Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Powerful words from ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton

"For he [Christ] is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us".
— Ephesians 2:14 
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
We need to talk. In this month when we have commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery March, we remain mindful of the many recent events in this country that prove we are not living in a post-racial society. I know it’s difficult to talk about race because too many Americans do not want to believe racism still exists in our country. Yet, as always, Christ promises to be alongside us, even in the most difficult of times, working for our reconciliation. Because of God’s promise, we can and must have a deep, honest and even painful conversation about racism.

I am writing to share with you a message that further explains the need for members of the ELCA, and all Americans, to talk about racism in honest and productive ways. Please read the entire message here. It contains a list of several resources and background materials that will help you and your congregations engage in this important conversation. I also invite you to view the video version of this message byclicking on the image to the right.

As a church called to witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ, we must continue to listen deeply, to speak out about racial equity and inclusion, to respect and uplift the dignity and humanity of every person and to join with others in organizing for change. In baptism we have become part of the body of Christ, and in Christ there is no barrier between us. I pray that our Lord will use us and this moment to make this baptismal promise a reality in our lives and in this church.

God’s blessings,

Elizabeth A. Eaton
Presiding Bishop

For the full pdf of this article, as well as links to additional resources, click here:

Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton's video message:

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

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Supporting Migrants and Refugees

SFW header
Dear Clint, 

As Congress continues to hold multiple hearings and introduce numerous bills on the issue of immigration, one recurring theme has emerged: over-reliance on immigration enforcement. Unfortunately, the atmosphere around immigration in the House and the Senate has focused on changing existing laws in a way that removes critical protections for vulnerable migrants and newcomers seeking refuge.

This continuing "enforcement-only" attitude in Congress began with the multitude of hearings last week, and continues with three hearings this week. Instead of protecting vulnerable migrants seeking refuge and protection in the United States, or creating an immigration system that reunites families, we see a push to detain, prosecute, and deport more and more refugees and migrants, often without due process.

Main points from last week's immigration hearings in the House and Senate include:
In addition to these hearings, the House Judiciary committee passed four bills out of committee and on to the full House of Representatives that decrease protections for children and asylum-seekers and massively increase interior enforcement through detention and deportation. We will keep you updated on the progress of those bills.

This week we will see another series of hearings in the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee on the issue of border security, including topics such as root causes of Central American migration and addressing future flows of migrants across the border.

The use of enforcement without revising the current broken immigration laws hurts millions of families, children, and asylum-seekers. Please visit our Action Center to send a message to your Member of Congress urging them to instead support protections for vulnerable populations, provide due process for all newcomers, and support humane and just enforcement that ensures the safety of our communities rather than indiscriminately tearing them apart.

It is in challenging moments like this, when migrants and refugees most need support in calling for compassion and justice. Thank you for standing for welcome.

In peace,

Brittney Nystrom
Director for Advocacy

Monday, March 23, 2015

What is prayer anyway?

Most days, we all assume we know what prayer is. We often promise to pray for each other. We pray in worship. Some of us pray before meals or bed. Prayer are words or intentions directed towards God, much like words in a conversation.

Once we start to think about prayer, we start to realize prayer is a bit more mysterious than the other ways we converse. Take, as one example, the prayer we offer in public worship. We pray out loud to God and act as if God would respond. It's like a large role-playing event. We speak to God and act as if God will hear us. 

Prayer is, in this sense, real pretend.

Consider prayer some more, and we bump into other mysterious things in need of definition. Who is the God to whom we pray? What is God like? Who are we as prayers? And what is this thing "prayer" between us?

Because there is quite a long tradition in the church of emphasizing God's unchanging nature, theologians have struggled with what prayer does in God. Does prayer change God?

C.S. Lewis famously remarked, "I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time- waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God- it changes me."

Okay, I understand that Lewis makes this statement with full sincerity, and out of deep faith. But I would offer that this is at least one way of understanding of prayer that I do not share.

If prayer doesn't change God, then it is nothing at all.

If prayer does something in God, then prayer is everything.

I tend to be of the persuasion that prayer does indeed do something in God, and so prayer really is everything.

I do not make this claim on metaphysical grounds. I imagine there are a variety of metaphysical considerations to work out here, important ones at that, and the traditional metaphysicians and the process philosophers will have to have their conversations and work out whether or not God is really unchanging, with the future all decided, or whether or not the future is open, mutually created by God and us in some fashion.

I'm more interested in the relationship, and the promise. Prayer is an invited relationship, encouraged by God and Christ, both of whom seek the words and petitions of the people with whom they have covenanted.

And prayer is promise... most clearly, Jesus promises that prayers will be heard, and they will change things.

Obviously, like any conversation, not everything we say in prayer will do the same thing in the one hearing the prayer. Prayer is not magic. Prayer is not command. Prayer is conversation, and all conversations have a give and take. There is a real person on both sides of the conversation.

So this is another thing, prayer assumes that God is a person.

And the kind of person God is is a person who keeps promises. God is faithful. So prayer is what we say to the one who we trust as completely faithful to us.

So I part ways with Lewis. Prayer obviously changes me. I can tell you stories of the ways meditation and prayer have changed me.

But if prayer is a relationship with a faithful other, a person available for our prayer, then prayer also changes God, not because God is in the abstract changeable or unchangeable, but precisely because God has promised to truly hear our prayers. Once you've heard something from outside yourself, you have already "changed." We are always made up of the network of our relationships. God is like this, we think.

So why is prayer everything? Well, if this is what prayer is like, then prayer is the substance of all things between us and God. Prayer is also already intrinsic to God in Godself. God is the kind of God who is always already interceding for us. Christians tend to say that it is Christ in the Spirit who is constantly interceding to the Father on our behalf. 

Our prayers simply join the prayers Christ is already lifting to the Father. Which makes them no less important... in fact it makes them all the more poignant, in the same way the sick or dying regularly report that the community that surrounds them in prayer has a powerful impact. Corporate prayer is a beautiful thing, and corporate prayer begins in God, and we join it.

It is great consolation indeed that even when we can't pray, the Spirit intercedes for us with sighs to deep for words (Romans 8:26). Prayer changes God even when we cannot... pray.

So who are we as the ones who pray? Well, apparently we are praying people. There are a lot of things humans are, and often we have defined ourselves by those things. We are homo sapiens (thinking ones). We are homo ludens (ones who play). We are homo habilis (tool users). 

But if prayer is everything, and we are praying ones, then we are more than anything else, homo orans (praying beings). 

If we are created in the image of God, and Christ is the restoration of the image of God in the human, then we discover our model for prayer, the one who prayed, so frequently, so confidently, that there was little else as important or as central. If anyone modeled prayer as everything, it was Christ, who was so regularly found in it. And if Christ prayed words asking God to hear and respond, then we might trust that in Christ, our prayers, joined to his, really are everything.

Personally, I begin this "everything prayer" in the daily prayer offices and the liturgy. I find it to be the case that joining these prayers makes me "more sensible of conditions." There are of course many other ways to pray, and much more of what we do is prayer than we know. Just yesterday evening, I think I fell asleep praying Thelonius Monk. As an example. But I do join us Annie Dillard in her perspective, with which I end, as I attempt to open us outward to the everything of prayer. Dillard writes,
On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.