Pray for your enemies

Jesus is reported to have said a lot of things that are difficult to understand. One of them is this…to pray for your enemies and those who “despitefully” use you. When I read that when I was younger, I thought, “Yeah….right!” It didn’t make a lot of sense.

Then several years ago I got caught in a downsizing situation that was very difficult. There were some individuals involved in those decisions that I blamed…that I didn’t like. Actually, it was more than that–I hated them.

But this scripture kept coming to mind. Finally I gave in and told God I would pray for them. I’m sure that sometimes God cringed at my prayers, because sometimes they went something like “Okay, God…you told me to pray for them. So here I am. I don’t know what they need…and I don’t really care. But you take care of them!”

Not very Christ-like…but very real responses to the way I was feeling.

Fortunately I was able to find another job in that institution and to stay long enough for there to be healing and reconciliation.

But these last few weeks, I’ve found myself responding to yet another situation that has involved a lot of my friends losing their jobs…and being hurt and angry. I don’t blame them. That’s a normal–and sometimes healthy–response to what’s happened to them through no fault of their own…as long as they don’t get stuck in that anger.

What I’ve found happening in my own life, though, has been surprising and unexpected.

The situation was beginning to bring back some feelings and emotions from a few years ago. I knew I didn’t want to go back there, but I was really finding myself struggle. And yet…despite my cynicism and anger, I also found myself praying. That in itself wasn’t surprising–but what did surprise me was who I found myself praying for.

The prayers weren’t just for my friends who lost jobs and my friends who were still there but grieving losses, but I also found myself praying for those who had made some of the decisions that brought us to this point…some of whom I had had anger with previously. To be quite honest, I wasn’t sure why I was praying for them sometimes, but I kept feeling the need to do so.

And it’s out of those experiences that I’m finding myself getting through this. It doesn’t negate what I believe is a need for significant accountability, but it’s also allowed me to respond more from a position of grace and empathy.

I like the way this scripture is expressed in The Message:

 “You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves.”

We pray for our enemies not just because they need the prayers (they do)–but because of how it changes us as well.

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Train up a child…

Normally I think I would have written a couple of posts by now, but nothing in particular has come to mind–until yesterday.

For more than 20 years, my faith tradition has held a daily prayer for peace. It’s a short (but heartfelt) service–but held 365 days a year in one of the buildings of our headquarters–Community of Christ Temple in Independence, Missouri. It’s open to anyone who wishes to come and prayer for peace with us. Each day a different country of the world is held up in prayer.

I’ve participated in that several different ways…led it, contributed prayers for it, but probably most often, played for it (either on piano or organ).

Yesterday I was scheduled to play. As I was getting ready to leave, I told my granddaughter “good-bye” only to have her respond (rather vehemently), “Gwamma, you can’t go!” Her grandpa told her I was going to play for the prayer, and her response was “Okay, let’s go!” She has been to the Temple before, including to the prayer, but I had not planned on taking her this time. However, we bundled her up and took off.

As is my custom, I went on up to the organ to finish making sure my registrations for the ministry of music were what I wanted and to run through the hymn again. As I was finishing that–and before anyone had arrived for the service–my granddaughter, with help from Poppa (grandfather), came up the steps and over to the organ. He planted her on the seat beside me, and her eyes just lit up.

Ladybug loves music! She has played on my piano and organ at home in a way that I think is unusual for a child as young as she is. She does not bang but tries to intentionally make music. She has also sat on this organ bench with me before, but it’s been a while, so she was delighted to have this opportunity.

Poppa took several pictures–and they remind me that what we do with our children can have a lifelong impact. She loves music…she loves the prayer for peace…and she has watched me and knows what she needs to do when she sits on the organ bench.

"I think we need more stops!"

“I think we need more stops!”

"Four keyboards is a lot more fun than just one!"

“Four keyboards is a lot more fun than just one!”

Helping Grandma play the Daily Prayer for Peace

Helping Grandma play the Daily Prayer for Peace

Let the little children come…

baby blessing

Yesterday I was privileged to take part in one of the sacraments in my faith tradition–the blessing of children. This is modeled on the experience reported in the Gospels when Jesus took little children in his arms and blessed them.

Then little children were being brought to him in order that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples spoke sternly to those who brought them; but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.” And he laid his hands on them and went on his way. (Matthew 19:13-15)

It is a sacrament that is available to anyone who desires it–whether they are members of my denomination or not. It does not imply membership–it is simply bringing the child before God to ask for God’s blessing for the child (and also for the family).

There were two children blessed yesterday. One of them was Nolan, a little boy who is about 6 weeks old. We have had connections with her mother since she was about 14, and were also involved with her wedding–Charlie as the officiating minister and me as the minister of music. We have also had the opportunity of blessing their first child–Nolan’s big sister Emi. In this service, I was the minister who offered the prayer of blessing for him. What an incredible responsibility! But also, what a wonderful experience.

