Daily Prayer :: Water

Encouragement for a lifelong journey of faith

February 8, 2023 – Who am I?

This week we are praying through Howard Thurman’s 1976 book Jesus and the Disinherited. From the introduction of the 1996 edition, written by Vincent Harding: “Not too long before [Martin Luther] King’s assassination in 1968 Stokley [Carmichael] asked with mock innocence, ‘Dr. King, why do we have to be more moral than white folks?”(Howard Thurman, Jesus and the Disinherited, Beacon Press, 1976, p. xii) Vincent will go on to suggest that Howard Thurman’s work answers this question, “the ultimate issue is not being more moral than white folks, but becoming more free than we have ever been, free to engage our fullest powers in the transformative tasks that await us at the wall” (ibid., xvi-xvii).

In his preface, Thurman asks a question many of us have asked, “Why is it that Christianity seems impotent to deal radically, and therefore effectively, with the issues of discrimination and injustice on the basis of race, religion, and national origin?” (ibid.” xix). He goes on, “I am deeply convinced that in the general area of my inquiry is to be found the answer without which there can be little hope that men [sic] find in Christianity the fulfillment which it claims for its gospel” (ibid., xix)

Today’s Bible Reading

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?”—Matthew 6:25-27

More thoughts for meditation

“Fear, then, becomes the safety device with which the oppressed surround themselves in order to give some measure of protection from complete nervous collapse” (ibid., 30).

“It is clear, then, that this fear, which served originally as a safety device, a kind of protective mechanism for the weak, finally becomes death for the self. The power that saves turns executioner. Within the walls of separateness death keeps watch. There are some who defer this death by yielding all claim to personal significance beyond the little world in which they live. In the absence of all hope ambition dies, and the very self is weakened, corroded. There remains only the elemental will to live and to accept life on the terms that are available…

“…Did Jesus deal with this kind of fear? If so, how did he do it?” (ibid., 36).

“The core of the analysis of Jesus is that man [sic] is a child of God, the God of life that sustains all of nature and guarantees all the intricacies of the life-process itself. Jesus suggests that it is quite unreasonable to assume that God, whose creative activity is expressed even in such details as the hairs of a man’s head, would exclude from his concern the life, the vital spirit, of the man himself. This idea–that God is mindful of the individual—is of tremendous import in dealing with fear as a disease. In this world the socially disadvantaged man is constantly given a negative answer to the most important personal questions upon which mental health depends: ‘Who am I? What am I?’” (ibid., 39)

Suggestions for action

Thurman suggests that fear is a common experience among the oppressed, and that segregation itself compounds this fear. First it is a survival mechanism, but it will eventually kill you. He thinks that Jesus felt this fear too, but overcame it by realizing that even he was a child of God. Consider today’s question, “Who am I?” And find reassurance that you are a child of God. From that vantage point, the dispossessed can find hope.

February 7, 2023 –  To resist or not to resist

This week we are praying through Howard Thurman’s 1976 book Jesus and the Disinherited. From the introduction of the 1996 edition, written by Vincent Harding: “Not too long before [Martin Luther] King’s assassination in 1968 Stokley [Carmichael] asked with mock innocence, ‘Dr. King, why do we have to be more moral than white folks?”(Howard Thurman, Jesus and the Disinherited, Beacon Press, 1976, p. xii) Vincent will go on to suggest that Howard Thurman’s work answers this question, “the ultimate issue is not being more moral than white folks, but becoming more free than we have ever been, free to engage our fullest powers in the transformative tasks that await us at the wall” (ibid., xvi-xvii).

In his preface, Thurman asks a question many of us have asked, “Why is it that Christianity seems impotent to deal radically, and therefore effectively, with the issues of discrimination and injustice on the basis of race, religion, and national origin?” (ibid.” xix). He goes on, “I am deeply convinced that in the general area of my inquiry is to be found the answer without which there can be little hope that men [sic] find in Christianity the fulfillment which it claims for its gospel” (ibid., xix)

Today’s Bible Reading

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”—Matthew 11:28-30

More thoughts for meditation

“In the main, there were two alternative faced by the Jewish minority of which Jesus was a part. Simply stated, these were to resist or not to resist. But each of these alternatives has within it secondary alternatives.

