A Prayer After Paris

For the people of Paris, we pray but we also pray for the invisible peoples whose

Image from social media. Origin unknown.
Image from social media. Origin unknown.

daily lives — in our own nation and across the globe — are enmeshed in violence.

We confess that too often we turn a blind eye to the pain that our choices cause. We confess that too often we grieve most for those involved in tragedies that remind us of our own vulnerabilities. We grieve for those who look and act like us forgetting that all peoples are your peoples.

As we focus our compassion on France remind us this day that our every action allows us the opportunity to expand love or contract love, to hear & see the divinity within another or disregard their humanity.

Remind us today that in the midst of the grieving you are present, saddened by the failure of your people — all of us — to live as we were created to live.

Move us.

Offer us the grace of one more chance to sow love and justice in a broken world of our own making. Open our hearts to changes in our own behaviors.

May our every action ripple out love, peace, and justice until all of creation is as you dream it can be. Amen.

A Prayer from Those Living in a Powerful Nation

God of all peoples,

We come before you today, a hardy but small group gathered in your presence, gathered to worship you and thank you for all that you have done and will do for your people.

We rely on you because you are a steadfast God. And, yet, God…

And yet, God, we turn on our televisions and read the news online. We hear of more violence and impending war in Ukraine. We pray that Russia does not escalate matters in the Ukraine but we know our righteous indignation is hollow.

As Americans we know we have intervened in the affairs of sovereign nations when it has suited our purposes. As beneficiaries of power and wealth, our nation has manipulated matters in places like Guatemala not as a matter of helping but because it suits our country’s needs.

Help us to hear the words of the prophet Micah through the ears of the Guatemalan and Ukrainian people as the prophet calls out,

Hear this, leaders of the house of Jacob, rulers of the house of Israel, you who reject justice and make crooked all that is straight, who build Zion with bloodshed and Jerusalem with injustice! Micah 3: 9-10 CEB

Help us to hear the voices of the Guatemalan and Ukrainian and so many other peoples through the Psalmist who cries out,

“Don’t let the feet of arrogant people walk all over me; don’t let the hands of the wicked drive me off.” Psalm 36:11 CEB

Help us to hold our leaders accountable to your ways of love, your ways of justice, your desire for peace for all of your people not just those of us who live in powerful nations. Lead us toward personal and communal actions that respect and honor the dignity of all peoples within and outside our own nation.

In our worries, in our feelings of guilt, in our feelings of helplessness, we turn to the One through whom we know you best. We turn to you through Jesus.

Amen.

***

I offered this prayer at the Condon United Church of Christ on March 2, 2014.

The Dehumanization & Diminishment That Kills

Photo by Rick Wood/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel/Zuma

I can be in a friendly, upbeat mood and have it dashed by the most efficient automated phone system. You know the ones that dehumanize and diminish the caller. They offer multiple options but none apply to the reason for your call. To throw insult to intelligence, the voice mail system reminds you in a cheerful, recorded voice how important you are to them. Yep, I always put my best friends in a holding pattern when they call.

By the time I talk to a human being, I’m agitated, tense, and annoyed.

I wonder if in all our talk about why we’ve had shootings in movie theaters, schools, and even our sacred religious sites that we’re missing the core problem. What if our dehumanizing culture is the underlying reason for the violence?

Voice mail systems are one way in which we are dehumanized. Speed trap and red light cameras allow us no grace for an error.  If our speed creeps up even if only for a few minutes in the wrong place we are penalized. What human being has never made a driving mistake?

Absolutism is another way in which we dehumanize one another. Anytime we use or imply words like all, always, or never we can dehumanize. This happens in our polarized political system when we say things such as, “All abortions are immoral and should be banned,” “Republicans are insensitive and racist,” or “Muslims are terrorists.” These are all false statements because of absolutism. They and others diminish another’s humanity.

On a personal level we practice absolutism when we group people together, rather than getting to know them. I remember bristling as a child when my sister or mother accusingly lumped my brother and I together as “the boys.” The implication was that we were the same, lacking individual free choice.

Yes, my brother and I had similarities but we were not “the boys,” we were David and Tim. People who are atheist or of a particular religious group, also share commonalities within their designation. The problem is that once we pack someone up inside the African American box, the old white guy box, or the Christian box, we too often stop listening and learning about one another. We use it as a way to exclude others from the human family.

As individuals we also diminish another’s humanity when we ignore the grocery checker. Continuing to talk to our partner in shopping or to talk on the phone without acknowledging and including the human being scanning our food dehumanizes. When we see only “an old lady” or a “young thug” on the street, we diminish.

Our culture is filled with many dehumanizing experiences that we cannot personally change. I’ll have to deal with voice mail hell for the foreseeable future. When I do finally talk to a human being on the telephone, however, I can use every ounce of my humanity to be civil. Whether the person on the other end of the line is in South Dakota, my own small town, or India, she is a human being.

Still, I wonder if our culture of dehumanization and diminishment makes it easier for those who have less emotional stability or are mentally ill, to learn to see others as non-human. Once we see someone as less than human, killing them becomes easier.

What if we could solve our violence problem by dismantling the dehumanizing elements in our world? What if we learned to care about every single individual in our culture? What if we saw the divinity — the Imago Dei — in every one?