The other child blessed was our granddaughter–who is now 11 months old. She was (obviously) a little more active than Nolan and was a little squirmy and wiggly as she was being held by two of her grandfathers.

Services when this sacrament is held are always a joyful experience. There is such hope represented in these new lives–such faith in the future.

This is true, even when there are issues and challenges during the service. Our air conditioning was out yesterday–on a day when the temperature and humidity were both pretty high. We had some technical issues with the microphones. But in spite of all of that, it was a wonderful service.

Children bring joy…they bring trust…they bring hope for our future.

Let the children come…

Do we make a difference?

If you’re like me, sometimes you wonder if anything we do ever makes a difference in anyone else’s life. This–I think–is especially true when we think about our church connections. Do we really touch people’s lives? In my best moments, I think we do…but still, sometimes I wonder.

This morning I checked my Facebook page just before heading out to a church activity–a meeting where we would be ordaining someone to a special ministerial office and where we would be talking about specific ways to be disciples. I wasn’t expecting anything particularly profound–just thought I’d see what my friends were up to.

Well…

I headed out to that meeting with tears in my eyes! A friend (and former coworker of mine) is in charge of one of the daily worship activities for our church worldwide–the Daily Prayer for Peace. It’s held 365 days a year, regardless of the weather, and regardless of how many people attend. Sometimes there aren’t very many. But the worship outline is also posted online for others who may wish to join in prayer at a time appropriate for where they live. Kristopher shared this story this morning:

In November of last year I arrived at my Temple office to discover a letter upon my desk. It had been mailed to me from a man who was living in a prison cell – a man who, because of his committed crimes, was counting down the days and nights on death row. In his letter he informed me that he had heard about the Daily Prayer for Peace ministry offered by the Community of Christ, and asked me if I prayed for ‘people like him’; people who had made mistakes and who had caused others pain. The letter went on to describe the hopes and fears, the regrets and the realizations this man had experienced during his life behind bars.

Not sure how and if I should respond – feeling inadequate and at a loss for words, I decided to send this man a hand-written , return letter, offering acknowledgements that seemed generic and disingenuous, coming from my spiritually green mind. – But, to my surprise, two weeks later, an otherwise usual Tuesday morning found me opening yet another letter from the same penitentiary. This time the letter included words of thanks and insights into the interests and hobbies that had kept this man going over the many years in his jail-cell abode. As it turned out, music was at the forefront of this man’s passions and through the decades, he had read quite a lot about instrumental music – particularly guitar.

Although he admittedly was no master, he told me that in his designated recreational time, he had become familiar with a few basic chords; G, D, and a minor – so, to my surprise, I did something that caught me off guard. Perhaps it was the Spirit prompting, perhaps I felt guilty – but, for Christmas, I decided to purchase and send this man a copy of the musician’s edition of Community of Christ Sings. I sent the books wrapped in holiday paper and included a brief message explaining this new church hymnal, and pointing out that the chords were included for most of the hymns – I encouraged him to use these books as resources to continue his guitar studies.

Over a month went by and I had heard nothing from the prison or the man, but then, in February, I received another letter and, to my surprise, this letter was composed in a tone so full of joy and hope. It was difficult deciphering the markings of a hand that was apparently full of excitement. Correspondence continued over the next several weeks – ambitions were shared, questions were asked, and an unlikely relationship was formed.

Two weeks ago I received another letter, this one containing a single question and an admission. The letter read simply: ‘Mr. Taylor, do bad people ever get to join the good people again on the right journey? My favorite is number 550 but I’ve messed up too much to be a pilgrim. Please pray.’

I served the Prayer for Peace service today as the musician and afterward was asked twice why I did not play the hymn that was posted on the Prayer for Peace webpage.  This past week I was informed that my inadvertent pen-pal had finally awoken to his last day and was executed for his past crimes. I learned this information as I checked my email just this morning and, in the midst of fighting back a slew of completely unexpected tears, I made a decision – I chose to play hymn number 550, We are Pilgrims On A Journey – for those gathered in the Temple, for myself, and for my friend. I am not a very smart man and I certainly have my days where I just can’t keep my mouth shut and my thoughts to myself – but I do know this much: Loving is difficult – accepting those we cannot fully understand seems impossible – but if we seek God, we are allowing ourselves to be vulnerable to that love, and acceptance, and peace – in our being aware and responding, we are able to experience Christ; glimpse that divine purpose, if even for a moment. I am glad I chose not to keep my mouth shut, and I am grateful to God for connecting me to this man – for blessing me with ‘people like him’ – I am thankful that, for five months, I was able to fellowship with another Pilgrim on this Journey.

One of the songs we sang as we began our worship experience this morning was hymn number 550. I’ve sung it before and like the words–but this morning, I had a different perspective with that song. I had a face to put with it–not a face I could describe, because I don’t know the name of Kristopher’s pen-pal…but a face that represented my brothers and sisters who are pilgrims with me…who may have made wrong choices, but who are still God’s children and who ask us to walk together, being Christ to each other.

