On Tuesday, July 3rd, at 6:30 PM, I was at Snowmass Chapel preparing for my Gospel Choir Rehearsal when I received a call from one of our housemates: “There is a fire. We are being evacuated. What can I grab for you?”
What do your prayers reveal about your relationship with God? I don’t know about you, but I’ve had some moments of real surprise in my prayer life. Let’s see if any of this sounds familiar to you?
“Dear God, please be with my friend, Shirley. She’s going in for surgery on Tuesday at 2 PM MST and I’m asking You to please guide the doctor’s and nurse’s hands. Grant her Thy strength as she recovers and give her the peace that passeth understanding. May her insurance company be pleasant to deal with and please give her family patience and helpfulness as she recuperates. We come together to ask this in Thy name, because Matthew 18:19 clearly says, ‘Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven’ and I know that Thou wilt honor Thy Word. In the powerful and effective name of Jesus, we pray, AMEN.”
I began to notice that my prayers assume that…
- God doesn’t know about my friend Shirley or her surgery, so at least one function of my prayer is to raise God’s awareness.
- God only speaketh, understandeth, and respondeth to King James’ English.
- God needs a high degree of supervision – if I don’t give God detailed instructions, my prayer might lead to some very unintended consequences. Explanations need to be literal and precise and avoid anything that might be misconstrued, require interpretation, or lead to independent thinking on God’s part.
- God’s arm needs to be twisted before anything good will happen. God needs to be reminded about what the Bible says in case God was thinking about not following my detailed instructions.
- Prayers are a bit like a magic spell. You have to perform your incantations – I mean prayers – with the proper form or nothing will happen – or worse – the prayer could backfire!
Sometimes when I stop and listen to myself, I’m amazed at all of the things that my prayers reveal about my view of God. I see evidence of belief in a God who is angry, vengeful, capricious, mischievous, reluctant, recalcitrant, and probably worse. So how would I pray if I really believed that God already knows what I need and loves me and is working all things together for good?
Let me start by saying that I don’t like the idea of ending prayers to God. If God is available for us to talk to, why would we EVER want to cut off communication? Start your prayer to God, but don’t shut the door of communication with an “Amen” of dismissal – leave the door open. You never know when you need to hear from God. It’s okay if you are talking with other people. Let God be part of that too. Remain available.
A big part of this life seems to be about trust. Lots of things happen to us every day that unsettle and scare us. When we respond with fear and when we get defensive and when we counter-attack, we reveal our belief in a powerless god. What if we really believed in a God who is the Creator of the Universe with limitless resources and creativity? What would it be like if we had a different response to big scary things? What if we just tapped into our open link with the Creator of the Universe and said, “This thing just happened and it scares me, but I know you’ve got this – is there anything I can to help? How can I cooperate with your plan for this situation?” And then we trust and listen.
Some of us are probably still holding on to the idea that we need to have a relationship with God – not because God is the most interesting being in the universe, and worth the relationship – but because God is our ticket to heaven. I challenge myself (and you) to consider what it means to have an open link to a Being who is loving, available, helpful, creative, powerful, relational, and knowledgeable. I don’t know if our prayers change God, but I’m pretty sure that prayer has the potential to change us – and what a privilege that is!
- A teacher (either your teacher or one of your children’s teachers)
- Your pastor or spiritual mentor
- A service industry worker (Servers, Nurses, Mechanics, Check-out Clerks, Firefighters, Policemen, Military, etc.)
- A family member (Spouse, Child, Parent, Sibling, etc.)
- Somebody who has inspired you through their example or by something they said
- A coworker
- Somebody who you haven’t spoken with in years
- A person with whom you have had a difficult relationship
- A random person who you meet in public
- An animal that you love
I recently came across a very interesting article entitled, “9 things that make you unlikable.” The title caught my attention and it turned out to be one of those websites where you have to click through several pages to get through each of the “9 things.” But I thought the content was actually worth the effort. If you have the time, check out the article and see if you’ve fallen into any of these 9 pitfalls.
As I read through the list, I came to the realization that Christians really should be the most likable people in the world, because the Bible addresses pretty much all of the practices that could potentially make you unlikable. I created a quiz that pairs the 9 traits with Bible verses that are (hopefully) on topic. Take the quiz and see how many you can guess! Feel free to share your scores and comments after you finish.
In a world where love is generally contingent upon our likability profile, it’s pretty amazing to know that God loves us no matter how unlikable we are!
Best wishes for your journey!
Music & IT Director
What does Fall mean to you?
