of violence. This language of human hands where no justice exists is terrible. It is there that the distress and pain of the body originates. It is there that the persecuted, captive and beaten church belongs for deliverance from this body. Let me fall into God's hands, but not into the hands of others! Do we still hear it? Christ is speaking here! He experienced the unrighteous judgment, he fell into the hands of men. Innocence is accusing the unrighteous world." -from "A Testament to Freedom 279" (page 39)
I have seen injustice in the world, and in some small ways have experienced it in my time. What I have learned is that the old saying is true, that the first casualty of any conflict is the truth. Again and again, in the Church and in the world, I have seen people allow political, or personal, expediency tempt them into permitting injustice to have its way-for people who are frankly evil and self-serving to dominate and hold captive and controlled others who are less strong or more easily manipulated. It doesn't take much. A loud voice, an adamant opinion, a willingness to cloak agendas in half-truths...sometimes even just a mocking thought planted here and there. Then, after this, comes the erosion of truth, of justice and of righteousness.

It's ugly, and we are at our ugliest when we buy into the process. We do that again and again.

Have you ever stepped away from, or outright avoided, a person berating a cashier for an error THEY were responsible for in the first place? Have you ever allowed a louder person to dominate, and perhaps even reorient, people away from healthy conflict to something akin to giving a group toxic reflux? I have, and it makes me mindful of the moments when I have allowed greater moments of injustice in my life. When have I turned away from a fellow being's humanity? Allowed hate, rage, fear, anxiety, etc. to dominate me, even as I use that negative energy to dominate others? Too often.

Nowadays, I am using that experience to soften my own hard edges-perhaps even to offer up some of that softening to others as we go through another set of paroxystic changes in world and Church political configurations. Take Egypt, so much change all at once. A strong man is losing his grip on power. Social and military institutions are grappling with what the country will look like internally after the change comes. The world sits and watches anxiously to see what will happen next. All while factions that were held at bay from each other being to clash, and people begin to get hurt and to die at each other's hands. It's an ugly reality that Bonhoeffer's wisdom on what it means to be accountable for justice, and to God's agenda of justice for the world, hits home as potently today as it did over 70 years ago.

We still have a long way to go, both domestically and abroad. The first thing, I would hope, in our seeking to intercede and pray for the will to act on behalf of the justice of God's kingdom for others is to resolve to embrace the Truth of Christ's love for all people, and our being accountable to treat each other as God's own true gift outside of our personal agendas. I think it also entails a willingness on our own part to listen deeply to others as they exercise their own agendas, and to also be willing to continue to peel back the callouses that we very often encourage ourselves to grow to defend ourselves from pain and injustice. It hurts to care, but care we must. The model for that is Christ, who somehow was able to find the strength to pray for those who were killing him, even with his last breath.

Today, I pray for Egypt. I pray forgiveness from those I have hurt and for the injustices I have perpetrated or benefited from unknowingly. I pray for justice today, even before I pray for peace.

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