Friday, October 21, 2011

A Father's Blessing

I know this plays like a commercial, but it's really just another excuse to talk about the grandkids. The occasion is the release of the updated version of The Blessing, John Trent and Gary’s Smalley’s popular family-oriented, Christian “self-help” book, originally published in 1986.

I read the book back then, and as a Christian with a fairly recent psychology degree and a strong desire to raise a family, it punched all my buttons. Problem was I didn’t have a family of my own. I wasn’t married; I wasn’t even dating. So it was a bit like reading escapist fiction for me.  But now, of course, my world is different. I'm married and occasionally dating (my WIFE, silly people!); I count six kids and seven grandkids.

My grandson Damon had a tough time last school year. He is now in 1st grade for the second time. This year, he’s doing well academically, but it’s taken a while for him to deal with this thing emotionally. It seems that repeating a grade and trying to fit into a new school are not easy realities to get used to.

Laura, my wife, and I get to see him every morning. Before we pick up his cousin Elliott for the day, we travel to Damon’s house to drive him to school. When we get to Damon’s house each schoolday morning, his mom, Chrissy, has already taken his brothers Christian and Dylan to their schools on her way to work.  Brother Michael is also at work. Damon is at home with his daddy, Thomas, who is there after having worked into the evening. Damon's little sisters, Chelsea and Zoey, are usually sleeping.

Before leaving the house with Damon, we ask him, “Did you do you homework? Did you get your folder signed? Are you all set?” It’s the ritual. The last part of the ritual is when he goes to his daddy. Thomas hugs him, holds him close, and whispers a prayer for the day. He challenges Damon to do his best, to obey his teachers, to be kind to his classmates. He says “I love you,” and kisses him. Damon is then ready to face his day.

That moment lasts less than a minute each day, but it makes all the difference in the world for how Damon navigates that day. Thomas bestows a blessing on Damon.

That’s The Blessing John Trent and Gary Smalley describe in their book. Their contention is that The Blessing bestowed upon our children (our grandchildren, spouses, other family members and friends) can make a difference in how they navigate, not just one day, but their entire lives. For the authors there are five elements to The Blessing:

1. Use meaningful and appropriate touch.

2. Use a spoken message of encouragement.

3. Attach high value. Communicate that person’s value.

4. Help them picture a special future.

5. Actively commit to helping them succeed.

I’d like to say that I taught Thomas everything he knows in this regard, but it wouldn’t be true. Thomas is one of those rare people gifted by God as a natural nurturer, a natural encourager. Most of us are not like that. Most of us need help learning how to bestow that blessing. For us, the book, The Blessing, can help.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Why We Ignored Jesus

And when you fast, do not look miserable as the actors and hypocrites do when they are fasting--they walk around town putting on airs about their suffering and weakness, complaining about how hungry they are. So everyone will know they are fasting, they don't  wash or anoint themselves with oil, pink their cheeks, or wear comfortable shoes. Those  who show off their piety, they have already received their  reward. When you fast, wash your face and beautify yourself with oil, so no one who looks at you will know about your discipline. Matthew 5:16-18a, The Voice
If you know me on FB or IRL, you have probably heard about the fast that Laura I undertook for 5 days. It was a vegetable and fruit fast, which means we could eat and drink only those foods. If you've heard about it, it's because we haven’t exactly been quiet about it, even though Jesus said what you read above. To be fair, my transgression has been way more egregious than Laura’s, but she’s not exactly been closemouthed (except toward meat and bread and all grains and legumes and dairy and anything else you would ingest that isn't fruit or vegetable) either.
So how do we justify our total disregard for Jesus’ words?

Well, looking righteous wasn't our reason for advertising the fast. And if you're tempted to think we're wonderful for undertaking this fast, you are very generous (thank you), but you should know that we quit a meal short of our goal (unfortunately that one meal wasn't very satisfying). So we are at best one meal shy of wonderful.

We also did not publicize our venture to gain pity, although I sometimes live like a disciple of Seinfeld’s George Constanza who once said, "Pity's very underrated. I like pity. It's good." Any pity I solicited (one person called me "grumpy") or mock guilt I inflicted was just for entertainment, pretending that we were actually suffering. The truth is we burdened ourselves with eating and drinking only all the fruits and vegetables we could--no real burden.