According to Ecclesiastes 3, there is a time for all things. When I was a child, I loved Fall. I was so excited to see the turning of the leaves and smell that crisp dry air that replaced the heavy, humid, Wisconsin Summer air. I’ll never forget the day that I told an adult that Fall is my favorite season. This person replied to me that Fall is a sad time of the year because it is a time of death. Now, as an adult, I can identify with that sentiment. In John 12:24, Jesus says, “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”
What does Fall teach us?
There is a profound little poem in the musical, “The Fantasticks” by Tom Jones. The first time I heard it, I found tears running down my face, and I scarcely even knew why.
After I read the title of this post, I immediately realized that I had bitten off more than I could chew. There are so many things that I want to say about this topic that are not within the scope of a blog post.
As I have been watching the headlines in the news, the posts on Facebook, and the subjects of conversations, I have been perceiving an increase in “scapegoating.” Maybe the increase is simply my perception, but to me it feels like there is a rise in the use of fear to create a common enemy against which everybody can unite. There is a recurring narrative that frames a person or group of people in terms of, “They are the reason we can’t have nice things.”
This is nothing new. I would guess that most people who read this article will immediately think of the way that Hitler blamed the Jews for Germany’s economic troubles and successfully united the German people to commit genocide so that they could once again have nice things. This is an extreme case and it allows us to feel good about ourselves as we denounce the atrocities of this 20th century dictator. Thank God, *WE* are *NOT* like that! Are we?
Gregory Maguire wrote a book entitled Wicked that was later adapted into a record breaking musical by Stephen Schwartz. This retold story of an American classic (The Wizard of Oz) is a study on the question of self-justified violence and the often arbitrary division between good people and evil people as it opens with the question, “Are people born wicked, or do they have wickedness thrust upon them?” In an extraordinary set of plot twists, we come to see how the identification of “good” and “bad” characters varies depending on who writes the history. This book hits a little bit closer to home than the classic Nazi illustration, because we begin to see how well-meaning, good-intentioned people can do bad things in service of the pursuit of having nice things.
What is troubling is that scapegoating does work. Sort of. We all celebrate the death of the Wicked Witch of the West–so that means that everything is good and everybody will get along from now on, right? Luke 23:12 tells us that “Herod and Pilate became friends with one another that very day; for before they had been enemies with each other.” (NASB) Two former enemies became friends united in the cause of a common scapegoat (Jesus.) But the peace and friendship that scapegoating brings doesn’t last, because it doesn’t address the fundamental problem: We want nice things and somebody else is preventing us from having them. Everything would be better if we could just get rid of this troublesome person or that extremist fringe group. *They* are wicked and they deserve to die. Rene Girard described this phenomenon 50 years ago with his development of mimetic theory. A quick synopsis of mimetic theory is that people largely imitate (mimic) each other–returning evil for evil and good for good. The problem is that when we return evil for evil, we inevitably also escalate. Escalation reaches a critical mass, at which point, people and groups of people choose a scapegoat on whom they can unleash their accumulated violence.
Here is a positive example: The other day I was walking across the bridge in Glenwood Springs rather lost in my thoughts. I glanced over and saw a total stranger walking along the sidewalk by the road. On an apparent impulse, he raised his arm to me with the peace sign on his fingers. Without thinking, I returned the sign to him as I walked on wondering what in the world had just happened! I love that this random dude gave me something positive to mimic!
There are any number of negative examples in our current culture. A lot of folks are suffering. Many people are angry and stressed and they are looking for a scapegoat on whom they can pour their frustration. Every day I observe myself and others choosing to blame immigrants, corporations, teachers, politicians, gay marriage, white privilege, policemen, etc. Jesus understood this human tendency so well that I would say that he made it one of the central themes of his ministry. Centuries before Rene Girard outlined his mimetic theory, in the “Sermon on the Mount,” (Matthew 5-7) Jesus challenged his followers to do something wildly non-mimetic. He said, “love and pray for your enemies,” “turn the other cheek,” “give people the coat off your back,” “go the extra mile,” etc.
Jesus calls on us to break the cycle of mimetic violence. Our impulse to return evil for evil, good for good, an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth is so strong that it seems that Jesus is asking the impossible of us. In order to prepare for writing this article, I did some research. By that, I mean that I typed some key words into Google! (Incidentally, I highly recommend searching the internet for “Rene Girard,” “Mimetic Theory,” and “Mimetic theory of atonement.”) As I began to understand the problem of mimetic violence, I refined my search to, “How do you break the cycle of mimetic violence?” And I have to say, I was pretty disappointed in the results. I guess we’re better at identifying the problem than solving it!
