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Posts Tagged ‘Prayer’

In the aftermath of the tragedy in Oklahoma, there has been an outpouring of support from twitter-users using the hashtag “#PrayForOklahoma”. CNN wrote an interesting article (http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2013/05/21/who-hears-prayersforoklahoma/?sr=fb052213prayersoklahoma230p) on this, as well as the backlash this movement generated from the atheist community. There were a number of different issues that this story highlighted on prayer, and I wanted to discuss them.

First of all, I’d like to first address an argument that apparently has been surfacing in response to the outpouring of prayers. There are many people who are saying that praying to God is a ridiculous exercise in this situation because God caused the tornado and that if He really had any power, the tragedy wouldn’t have happened in the first place. Everyone has different beliefs over God’s potency in this situation, from His lack of existence to the tornado being a manifestation of His will to the fact that God created natural patterns of weather that He obeys. The fact is, everyone, particularly those affected, have to make sense of tragedies like this in their own way. What’s important is to focus on helping those who have been affected heal now that it has happened.

I want to preface this with the statement that I believe that prayer is a good thing. I don’t think that good works on their own can make it moot. However, on this one, I have to say that the atheists have got it right that well-wishing prayers should not be the end of your involvement. It is written in the Bible: “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead….Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.” (James 2: 14-18). This verse is relevant to this situation. Our brothers and sisters in Oklahoma don’t have housing, clothes or food, I don’t think we should simply tell them to “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed”, it’s our duty to help care for them. And this does not simply apply to this particular situation, but is true for our brothers and sisters across the world who struggle to take care of themselves and their families every day.

I suppose the other piece of this trend that I find concerning, is that I have to admit I’m skeptical that all of those people who used the hashtag then closed their eyes and spent a few moments in quiet contemplation, praying to God and meditating on those who had a real need. Faith, in any religion, requires a commitment. It requires the person to give something of themselves. The first time you find out someone’s religious belief shouldn’t be on their facebook profile. Tweeting a hashtag isn’t the same as prayer.

And even if God is not going to solve all problems simply because we ask for it, that doesn’t mean that prayer is a useless or outdated exercise. Prayer is not simply for the benefit of the person the supplicant is praying for, but prayer is beneficial for those who pray. Prayer is a way of spiritual growth, it can be a place of peace and refuge in our hectic lives. A person praying might be thinking about all the sufferings of another person, and the act of praying, which lets them focus on what they would otherwise ignore, is the motivating factor which moves them to act.

I wouldn’t phrase it that faith without deeds are meaningless. I would say that faith requires deeds. Our faith makes us want to act. This not something isolated. This is a systemic issue, this type of indifference is something that we need to grapple with everyday. There are always prayers to say and there are always actions to do. They are always needed. We must make sure that we always remember this.

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My family and I have been adjusting this year to a new and unexpected situation.  Like many families, we have often found that one member of the family who goes off in that unexpected path that really no one in the family knows what to do with.  My sister became a cheerleader this year.

All in all, I think we’ve taken it rather well, especially considering that she sees dinner time as her personal practice time (five-six-seven-eight!).  However, in the week leading up to the big Thanksgiving game, something happened that threw us for a loop.  The cheerleaders and football players were going to a prayer service at St. Mary’s Church in our town.

Wait what…?

Yes, a school-sponosered prayer service for the football players and cheerleaders, not only religious but denominational.  Now…my family is Protestant and attends a UCC Church (United Church of Christ), how was my sister going to know the prayers or what to do?  We live in a predominantly Catholic town, was she going to be the only person who didn’t know what to do?  Were they going to have communion? Non-Catholics aren’t allowed to be given communion in a Catholic Church, what was she going to do if that happened?  She wasn’t worried or flustered, but my mother and I were.  And what about if there were any Jewish or Islamic team members?  Or atheist members who had never been in a church at all?  They would all feel even more out of place.  While no one would likely be forced to participate if they didn’t want to, it’s not really right to put someone in that situation where they have to break ranks, where they should feel different and left out at the very moment when the emphasis should be on the team.  It turned out fine, but I still couldn’t wrap my head around it, I was stunned more than actually objecting.

You’re probably thinking my town is superconservative, that we must live in the Bible belt or something.  Nope, my town is a liberal New England town.  In fact, in this town, I’ve known teachers who receive furious e-mails from parents when they use AD or BC instead of CE or BCE.

Several years ago, my classmates (I was at a different school) were supposed to go on a field trip to see a movie/play (I put / because I don’t remember which) in the winter.  It was Miracle on 34th street.  It was a story about Santa Clause.  Parents were outraged, there was a whole fuss and the trip got cancelled.  How dare they do a school-sponsored trip to see something about Santa Clause therefore about Christmas and therefore Christian?  This is a public school after all. 

So heaven forbid that our children see Miracle on 34th street…but a prayer service is okay.

I don’t get it. 

I’ve thrown up my hands in confusion.  I can no longer see the method in the madness as to what it is we choose to get outraged and offended about.  That is what I am left with, simple bemusement.

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Religious Tolerance in Egyptian Protests

Disclaimer: This is not my photo. I downloaded this from a friend’s wall who had shared it from their friend’s wall. The photo was public.  My main source of information was the caption beneath this picture.  While I have not verified this, I have no reason to believe it’s not legitimate.

This photo was reportedly taken from the protests that were taking place in Egypt, where police crackdowns were also occurring.  This is a picture of Muslims at the protest performing daily prayers, and Christians holding hands around them to protect the Muslims from the police violence while they wee praying. 

I think this is a powerful photo.  With all people’s talk about the violence and divisiveness that pervades the Middle East, I think this photo underscores a poweful message.  If this photo speaks to the future of the Middle East, then there is abundant cause for hope.  It nearly brought tears to my eyes with happiness. 

I will admit that later, I experienced a bit of sadness when I thought about the poem, realizing that in many places in the United States, where we claim to be so open-minded and accepting as opposed to the rest of the world, I am not sure that this have happened, that many Christian Americans would have been so ready to protect Muslim Americans, and I pray in the future that may change and that we may take a lesson from this photo. 

We must protect and care for one another, no matter of what faith.  What binds us together can be stronger than what divides.  As Jesus has said, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”, we must protect others’ rights to worship, as we want ours to be.  And most importantly:  we are all Children of God.

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