Under the general plan of nonresistance one may take the position of imitation. The aim of such an attitude is to assimilate the culture and the social behavior-pattern of the dominant group. it is the profound capitulation to the powerful, because it means the yielding of oneself to that which, deep within, one recognized as being unworthy. It makes for a strategic loss of self-respect. The aim is to reduce all outer or external signs of difference to zero, so that there shall be no ostensible cause for active violence or oppression. Under some circumstances it may involve a repudiation of one’s heritage, one’s customs, one’s faith. Accurate imitation until the facade of complete assimilation is securely placed and the antagonism of difference dissolved—such is the function of this secondary alternative within the broader alternative of nonresistance. Herod was an excellent example of this solution” (ibid., 13)

“The other major alternative is resistance. It may be argued that even nonresistance is a form of resistance, for it may be regarded as an appositive dimension of resistance. Resistance may be overt action, or it may be merely mental and moral attitudes. For the purposes of our discussion resistance is defined as the physical, overt expression of an inner attitude. Resistance in this sense finds its most dramatic manifestation in force of arms” (ibid., 15).

“The longer the mood is contemplated, the more insistent the appeal. It is a form of fanaticism, to be sure, but that may not be a vote against it. In all action there is operative a fringe of irrationality. Once the mood is thoroughly established, any council of caution is interpreted as either compromise or cowardice. The fact that the ruler has available to him the power of the state and complete access to all arms is scarily considered. Out of the deeps of the heart there swells a great and awful assurance that because the cause is just, it cannot fail. Any failure is regarded as temporary and, to the devoted, as a testing of character” (ibid., 16).

Suggestions for action

Thurman describes the Way of Jesus as the verse above does, easy and light, for the weary and the burdened. “[Jesus] recognized with authentic realism that anyone who permits another to determine the quality of his inner life gives into the hands of the other the keys to his destiny” (ibid., 18).

“The basic facts that Christianity as it was born in the mind of this Jewish teacher and thinker appears as a technique of survival for the oppressed. That it became, through the intervening years, a religion of the powerful and the dominant, used sometimes as an instrument of oppression, must not tempt us into believing that it was thus in the mind and life of Jesus. “In him was life; and the life was the light of men’’(ibid., 18-19).

We don’t need to acquiesce to the powers that be to survive—what Thurman calls nonresistance. Nor do we need to arm ourselves as we allow the powers to harden us and turn us into them. But pray today that you find Jesus, and learn from him. May we take his yoke so that we might face our oppression.

February 6, 2023 – The poor, the disinherited, the dispossessed

This week we are praying through Howard Thurman’s 1976 book Jesus and the Disinherited. From the introduction of the 1996 edition, written by Vincent Harding: “Not too long before [Martin Luther] King’s assassination in 1968 Stokley [Carmichael] asked with mock innocence, ‘Dr. King, why do we have to be more moral than white folks?”(Howard Thurman, Jesus and the Disinherited, Beacon Press, 1976, p. xii) Vincent will go on to suggest that Howard Thurman’s work answers this question, “the ultimate issue is not being more moral than white folks, but becoming more free than we have ever been, free to engage our fullest powers in the transformative tasks that await us at the wall” (ibid., xvi-xvii).

In his preface, Thurman asks a question many of us have asked, “Why is it that Christianity seems impotent to deal radically, and therefore effectively, with the issues of discrimination and injustice on the basis of race, religion, and national origin?” (ibid.” xix). He goes on, “I am deeply convinced that in the general area of my inquiry is to be found the answer without which there can be little hope that men [sic] find in Christianity the fulfillment which it claims for its gospel” (ibid., xix)

Today’s Bible Reading

But if he is poor and cannot afford so much, he shall take one male lamb for a guilt offering to be elevated, to make atonement on his behalf, and one-tenth of an ephah of choice flour mixed with oil for a grain offering and a log of oil; also two turtledoves or two pigeons, such as he can afford, one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering.—Leviticus 12:21-22

When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”—Luke 2:22-24

More thoughts for meditation

“It is urgent that my meaning be crystal clear. The masses of men [sic] live with their backs constantly against the wall. They are the poor, the disinherited, the dispossessed. What does our religion say to them? The issue is not what it counsels them to do for others whose need may be greater, but what religion offers to meet their own needs. The search for an answer to this question is perhaps the most important religious quest of modern life” (ibid., 3).

Thurman finds the beginnings of this answer in the person of Jesus. First in the fact that he was a Jew:

“We begin with the simple historical fact that Jesus was a Jew. The miracle of the Jewish people is almost as breath-taking as the miracle of Jesus. Is there something unique, some special increment of vitality in the womb of the people out of whose loins he came, that made of him a logical flowering of a long development of racial experience, either ethical in quality and Godlike in tone? It is impossible for Jesus to be understood outside of the  sense of community which Israel held with God” (ibid., 5-6).