Jesus is calling us to a way of living that is astonishing, radical, and counter-cultural. It is a social construct that He called, “The Kingdom of God.” When you read Matthew 5-7, you constantly see Jesus contrasting “you have heard it said…” with, “but I say unto you…” It was called “The Way” by the early Christians. It is not mimetic. (Or you *could* say that it is mimetic of Jesus, but somehow, when you are smiling at somebody who is frowning at you, it doesn’t *feel* very mimetic or even remotely natural!) It is TOUGH. Our own violence is always justified, and after all, we only want nice things.
You probably thought that I would end with the solution, right? Instead, I would like this article to be the beginning of the discussion. So… How would YOU answer my Google search? How do you break the mimetic cycle of violence? Scapegoating is the traditional answer, but I refuse to believe that we have to kill somebody so that we can have nice things. I’d love to read your ideas in the comments!
It might be a coincidence that it is my turn to write the Mountaineer article this week immediately following the mass murder of 49 people with 53 injured at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, FL. As I thought about what to write, two words came to mind: Scapegoats and Binaries. We find lots of examples of binaries in life as well as in the Bible. Dark & light, hot & cold, love & hate, saints & sinners, good & evil, heaven & hell, lost & saved, friends & enemies, etc. I think that most of us look at these binaries as being opposing sides. Today I’m going to challenge that idea.
We are conditioned through endless storytelling to believe that there are good guys and bad guys. The good guys have to fight and kill the bad guys in order for us all to finally live in peace. By the way, although it makes for really great storytelling, that is the very definition of a scapegoat. Everybody knows that a villain just goes about doing evil constantly. Nobody wants to watch a movie about the evil goblins at home eating dinner with their families with a mother goblin and a baby goblin at her breast. Nobody wants to see an army of good guys storming their home and slaying small child goblins asleep in their beds. We need our bad guys to be dancing around a fire, roasting their victims. Sometimes they even oblige us by doing these things so that we can feel really good about judging and killing them. It ruins our narrative when villains do normal, justifiable, human things and act in loving and sacrificial ways.
We have been conditioned to accept and even celebrate violence against people who have been framed as the “other” side of whatever binary in which we have come to believe. How many of us are poised to accept the idea that ISIS extremists should be killed for their extremist beliefs that resulted in the shooting at Pulse in Orlando? Or maybe we should target the government officials who could have voted to ban assault rifles and didn’t? I have no doubt that the Democrats, Republicans, rich, poor, gay, straight, transgender, corporations, Clinton, Trump & Sanders are all certainly to blame! Isn’t there some way that we can just get all of these people out of our lives for good?
Or… Maybe we could pause our violent conditioning long enough to consider the possibility that our binaries are not real. What if dark does not exist? What if light is the only real truth? Dark, in fact, is not a force. You can’t flip the dark switch and drown the light with some counterforce. Where light exists, it illuminates and where it does not exist, there is darkness, but it is not a force. You don’t kill the darkness by attacking it and annihilating it and then breathing a sigh of relief, “Good, now the darkness is dead and we can all live in light and peace.” Darkness cannot wage war on the light. Darkness is simply what happens when light is not present.
In the same way, we cannot eliminate violence by killing it off. If we killed or at least imprisoned every possible scapegoat in the world, how many of us believe that then the rest of us would finally be able to live in peace? Trying to kill off violence is as senseless as trying to kill off darkness.
I’m going to ask each of us to simply begin to notice how often we frame people in terms of binaries. Who would I eliminate so that there would finally be peace and happiness in my life? As Nadia Bolz-Weber writes in Pastrix, “Every time we draw a line between us and others, Jesus is always on the other side of it.”
I don’t know about you, but I usually feel powerless when I think about the massive scale of violence in the world. But that doesn’t stop me from buying into the drama of my binaries. I commit murder in my own heart as I wish people out of my life and out of the world. Do we have to come down to the last two people on the planet before we stop trying to kill the darkness? Instead, we need to flip on the light switch.
Begin by loving and forgiving yourself. (How much of our violence and judgment against other people is really redirected from our internal violence and judgment of ourselves?) Then love the people who are easy to love. Finally, go for the real challenge: be like Jesus and love the people who are hard to love. In the same way that darkness does not stand before light, violence and hatred cannot stand before love. Our response to the shootings in Orlando should be to love outrageously just like our Father in heaven. If people don’t raise their eyebrows at your love extremism, you’re not doing it right!