We are pilgrims on a journey,
here together on the road;
we are here to help each other
walk the mile and bear the load.

Will you let me be your servant,
let me be as Christ to you?
Pray that I might have the grace to
let you be my servant too.

I will hold the Christ-light for you
in the nighttime of your fear;
I will hold my hand out to you,
speak the peace you long to hear.

I will weep when you are weeping,
when you laugh I’ll laugh with you;
I will share your joy and sorrow
till we’ve seen this journey through.

Words: Richard Gillard, alt.
copyright 1977 Universal Music-Brentwood Benson Publishing

Heartbroken…

This is a season when we should be enjoying the excitement of children…and yet…

The news reports today of another mass shooting. While information is still sketchy, there are a significant number of casualties from a shooting in an elementary school in Connecticut. Children–who should have been in a safe place–instead found themselves running for safety from yet another individual who went on a killing rampage.

Why? Why?

There have been too many incidents like this…too many times when “safe” places have turned out to be anything but safe.

Yes, in each of those situations there have been people who have forgotten about their own safety in order to try to protect others. And yet…there are still shootings.

I am heartbroken for the families who again today are impacted by these horrible losses. Those who have lost loved ones–the students’ families, the school principal’s family, the school psychologist’s family…will have empty places in their homes this holiday season. The students who survived will always carry with them scars from this event. The first responders–those carrying out children and trying to bring healing as well as those trying to make the school safe again–will have memories they would prefer not to. And yes, the shooter’s family is also among the victims–both literally and in other ways as well. His mother is dead as is a brother–and those family members who survive will be asking themselves “Why?”

Were there warning signs? Was there anything that could have been done to have prevented this shooting?

We can debate that question in so many ways–with each of us having our own ideas and own responses.

But for now…I would simply ask that we remember in thoughts and prayers those who are dealing with the aftermath of this tragedy.

My post-election prayer

The election is over…. The hullaboo has ended, and another governing cycle has begun. This is my prayer:

God,

You have created all of us as brothers and sisters…and who called that creation “good”…

We don’t always see that. In our humanity, we find it easy to demonize those we disagree with–and when we do that, we forget that we share similar hopes and dreams for ourselves, our families, and our country.

We want a world where there is peace…where children can grow up in safety, with hope for a future where they can fulfill their potential.

We want a world in which the needs of each one for food, shelter, clothing, are met…a world where justice prevails.

We want a world where no one is left behind…where those who are vulnerable are carried along with us and helped through their vulnerabilities.

The problem is that we don’t have the same vision of how to get there.

God, help us to see that we need each one’s portion of that vision…to understand that each person has something to give to the whole. Help us to see that when we work together, trying to find common ground, we can often find unexpected new ways of meeting our common goals.

Grant us the wisdom to see the humanity in each other, even when we disagree. Give us the courage to stand up for our convictions, but also the willingness to talk with each other and the ability to find ways we can work together for the good of all.

May we find ways of being peacemakers with each other.

Amen.

Praying for peace

My faith tradition holds a short prayer for peace 365 days a year. It takes place in our Temple, a building that was dedicated to “peace, reconciliation, and healing of the spirit.”

Sometimes there is a large group present; more often it is a small group…sometimes only ten or fewer. It doesn’t matter. The prayer for peace is held.

But a friend of mine (who helps provide the ministry of music when he is in the country) raised a question. He is aware that it requires preparation on the part of the leader and the musician–even though there is not a lot of music…a hymn and a closing ministry of music. He wondered why we bothered. Why do we go ahead and hold the service–even on Sundays and holidays–when there are few in attendance? Why do we ask people to take the time to practice and prepare when there are often few in the pews? We have the service online; why isn’t that sufficient?

It’s a fair question, and a valid one. I don’t know how someone else would answer his question, but here’s my take on it.

  • I believe in the power of prayer–and I believe that even when there are just two or three gathered together, there is a synergy and an energy that is created.
  • I believe that honoring a commitment we have made to God is important. We dedicated this place to focus on peace and reconciliation, and I believe it is important to do anything we can to help bring that about.
  • There may not be many in the pews, but those who are present in the building are joining their prayers with those who are unable to be physically present–who are in many places in the world. The Temple serves as a focal point for those prayers for peace.
  • I do enjoy it when others are present to hear me play–but that’s not the primary reason I offer ministry in this service. I offer it as a gift to God–an acknowledgement of the talent God has given me.
  • God is present in that place. I believe God is present anywhere we are prepared to experience God–but again, this is a focal point (at least for me), and I find joy in preparing the best I have to offer God in this place and this time.

Our world is so in need of peace. Peace between individuals…peace between nations…peace between humans and the earth…

Anything we can do to help bring about peace…reconciliation…healing of the spirit–in any place and in any form is an important ministry we can share together.

It doesn’t matter where you are or what your faith tradition is. If you want to join me, let’s pray for peace together.