Ours was not a true commitment; it was an experiment. It all started when Kimberly texted her mother to recommend a movie about fat. I didn't care to see it, but with only end-of-the-summer TV to relax with, I agreed to give it a shot. The movie was Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead, and 30 minutes in, we stopped it and went out to buy a juicer. 

People fast for any number or reasons. Our fast was for physical health reasons, not for spiritual purification or growth or for political or spiritual leverage, although we are well aware of the connections between our spiritual, mental, and physical health. And we are aware that Jesus is an equal opportunity physician--healing body, mind, spirit, and even the social order.

In sum, I don’t believe our fast has anything to do with what Jesus was talking about.  The attitudes and actions Jesus warns against were about self-congratulating and solicitation of pity. We had neither of those intentions. 

We did, however, want people to know about our fast. Did I mention that we couldn't eat meat, bread, grains, legumes, or dairy? They even frowned upon potatoes. Potatoes!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Out of Tragedy, Triumph?

This morning after listening to Neil Young’s “Let’s Roll,” I played the collection America: A Tribute to Heroes, from the 9/11 telethon. Lots of moving music, but for me the standouts are always this rendition of Sting’s “Fragile,” and Celine Dion’s classic version of “God Bless America.”

Then we headed for church, where we read together Isaiah 43:2-3b,

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you.
When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned,
Nor shall the flame scorch you.
For I am the LORD your God. (NKJV)

(When I got home, I heard similar themes reflected in Psalm 46, which President Obama read at Ground Zero. It reads in part:
God is our refuge and strength,
         A very present help in trouble.
 Therefore we will not fear,
         Even though the earth be removed,
         And though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea;
 Though its waters roar and be troubled,
         Though the mountains shake with its swelling.  Selah  
There is a river whose streams shall make glad the city of God,
         The holy place of the tabernacle of the Most High.)

Our pastor, Stephen Handy, commemorated 9/11 with four statements.

He said, “In the midst of tragedy, there is triumph.” Surely he speaks truth. First we heard the heroics of firefighters, police officers, EMTs and ordinary citizens--not the least of whom were a small band of airplane passengers--who risked their lives preventing further tragedy. The days and weeks that followed 9/11 showed a renewal of the American spirit of community, as President Obama highlights in his USA Today op-ed.

Reflecting on the horrors of the day, Pastor Stephen also noted, “God is still with us.” Look around, and while you might find reason to convince otherwise, open eyes will se that if God was ever with us, God is still with us.

Pastor Stephen concluded with the statement “So I thank God for 9/11.” I can share his gratitude, simply because I find it helpful to thank God for nearly everything, looking for the good even in the midst of horrifying bad.

But this commemoration taxes my gratitude efforts because of Pastor Stephen’s first statement. He declared, “We are better people because of that day.” I love and respect our Pastor, but I can’t agree with this statement. Thanking God, even in the midst of tragedy, draws on faith in a loving, just, good God. God’s goodness is at the core of my faith, a starting place.

I need that faith because humans do not command that same confidence. I can agree with both my pastor and our President that we saw better people during the attack and in the immediately following days and weeks, and we have seen better people in the sacrifices of those who have enlisted and served to assure that this kind of tragedy won’t happen again. But I cannot say with any degree of confidence that we Americans as a people are better. We came together as a community and we began to remember our presence as part of the global community—all for a mere moment. 

Since then we have seen the most divisive and mean-spirited attitudes I can remember in my adult life—all without any real cause. To me we are an uglier people.

But perhaps with these memorable songs, these moving commemorations, these somber remembrances, we can also remember those post 9/11 days and try to recapture that spirit. Perhaps we can remember the God who walks with us through fire, storm, and unbelievable horror. And perhaps we can become the better people my pastor calls us.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Love & War & the Sea In-Between: A Music Review

I’ve been downloading music from NoiseTrade for months now. Fortunately for anyone accessing my Facebook page, the NoiseTrade folks no longer insist that I announce to you every time I download free music. Often I download stuff that I haven’t fully appreciated yet, and I’m not sure I want you to know about it. Some of it is still sitting in a folder waiting for me to give it the time of day.