Second, the fact that he was a poor Jew:

“The second most important fact for our consideration is that Jesus was a poor Jew…

The economic predicament with which he was identified in birth placed him initially with the great mass of men on the earth. The masses of the people are poor. If we dare take the position that in Jesus there was at work some radical destiny, it would be safe to say that in his poverty he was more truly Son of man than he would have been if the indecent of family or birth had made him a rich son of Israel. It is not a point to be labored, for again and again men have transcended circumstance of birth and training; but it is an observation not without merit” (ibid., 7).

Finally, he was a minority .

“The third fact is that Jesus was a member of a minority group in the midst of a larger dominant and controlling group. In 63 B.C. Palestine fell into the hands of the Romans. After this date the gruesome details of loss of status were etched, line by line, in the sensitive soul of Israel, dramatized ever by an increasing desecration of the Holy Land. To be sure, there was Herod, an Israelite, who ruled from 37 to4 BC; but in some ways he was completely apostate. Taxes of all kinds increased, and out of these funds, extracted from the vitals of the people, temples in honor of Emperor Augustus were built within the boundaries of the holy soil. It was a sad and desolate time for the people. Herod became the symbol of shame and humiliation for all of Israel” (ibid., 8).

“The striking similarity between the social position of Jesus in Palestine and that of the vast majority of American Negroes is obvious to anyone who tarries long over the facts” (ibid., 23)

Suggestions for action

Contemplate the person of Jesus. Close your eyes and imagine who he was, what he looked like, where he lived, how he survived. This may connect you with Jesus, or remind you that those who are oppressed are connected to him by virtue of his humanity.

 

February 5, 2023 — Unity and Polarization

Andre Henry is a musician, an author, and an activist. This week we’ll be journeying through his book “All The White Friends I Couldn’t Keep.” It has been circling through our community for the last few months. Here, you can listen to two members of our Leadership Team relate its content to our church’s struggle against racism. Let’s prayerfully read through his prophetic work this week.

Today’s Bible reading

The parts of our body that are presentable don’t need this. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the part with less honor so that there won’t be division in the body and so the parts might have mutual concern for each other.  If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part gets the glory, all the parts celebrate with it. You are the body of Christ and parts of each other.  (1 Corinthians 12:24-27)

More thoughts for meditation

“In their book This Is an Uprising, movement historians Mark and Paul Engler argue that polarization is essential to effective nonviolent movements for social progress: “By taking an issue that is hidden from common view and putting it at the center of public debate, disruptive protest forces observers to decide which side they are on.” When the Freedom Riders performed their own illegal integrated bus rides and the national press published news of the violent mobs who attacked them for it, white Americans had to face the question: are you on the side of your neighbors trying to peacefully ride the bus or on the side of the vicious mob attacking them? Once people have chosen a side they’re more likely to take action that’s consistent with their position. Polarization can be crucial to a winning strategy.

This doesn’t mean we should just throw unity out the window altogether. A certain kind of unity is important. We do need to be united for the purpose of jamming the gears of the white power structure through nonviolent struggle. We need unity in our vision of tomorrow, unity in what strategies we’ll use to realize that vision, and unity in what values will guide our work as we fight. But we don’t need the fetish for the idea of racial harmony that’s so popular in white America. We seek unity not for its own sake but for a purpose.

When Dr. King talked about people coming together in his “I Have a Dream” speech, it was for the purpose of engaging in disruptive nonviolent campaigns. He says, “With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.” White people are out here quoting the “together” part and leaving out the part about “struggling” and “going to jail.”

To see what “unity for struggle” looks like in practice, let’s stick with one the most famous protests Dr. King was involved in: the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Unity played a central role in the success of that campaign. Ninety percent of Montgomery’s Black citizens stopped riding the bus. They also organized a carpool to get protesters to and from work. And their unified actions dealt a major blow to systemic racism, as the U.S. Supreme Court ruled racial discrimination in public transportation unconstitutional. That’s unity for struggle in action. It’s important to note that the success of the Montgomery Bus Boycott didn’t depend on convincing white people to “come to the table” and sing “Kumbaya The Black community needed unity among themselves, so they could act collectively.
The same is true in all struggles for social progress. We primarily need unity with those who are working toward the same goal.” (Andre Henry, All The White Friends I Couldn’t Keep, Convergent, 2022, p. 187-189

Suggestions for action

Can you appreciate the difference between unity that Andrew Henry is describing? When we have the same goals, unity is essential and division is deadly. But if we have much different goals, unity is counter to our mission and goals. We are working to get people to unite against racism. Let us consider Paul’s words above, that we can achieve unity when we elevate and honor those we have dishonored. Elevating their voices is essential to our goals, our unity, and for them not to leave our church too.

« Older posts