A Thanksgiving Prayer

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This popular Thanksgiving hymn holds a timeless truth, and speaks to us in these days. It is good news for us that the wicked ones who oppress us will “cease from distressing.” Even in our present time, with God at our side we will escape tribulation. I think mostly this day of the suffering of the families and children of Syria, of those who are the targets of hate in our own country, of our brothers and sisters at Standing Rock, of all who live in fear of losing their cherished freedom.

We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing;
He chastens and hastens His will to make known;
The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing;
Sing praises to His Name; He forgets not His own.

Beside us to guide us, our God with us joining,
Ordaining, maintaining His kingdom divine;
So from the beginning the fight we were winning;
Thou, Lord, wast at our side, all glory be Thine!

We all do extol Thee, Thou Leader triumphant,
And pray that Thou still our Defender will be;
Let Thy congregation escape tribulation;
Thy Name be ever praised! O Lord, make us free!

May our God make it so. Amen.

 

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Help Me to Do What Is Right

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When the Christ surprises us all and comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory.

All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.

Then He will say to those at his right hand, β€˜Come, you that are blessed by having done what was right, guided by the Creator and the Spirit, inherit the kin-dom prepared for you from the foundation of the world;

for I was Muslim and you welcomed me,

I was a refugee and you sheltered me,

I was a stranger and you welcomed me,

I was forced to be counted and you stood to be counted with me,

I am black and you said my life matters,

I was LGBTQ and you performed my wedding.’

Then the righteous will answer him, β€˜Lord, when did we see you Muslim, black, a stranger, a refugee, LGBTQ, Jewish, or a stranger and welcome you?’ And the King of all Souls will answer them, β€˜Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

May it be so for me and for you.

Amen.

Prayer by The Reverend Julia Seymour. She serves Lutheran Church of Hope in Anchorage, AK. She blogs at lutheranjulia.blogspot.com. She contributed to There’s A Woman in the Pulpit.

Our Reply to Violence

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We have experienced some difficult days following election 2016. Violence was a part of the process, at least a violence of words. And violence takes its toll on the human spirit. The Southern Poverty Law Center has tracked 892 hate groups operating in the United States. The civil rights organization has also cited over 300 cases of hateful harassment or intimidation in the United States since Election Day.

For me, few things have helped ease the struggle of my spirit. The one thing that has helped the most is music. I have found myself singing hymns to myself several times a day and have been comforted by the familiar melodies and sacred texts.

Music has that kind of healing power for so many people during times of trial. Protestant Theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer stands out among the Christian leaders during the Nazi era, for he was one of the few to actively resist the racist actions of the Nazi regime. He said this about music.

Music… will help dissolve your perplexities and purify your character and sensibilities, and in time of care and sorrow, will keep a fountain of joy alive in you.

In the days that followed the assassination of President Kennedy, there were many heart-wrenching musical moments, like the New York Philharmonic’s performance of Mahler’s “Resurrection” Symphony. During that dark time, music director Leonard Bernstein gave an unforgettable speech at Madison Square Garden. His remarks include these words:

This sorrow and rage will not inflame us to seek retribution; rather it will inflame our art … This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly, than ever before.

May it be so … that music is our reply to violence.

The Mists of Autumn

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The story of Autumn tells of early morning mists that blanket the vibrantly changing trees. It reminds us of a kind of melancholy that anticipates the cold winter months. The sight is a masterpiece lasting for a short time, until the sun breaks through.

It’s also a picture of life that necessarily includes misty, melancholy seasons. Yet the sun breaks through, brightening our existence and reminding us of constant change. We live through the mists, always knowing that eventually the sun will rise upon us.

Until the warmth of the sun returns, we have companions beside us, willing to lead us by the hand until we can see the path clearly again. It’s called the grace of presence that proclaims that we are never alone. Life’s mists will come, but we will walk on with hope and with companions who walk with us until daybreak.

And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon thee, and thou shalt be blind, not seeing the sun for a season. And immediately there fell on him a mist and a darkness; and he went about seeking some to lead him by the hand.

– Acts 13:11 King James Version (KJV)

Strength to Face the Wind

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Life is very much about standing to face the wind, constantly being blown about by change. It can be tumultuous at times. It can blow gently and change the little things about us. It can be gale-force and rearrange everything we cling to.

The important questions are these: Who will I be in the face of the winds? Will anxiety paralyze me? Will I be afraid? Will I be in a state of turmoil? Or is it possible that I will be that steady center, that constant and consistent presence that stands immovable?

This one thing I know. When God is our anchor, the winds can blow on and we will stand steady. We will “surprise ourselves with the strength we have to face the wind.” So let us hear, with faith in ourselves, the summons from Bishop Stephen Charleston.

Let’s do something surprising. In the midst of anxiety, let us be unafraid. In the time of anger, let us be peaceful. In the heart of turmoil, let us be a steady center… Let us do something different. Let us be the rallying point for faith, the constant and consistent presence of a love that embodies justice, the quiet truth that knits lives together. Let us surprise ourselves with the strength we have when we stand to face the wind.

– Steven Charleston

Walking Lake

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“Walking Lake” in North Little Rock, Arkansas. Photo by J.V. McKinney

I love today’s photo, entitled “walking lake.” It reminds me of the comfort of walking beside still waters. It reminds me that restoring my soul is the most important part of life. It reminds me that, when times are tough and all comforts fail, we sometimes just have to walk it off. Sometimes we have to literally will our bodies to get moving and will our spirits to be comforted.

After this presidential election I found myself paralyzed with grief. I didn’t want to leave my house. I didn’t want to move. I felt as if I had been punched in the stomach. All I could do was keep myself still and quiet until the hurt began to lift.