NoiseTrade is great! You can download a song, a few songs, or a preset sampler of indie music. I’m not sure who owns the place, but there is a good bit of folk, pop, rock, Americana, and singer-songwriter stuff; if you look for it, you can find R&B and hip-hop, as well. A good bit of it has a Christian bent, but I’m not sure why. The quality varies, and your personal taste will determine whether it’s worth your time and trouble. But it’s certainly worth your money, since you aren’t risking any (Feel free to tip, though).

Occasionally an artist will offer a complete album. Such was the case with Josh Garrels’ Love & War & the Sea In-Between: an 18-song collection. This daring songwriter demands that we believe that free music doesn’t have to sound cheap (or come cheaply).

To make his point right out of the barrel, Garrels dares to make the music itself interesting. I didn’t suspect he was a Christian believer when I began the listen, and the opening instrumental notes did nothing to divulge his secret. I know: Christian music is supposed to be defined by the words. But unfortunately too much Christian music resembles the caricature in the “Jesus Fish” episode of Seinfeld years ago. Before you even hear the words, the unimaginative instrumentation signals: You are beginning a Christian song. The opening sounds expose the agenda, as if the music holds no creative substance of its own; it exists only to service the lyrical message. 

Forgive me if you are a Christian musician who proves otherwise. You are in good company with Josh Garrels. Before the lyrics threaten with some slave-driving whip, Garrels serves notice: this is a musical/lyrical collaboration. Then four songs in, he hammers the point with the first of several instrumentals! This one relies on electronica, the next one rests in Celtic acoustics.

But back to the first song. When the vocals do kick in, you know what you’re in for: Garrels is a Ray LaMontagne sound-alike. Or is it Dave Matthews, or David Gray? Not bad voices to sound like. Like them all Josh conveys raw emotion, his comes as raspy and folky expression. Then you realize that he’s no sound alike. But that’s the kind of artist you get with Garrels. Except on the instrumentals. Oh, and on #5, "The Resistance,” which is a rap song (a la Jason Mraz). So he’s a little difficult to pigeonhole.

Once you are taken in by the music and the voice, you get caught up in the poetry, the cinemascapes painted by word. The songcraft, the orchestration, the stylistic diversity, the vocal range, the poetry. All of these arrest the attention.

You catch the beauty, and it’s only later that you might recognize that the beauty is grounded in the Christian story. In fact, the truly remarkable accomplishment of this gallery is that Garrels uses both direct and allusive biblical references, without ever sounding trite. Anyone familiar with the biblical text or with gospel music will recognize the connections. This is no more evident than on “Farther Along,” the entrancing 4th song, which lifts from Albert Tinley’s timeless gospel song, “We’ll Understand It Better By and By.”  And like the best gospel songs and the biblical text, Garrels recognizes that religious topics cannot legitimately be removed from real life. Witness the various compositions (“For You,” and “Million Miles,” especially) that speak of romantic love better than your average pop song.

I finally went to Garrells’ website, driven largely by my curiosity of why a struggling musician would give away music of this quality. He says that he “felt led of the Lord” to release this album for a year for free. I’m not sure what the Lord had in mind; I mean this is not missionary music like Keith Green’s So You Wanna Go Back to Egypt way back in 1980.  But I’m hoping Garrels’ (and the Lord’s) gamble pays off. I for one have already paid money to hear 15 more songs from Garrrels off of 2008’s Jacaranda. I’m counting on the same caliber of music as I’ve already heard. If you’re not willing to shell out 10 bucks just based on my recommendation, at least hurry over to NoiseTrade or to Josh’s own site to download the new free album. If you like it as much as I did, you’ll probably find yourself letting go of a few dollars to hear more.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

I Love God and Country

When I "liked" the "I love God and country" page on Facebook, I kinda suspected that many of my fellow "likers" meant something different from what I meant. I meant that I love God and I love my country. For me they are separate loves, not a joint-love.

Based on comments from the page, I was right in my suspicions: others see things differently. Some  declare that only those who love God can love their country. Some say explicitly that only those who love the United States of America can love God. Some say that loving the USA is the same as loving God. Many suggest that God of the Bible belongs to America, as if we own the God of the Universe.

But God doesn’t belong to any of us in the US. We didn’t invent God. We didn’t in any way originate God. Truly my Bible tells me that God originated this nation. But it also says that God originated all other nations as well.

