History is littered with the stories of those with power blocking those without it. The motive is simple: To keep power one must make sure others don’t get it. In a democracy, the form of government based on the participation of influence of the people, the struggle to keep or gain power exists in different forms. In the United States the battle is usually colored green as stacks of money buy the outcomes preferred by the privileged.

One of the present glaring instances of power grab is found in attempts to limit the voting of citizens. To be specific, the effort limits access to those who might vote against me.

To make sure that all citizens have access to voting a citizen initiative petition has sought to extend the voting days and times. Once the super majority of the Missouri legislature heard of such a petition – a people’s effort with a direct vote – it decided to oppose it with a particular bill, HJR 90. This bill proposes a constitutional amendment for the Nov 2014 ballot that establishes an early voting period beginning in 2016. It is deceptive, a wolf in the sheep’s clothing, pretending to be magnanimous. Do not believe it. It is a crafty effort.

It limits the period to nine days, much less than the citizen petition. It eliminates Sundays, the preferred day of many of those citizens who work during the week. It nullifies the citizen initiative – blocking direct action by citizens. It does not address the location of sites, which is crucial to access to all people.

This counter bill to the citizen initiative is a sham. It attempts to limit the scope of the ballot initiative in ways that keep certain citizens away from the polls … again. It is an attempt to block – and codify constitutionally – direct action of citizens.

Oppose HJR 90 by calling your senator and asking him/her to oppose the bill and support the citizen initiative for Early Voting.

This is what power does. In this instance it is conspicuous. And citizens can oppose and defeat this pretend effort that takes away as much as it gives.

The name Barbara Brown Taylor is not new to any of us and neither are the titles of her books. But her new memoir, Learning to Walk in the Dark, takes us down a new spiritual path for her even if it is not new to the Christian tradition. The via negativa, as it is called, finds God in the darkness, the no-thing, the silence.

Though much of Taylor’s previous life focused on the via positiva, her present trajectory of spirit has taken her in the other direction, not unusual for mystics in general and even more common as they enter the reflective twilight of the second half of life.

So she speaks of befriending the darkness and the speaking voice that can only be found there. Abandon your cheery quest for the happy feet of contemporary always grinning worship. Unplug from your sensory entertain-a-thon.

In her words:

“Turning to darkness, instead of away from it, is the cure for a lot of what ails me. Because I have a deep need to be in control of things, to know where I am going, to be sure of my destination, to get there efficiently, to have all the provisions I need, to do it all without help – and you can’t do any of that in the dark.”

“If we turn away from darkness on principle, doing everything we can to avoid it because there is simply no telling what it contains, isn’t there a chance we are running away from God?”

Go deep, church. Go ancient. Go dark.

Never Pray Again

Posted: April 21, 2014 in Uncategorized
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Come on, a book about prayer that says you shouldn’t do it? Well, not exactly. In fact, not at all. Never Pray Again: Lift your head, unfold your hands and get to work (Chalice Press, 2014) certainly is about praying. But it is about praying in a certain kind of way. The merry band of Aric Clark, Doug Hagler, and Nick Larson identify ways to pray through engagement with our foci of ultimate concern, i.e., the things we would normally pray about we rather engage with.

The underlying theology is one of immanence, God active and manifested within the world. If one is to pray and pray to that God then the object of prayer is near at hand and prayer can be an action within that field of engagement.

Never Pray AgainLet me cut to the chase with one of my favorite summary statements in the book: “Your intercession is too urgently required for you to waste time on your knees, whispering words to a deity you imagine to be distant. God is right beside you, right now.” (90)

Lest you think this is one of those typical spirituality or action dualistic tomes, think again. It might more closely resemble another of the well-respected paths in the Christian tradition, the path of prayerful reflection-action.

I recommend the book highly. It’s great for seasoned practitioners of the faith who want to hone a dull edge. Rank and file questioning skeptics will find their eyebrows raising with each chapter. And small discussion groups will have no end to the lively debates it engenders.

