It Is Hard To Say “Amen”

 

My problem is not with prayer. I have so many prayers I need to pray. The prayers come easy, almost too easy. I can generate prayers in much the same way an application on the internet creates stupid names for churches or sermons. Words are cheap. Good sentiments are almost free.  I don’t have trouble praying. The hard part, for me, is saying “Amen.”

Once I mumble “amen” I’m on the hook. “Amen” means I’ve made the prayer more than words. Something which started as a two-dimensional rap session between me and my conception of God has now taken on a three-dimensional reality. “Amen” makes me accountable for the words I’ve said. No matter how silly or profound, once an “amen” is attached, my thoughts are now being held in the form of sacred escrow. I can’t touch or reach them until I’ve found some point of spiritual maturity. That might be today, tomorrow, or even next week. Whenever it is, an “amen” guarantees that I must speak words I deem sacred enough to call “prayer” and share them with God. Without the “amen,” prayer is no different than giving Santa Claus a list of all the toys you want for Christmas. You have no investment in your desires. Handing over a list and expecting all your wishes to be granted isn’t a prayer. It’s yelling at the universe and hoping God will give you wishes like a genie in a bottle.

“Amen” changes the dynamic in prayer. Both the person praying and the God hearing the prayer are involved in answering the prayer. We pray the prayer. We become the prayer. We become the answer to our own prayers. It’s through the action of the “amen” that we decide to take our concerns and celebrations to a level beyond ourselves. An “amen,” by its very nature, is a statement of purpose. We are willing to invite others into becoming part of our prayer.

Speaking with God is not easy. This is especially true for mild-mannered Methodists. Placing ourselves in a position to hear those around us and express our heart to God in times of crisis is no picnic. It was one of Moses’ greatest struggles. Pronouncing “amen” is also a challenge.  It is hard to say “amen.”  In one way, it’s like hitting send on an email. Once it’s gone, the message takes on a life of its own. Are we ready for God to take us seriously? After all, who are we to say such an important word like “amen”? I’ll tell you who we are.  We are those over whom many an “amen” has already been said. We are blessings so we might go be blessings in a world aching to be blessed.

Amen

Richard Lowell Bryant

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Jesus Takes All The Fun Out of Being Methodist

Jesus takes all the fun out of being United Methodist and religious. Don’t those two go together?  How are people going to know we are Holy Methodists unless we dress alike (custom UMC t-shirts of some nature), pray in public, make grand displays of our faith in the public sphere, Facebook every mission-related activity, and invoke God in every conversation?  Has Jesus not been an evangelism seminar?  Jesus needs to offer coffee, small groups, and a service for men who can’t tuck their shirts in.  Moms need a morning out and Jesus needs to say more about the sanctity of straight people being married.  What is he, some snowflake libtard?  Public piety and a healthy sense of religiosity define one’s Christianity.

Just kidding!  LOL!  I know they don’t but you’ve got to be honest, even on our best days, it’s a distinction we have trouble making.  Just take a look at this:

“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. 2“So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 3But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

5“And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.6But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 7“When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words.”  Matthew 6:1-7

If we can’t practice our piety in public to be seen by others, how are we going to recruit (sorry, I mean evangelize) others to join our churches?  Especially when institutional trust in religion is at an all-time low.  Public practices of piety are our stock in trade.  We would collapse and die without publicity.  We give evangelism awards and applaud each other on the back for cookie sales.  Those are public displays of piety.  We brand everything, from disaster relief ministries to youth events.  We have idolized the corporations and corporate practices that are bankrupting our communities.  Yes, we’re giving to the poor but these giving actions are preceded by the trumpet sound of car magnets, t-shirts, and official name badges.  We don’t call “practicing our piety before others”; we’ve cleaned it up and use the term “witnessing”.

Everyone prays differently.  Cokesbury’s catalog is dominated by books on different methods of prayer.  I think Jesus says:  don’t use your prayer time to make other people uncomfortable.  Just as he says don’t make a big deal out of what you do (focus instead on the how-Jesus is big on methodology), the way you communicate to God is intensely personal.  Do what’s right for you but don’t weird other people out with your words or actions when you pray.  Don’t be a spectacle.  Spectacles are for other people to see.  Who is your audience when you talk to God?  Here’s a thought:  give God the privacy and time God deserves.  Keep your password protected, like you would any sensitive communication.

Religious people love clichés.  (If someone tells me they’re going to put a hedge of protection around me I’m going for the weedeater.) Jesus has heard them all.  Be a better speaker and writer by using fewer clichés.  The same thing goes for prayers.  I know it feels fun, especially when you get on a roll and the “father gods, we just wannas, and hosannas” start to roll off your tongue.  Maybe Jesus is burnt out on hearing so many repeated phrases.  Try saying what’s on your mind.  It doesn’t make you any holier, more religious, or smarter.  Talk to Jesus.  Spit it out.  Drop the jargon.  It’s you Jesus wants, not the Dollar Store trinkets you’re bringing along.

Richard Lowell Bryant

On the Death of the Good, Great, and those In Between

I am finding it harder to pray for my enemies.  It’s difficult enough to watch good people die from evil diseases.  Death is made all that much harder when the frailties of human nature fail us at the point which defines our humanity.  Death is the common denominator.  We are all going to die, one way or another.