I knew that I could not stay in my immovable state. I knew I had to lift myself up and walk on. I knew that God had provided a “walking lake” for my healing. And then I happened upon this photo — serene and comforting beauty. I looked at it for several minutes, transporting myself to that place of healing. In the end, I moved. I stood up and got my bearings. I walked on with hope in my heart.

I pray that every person who has been disappointed will find his or her personal walking lake.

This Is My America

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The road ahead after the 2016 presidential election seems frightening and lonely to me. I have contemplated the outcome of the election over and over again, trying to console and comfort myself. And I’m searching for what was my America.

While people protest in the streets of America and the people whose candidate won the presidential election continue to gloat and to spew hate-filled and divisive rhetoric, I am searching for my America. It’s not so easy to find these days. I can’t help but think that this is not a safe and kind place to live for millions of people.

I changed my mind today. It happened at a Walmart Neighborhood Market.

Shopping today was a heartening experience. A young mother with a small child stood by the door asking for donations of canned foods and other items. Their church was putting together Thanksgiving baskets. They have done this for fifteen years. They told us that they expected to give out baskets of a complete Thanksgiving dinner to about 10,000 families at their church on Russell Parkway in Warner Robins, Georgia. Their act of compassion and caring during this Thanksgiving season almost drowns out the voices of hate.

I was more than happy to donate a few cans and to be a small part of this ministry of love. I take another look at the road ahead and discover that it’s still there beckoning me to walk on with hope. This is my America.

We Can Do This!

 

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Everywhere I look I see safety pins. People are wearing them. Millions are posting them on social media. Churches are adding them to messages of inclusion. The pins carry a simple message: whoever you are, you are safe with me.

Jim Wallis of Sojourners describes our state of affairs.

Today, many people are frightened β€” mostly the people whom the now president-elect has regularly attacked. If I read my Scriptures right, those are the people Christians and other people of good conscience should now turn to in solidarity and support.

I am getting calls all the time. They are from the people who feel most vulnerable: parents of young black and brown children, Hispanic pastors who are dealing with the terrified undocumented families in their congregations, African-American ministers who fear the emboldened white police officers who no longer fear the scrutiny of a justice department, a president, or anyone else who might hold them accountable. And, of course, many of our Muslim brothers and sisters are wondering whether this can be a country for them anymore.

Where must we start as Christians and faithful churches after such a devastating election that brings the most dangerous man to the White House that we have seen in our lifetimes?

That is the question we must answer. As never before, we must find tangible ways to live out our faith by being present with those who are now living with fear. May God give us the courage and compassion to do just that . . . for our brothers and sisters — Latinos, Muslim Americans, women, LGBT persons, African American persons — anyone who is marginalized, disrespected and diminished.

Standing with them in loving solidarity is our calling for the living of these days. Sincere and unceasing prayer is critical. Open hearts and open minds will carry us through, together. The safety pins on our lapels will remind us. We can do this!

To Sing Again

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60,072,551 Americans are celebrating, singing songs of victory. At the same time, 60,467,601 of us cannot sing at all. We are silenced by grief after a divisive and troubling presidential election. Many of us are afraid, some are angry, others are despondent. And all around us, people celebrate.

How will we get through this time? How will we ever again feel that America is our home? When will we again lift our eyes after being bowed down in mourning? I have no easy answers. I only know that these words of the Psalmist describe my deepest feeling.

By the waters of Babylon,
there we sat down and wept,
when we remembered Zion.
On the willows there
we hung up our lyres.
For there our captors
required of us songs,
and our tormentors, mirth, saying,
β€œSing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How shall we sing the Lord’s song
in a foreign land?

Psalm 137:1-4

It is my sincere prayer that on some day in the future we will pick up our lyres, lift our eyes to the heavens, stand tall, and sing again.

Grace

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Day two of grief and confusion. Day two of desperately seeking grace in the midst of grief. Day two of mourning a deeply personal loss.

It was a stunning upset, leaving us with President-elect Donald J. Trump. Despondency barely describes what I’m feeling. Fear may be even more descriptive. I do not feel despondent over being on the losing side of the election. For me, it is not about winning or losing. I do not feel anger or resentment against my brothers and sisters who voted for Trump.

But I do feel disenfranchised in my own country. I feel like I’m a part of a country I don’t understand. I feel like my hopes and dreams are no longer important. I feel like there is a powerful leader over me who will crush my dreams without a thought. I feel like the ground beneath me is shaking. Yesterday I read these words written by my friend, Julie Pennington-Russell.

In 1952, at the threshold of the Cold War, Harry Emerson Fosdick spoke to students and faculty at the Pacific School of Religion. After acknowledging the uncertainty and chaos in the world at that time, he spoke these now-famous words: β€œThe highest use of a shaken time is to discover the unshakable.”

So this, for me, is a shaken time. I feel a cloud of uncertainty and chaos. I fear the days ahead. I am grieving, yet looking for a smidgen of grace in it all. That’s all I can do. And I lean into the encouraging words of Bishop Steven Charleston.

Now comes the hard part. As this new day dawns, joyful for some, sad for others, we face a single question: how will we walk together when our paths seem so different? There is a word for it. Grace. May we have the grace to be humble in victory and hopeful in defeat. May we have the grace to overcome our fears. This is the hard part, the time of seeking the common good, not for ourselves alone, but for those younger lives watching us. May our first step be made in prayer, spoken in different ways but with a shared appeal: give us your grace, dear God, to care more for one another than for winning.

– Bishop Steven Charleston