Love it or hate it Never Pray Again isn’t going to leave you sitting there unaffected. And that’s the whole point.

You may order your copy here.

The community gathers

The community gathers

Our open-space worship environment continued through Good Friday as the community gathered, looked, listened, contemplated and prayed.

The Chancel Choir sang the haunting Reproaches by

Chancel Choir

Chancel Choir

Victoria, the cycle of questions from the divine lover to the beloved asking why they have rejected and scorned the lover. They began in “flash mob” style, scattered throughout the sanctuary, a few beginning to sing and move joined by others until all were assembled in the loft.

art stationThe prayer stations included the passion cycle lessons and the work of the late French artist, Georges Rouault. His sacred art, especially his well-known Miserere series, focused on the Divine love present in the suffering of humanity as shown in Christ’s suffering.

The printed prayer guide included Rouault’s story, how when he

Rouault

Rouault

was about thirty years old he had an awakening and united him with the sacred source of things and the humanity loved by that sacred presence. His art was derided by other artists and held in suspicion by the religious. Almost forgotten in his own time he has been embraced in the present moment as one of the greatest sacred modernist artists of the last century.

BCC Good Friday 2014 Panorama

You could call it an un-worship, but that wouldn’t be exactly right. For both Maundy Thursday and Good Friday we moved the seating out of the sanctuary and replaced it with multi-media images, prayer stations,

Entering through Palm Sunday

Entering through Palm Sunday

ambient live music and seating areas for meditation and prayer. Stations included places to anoint oneself or a friend with oil, to wash

Self=serve Communion

Self=serve Communion

feet, to write prayers of hope to hang on trees and to commune at the central table.

MT 14 PanoramaIt’s not easier to pull off open-source worship than standard structured worship. It takes lots of work! But I am surrounded by incredibly creative and talented staff and volunteers who make it look easy.

A few people were uncomfortable with such an unstructured experience, but most plunged into the sacred time-space and let their spirits loose. Some meditated for an hour. Others spent time focusing MT 14 Footwashing childrenon the music or images. Tenderness was everywhere on display as people engaged with those they knew who were struggling or passing through times of loss. The Last Supper of Jesus became the Jesus meal for the broken. By his stripes we knew our own … and the source of our own healing.

MT 14 GethsemameWe’re repeating the same process tonight, Good Friday, but this time with ancient song through the Chancel Choir and the stunning images of the late French artist Georges Rounault. Whereas a table was in the center of the space last night there will be a cross tonight. And it all leads to the hope of Easter which is the power of life on steroids. The light has come into the world but the darkness could not put it out. Not then, not now.

The United Nation’s most recent commission on Climate Change just issued their voluminous report. It verifies what most already know, that rapid climate change is being enabled by the continued introduction of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Over the past ten years more CO2 has been emitted than that past three decades combined.

What to do? If a combined effort of all nations included taking drastic steps to reduce carbon emissions beginning now we could limit the overall increase of temperature – and its impact – by two degrees F. If those steps were taken, and that’s a big if.

What does it require? Enormous changes in carbon emissions – manufacturing, vehicle emissions, carbon based industries such as coal and oil.

How to get there? Really there is only one way – public policies that enact limits.

What’s the problem? Money. Big money. Corporations stand to lose money in the process of making the changes required. Regulations reduce sheer profit. And the corporations, lobbyists and big money own and control the politicians. As the Supreme Court is dismantling any legislation that could stop the deluge of money into elections and the coffers of politicians it is only going to get worse.

The political tactic that is used is denial – a foolish, almost unbelievable denial of the preponderance of scientific evidence. Nobody with half a brain believes that stonewalling. But not everyone has half a brain. The public is easily duped. Say it enough on talk radio and TV with an air of authority and it becomes “the truth.”

To put a finer edge on it people who are really, really smart with almost unlimited resources are putting their intelligence to work in the effort to protect those who would damage our environment most for their own financial gain. The people who deny climate change and human agency in it are the same people who would roll back reasonable regulations that protect our air, water and land from heinous pollution.