It seems that in one way or another our petty grudges and animosities might be laid aside when we die.  Nice things might be said, courtesies extended, hands shook, and hugs offered.  Yet in 2018 even that is too much to ask.  Humanity, kindness, and decency are deemed signs of weakness and political compromise.  I should qualify that last sentence.  Humanity, kindness, and basic decency have evaporated for about half of the voting age population.  While that’s not everyone, it’s enough to see, feel, and notice the change in our society.  It’s painful to watch.  It hurts to see good people experience the back hand of ill intended remarks and self-righteous comments.  Civic death, for what it’s worth, is no longer sacred.

Hence, I’m back to my dilemma.  With life loosing value and death becoming another event to be manipulated (like elections and press conferences), I’m finding it hard to pray for the manipulators.  Yes, I pray for the families of the deceased.  I pray for those wounded by hate and the rhetoric of violence.  Above all, I am finding it difficult to pray for those whose souls are not moved by death and loss in the most human sense.  The words I need and I’m called to find for those who have placed themselves beyond decency and self-respect, are not there.

–Richard Lowell Bryant

 

We Need To Stop Praying

We need to stop praying.  It is important, as United Methodists move forward toward the contentious events of February 2019; prayer is no longer something we do.  Instead, prayer is something we become.  Grammatically speaking, we should stop using prayer as a verb.  Prayer needs to become a noun; a part of who we are, our identity, and a defining feature of our interactions with the world.

Traditional notions of prayer, prayer as verb, are passive.  While we are active in listening to the prayer requests of others and ourselves (in worship or elsewhere), our prayer lives serve as conduits to God.  We know of needs, situations, and celebrations which (while God is omniscient and omnipotent) we feel led to bring to God’s attention and seek God’s intervention.  Whether we’re petitioning God in the liturgy or through informal conversation, we’re taking what we’ve felt or heard and passing it along.  We’re laundering prayer and whatever is contained within:  misery, joy, sorrow, or love.  This may happen on Sunday morning or throughout the week. Our prayers go back to God and we wait.

Waiting is hard, especially in times marked by strife and division.  Perhaps this is one of those instances when we need to stop waiting and move beyond our prayer lists.  Are our usual means of transferring concerns and moral discontent sufficient for a time such as this?  I am not certain they are.  We need to become our prayers.  If we’re praying for equality, be equality first.

How do we become prayer?  How do we live as prayer and not simply do prayer as one item on an overwhelmed task list?  Recently, I worked my way through Ephesians again.  I’m always impressed with last third of the 1st chapter, sometimes subtitled Paul’s Prayer.  Paul seems to have the prayer has noun idea, rather than a detached verb concept, down pat.  “I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and you love for all the saints and for this reason I do not cease to give thank for you as I remember you in my prayers.”   Listening and love are the two guardrails that keep the “life as prayer” train on track.  Secondly, an outlook grounded in gratitude is the engine with fuels constant (ceaseless) prayer.

That’s how we stop praying and start being prayer.  I do not believe answered prayers are the sole responsibility of the blanks spaces of blue sky or the darkness of a starry night.  We are our own prayers.  May it be so.  Amen.

Richard Lowell Bryant

 

A Mother’s Day Pastoral Prayer

There are too many prayers to name on Mother’s Day.  Our Mothers, Grandmothers, stepmothers, and others who act as mothers play such important roles in our lives.  We are grateful for their love, care, and understanding.  We remember the example of Jesus, even while upon the cross, caring for his mother’s needs.  May we be aware of the needs of our mothers and the women who care for children and families in our community.

Today we pray for those in the paths of natural disasters.  We especially remember our sisters and brothers in Hawaii.  Earth is not ours to tame or control.  God of creation, calm the chaos and provide time and space for those who are in danger to be moved to safety.

We pray for those who were injured last evening in attacks on churches in Indonesia and on the streets of Paris.  Hate is not a divine calling.  We pray for the victims of violence everywhere.

For those who suffer, seek medical treatment, and dwell in the thin places of life; we pray for their comfort and healing.  Gracious God, bring peace and assurance to them in moments of uncertainty and pain.  Help us to be ministers of presence and people who listen.  We are not called to have the right answers.  Help us to ask the right questions. Help us remember that we are to be present and aware.  May we become living instruments of your grace and mercy.  In the silence of our hearts, we remember those we have named this morning.

Amen.

Richard Lowell Bryant

A Political Prayer for the Poor

Gracious God,
Today,
we pray for the poor,
those without,
marginalized,
forgotten,
pushed to the edge,
left behind,
Those who have no health care,
dying at home,
with no go fund me friends,
or investment options on which to retire,
they who live hand to mouth,
those who sleep unsoundly,
and are surrounded by fear and violence,
isolated,
lonely,
beaten,
and most of all,
I pray for those
made uncomfortable,
by praying this prayer.
May these words remind them of your teachings.
Gracious God,
be with the haves,
to seek mercy,
be with the have nots,
who need mercy.
In the name of one who became poor for our sake, Jesus the Christ,
Amen.

Richard Lowell Bryant

A Prayer for Today

God,
Save us from ourselves.
Save us from others.
Save us from visions of grandeur.
Save us from the soft bigotry of low expectations.
Save us from seductive lure of apathy and self-righteous indignation.
Save us from our sinfulness.
Forgive us when we speak hollow words dressed in the guise of the prophetic language.
Forgive us so we may forgive others.
Forgive us for seeing the worst in others.
Forgive us for missing your point to focus on our agendas.
May our witness stand in contrast to evil,
May we give until we are empty,
Until we are completely dependently upon you,
For our joy and hope,
Compassion and empathy,
Reason and being,
Vision and movement,
Life and death.
As Resurrection People we pray,
Amen.

Richard Lowell Bryant