Years ago the tobacco industry denied that there was any health hazards that came as the result of smoking. Even in the face of dramatic evidence to the contrary they continued to deny the facts. They denied the facts in order to continue to sell their product in the same way and make the same profits. And this continued until denial turned into out and out lying. Eventually they were caught in their own web and the society forced them to change. And that, in the end, is what will happen with emissions regulations and climate change.

Unfortunately, many people died from lung and respiratory disease before the truth came out. We can only hope that the same does not happen with climate change and what is required to abate its momentum. Will we need to suffer mass devastation before awakening? Or will we have to endure climate cancer because the industries with the clout were unwilling to fess up – right until the very end?

The scientists have their role. The political process has its – legislation, regulation, policies. And people of faith are charged with making the moral case, to state our core convictions about being stewards of the earth, tending God’s garden, and loving our neighbor with compassion and justice. Naming the sin is a good place to start. And then, because of who we are, we paint a portrait of redemption and liberation, a way out if the people will but turn around.

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the regular meeting of my civic club our guest was the new exec of our local Chamber of Commerce. He’s a fine, intelligent, communicative, focused leader. I believe he is a real asset to our community. As a part of his presentation he shared the core values and mission of the Chamber, one similar to other chambers around the country. This unsurprisingly included a commitment to creating a pro-business environment in which local commerce may flourish. That makes sense. I mean, that’s why they exist.

One of the questions that Chamber execs often field is that of the Chamber making political endorsements of candidates or taking political stands on certain issues. This can become controversial. It is not a practice shared by all chambers in all parts of the country. Some chambers may focus on politics rather than politicians, for instance. But in Columbia we have a tradition of endorsements.

When the board of a Chamber of Commerce endorses a particular candidate it is ostensibly to further the mission and goals of the organization, i.e., to create that pro-business environment. Again, that would be anticipated, to choose politicians or support legislation that further the goals. The problem enters when you attempt to define just what creates a pro-business environment.

The way that is defined by most chambers is generally through a fairly narrow lens. It usually has to do with regulation, taxes, incentives, and supportive infrastructure. What I want to say (and they aren’t asking!) is that a pro-business environment requires much, much more than that.

What a truly pro-business environment includes is the stability and flourishing of the entire community and social system. Instability, failing systems, inadequate health care and social services, low wages, lack of investment in education, and any sense of disenfranchisement of the public undermines the goals of a pro-business environment.

For instance, lowering taxes cannot be the only focus of creating a pro-business environment. Enlightened entrepreneurs know that investment in education, infrastructure, municipal services, and cutting edge programs to strengthen families and children create the work force and tax base that makes the pro-business engine hum. That’s why the most progressive pro-business leaders make sure that they invest in just those things and they make sure the local, state and national government do too.

One of the most dramatic things leaders can do to create a pro-business environment is to invest in people, in workers, and strengthen their lives and families. In a time of extreme gaps between mega-wealth and the eroding wages and benefits of the middle class, a real and vast inequality that is creating instability and an anti-business environment, we could right-size the enormous gap between excess at the top (that opposed to popular mythology does not create jobs) and the repressed middle and lower class. This will take courageous people who dare look at the whole picture of our society and economy.

The endorsement of candidates or taking of political positions by a chamber is not dangerous because they do it. No, it is dangerous because those who make those decisions are peering through too small a lens. The whole, bigger story is required reading for anyone who truly wants a thriving, continuing, sustainable pro-business environment that benefits all. That requires a multidimensional approach, one usually not brought forward by the candidates who are most often endorsed.

In the end the most fruitful pro-business environment can only be obtained by pursuing the most just, righteous and compassionate course. That, in the long run, will be rewarded, and I don’t mean just with heaven. I mean it will be rewarded with the loyalty, commitment, long tenure, sacrifice and true affection of fellow citizens. And that, as the commercials say, is priceless.