So when I say I love God and country, I am hoping that people in Germany and Cote d’Ivoire and Brazil and North Korea and Uzbekistan and Libya will chime in with “I love God and Country too!” And I hope they will mean the same thing I mean: As an American (or a German or a Brazilian) I am proud of my country (despite its imperfections). And as a Christian, I believe there is only one God (though numerous gods) and I love that God of All Nations. 

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

The Word of God Is Alive and Active!

Rena Peterson woke every morning for two years praying the same prayer, “God you woke me up this morning, and I’m still alive, so you better have something for me to do!” Rena, who is my mom, was grieving the loss of my dad, her husband of 46 years, who died after a prolonged illness. Mom had been his caretaker, and when he was gone, she wanted to be gone too. Day after day she prayed her indignant prayer. And week after week she attended church.

Mom and her Breakfast Club friends
Then one Sunday she heard about a ministry of feeding breakfast burritos to homeless people. She decided to join the group one Saturday. Then she returned the next week. Mom returned every week and began asking the displaced folks what else they would like to eat.

Now nine years later she spends her weeks preparing the Saturday morning meal. The menu has expanded from breakfast burritos to beans and rice, fried chicken, and greens. Mom continues to change the menu according to the needs and desires of new friends. She and the other members of “The Breakfast Club” also offer prayer, friendship and spiritual food to their displaced neighbors.

Mom’s story is featured in my first Bible project, which releases today! The Take Action Bible also introduces 14 other stories of ordinary people who have put God’s Word into action (There are even more stories here). The stories are covered in five full color sections inserted throughout the text of the Bible. Each section (Go, Serve, Give, Teach, Heal) includes three stories, a Scriptural passage and questions for reflection. This Bible also includes a list of 52 simple actions most anyone could take, based in Scripture.

I’m thrilled that my first project at my new employer is this Bible that emphasizes mission and action!

Friday, February 18, 2011

And the Idiocy Grows

I am aware that ignorance and blinding suspicion are no respecters of parties. But this one I have to call out. According to Public Policy Polling, 51% of likely Republican voters believe that Barack Obama was not born in the USA. Another 21% say they are not sure. I suspect that that latter group doesn’t mean “not sure” in the same way that they are “not sure” of the birthplaces of our other 43 Presidents, whose birth certificates they likely have not seen.

That means that, regardless of what they think of his political philosophy or his stands on the issues, only 28% of likely Republican voters are confident that President Barack Obama is legitimately President of the United States. With that little confidence in his legitimacy, how can you even begin to listen to anything he has to say? If he is illegitimate, if he has perpetrated this fraud on the US public, you might as well assume that every act he makes, every word he says is all part of a plot to destroy America.

When it was just a handful of crazies during the 2008 presidential campaign, this birther nonsense was just silly. When it persisted after the election and against all the evidence, it annoyed me. Now that 51 % of voting Republicans have signed on to the idiocy, I am disgusted.

I am not disgusted by disagreement with the President; this is the United States of America And I know that some of my Republican and conservative friends simply differ with their President on the issues and on political philosophy. To those people, I offer my respect.  I’ll be glad to discuss political philosophy with you, especially from a Christian perspective at another time. And if you get lumped in with your ignorant fellow conservatives, I offer my apology. But for those 51% or your Republican comrades, I have a few more things to say.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Lincoln's 2nd Inaugural

I try to read this every year. It may be my favorite speech of all time. In honor of Abraham Lincoln's 202nd birthday:
Abraham Lincoln
Saturday, March 4, 1865
Fellow Countrymen:
At this second appearing to take the oath of the presidential office, there is less occasion for an extended address than there was at the first. Then a statement, somewhat in detail, of a course to be pursued, seemed fitting and proper. Now, at the expiration of four years, during which public declarations have been constantly called forth on every point and phase of the great contest which still absorbs the attention, and engrosses the energies of the nation, little that is new could be presented. The progress of our arms, upon which all else chiefly depends, is as well known to the public as to myself; and it is, I trust, reasonably satisfactory and encouraging to all. With high hope for the future, no prediction in regard to it is ventured.

On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago, all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil-war. All dreaded it -- all sought to avert it. While the inaugural address was being delivered from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, insurgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war -- seeking to dissolve the Union, and divide effects, by negotiation. Both parties deprecated war; but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive; and the other would accept war rather than let it perish. And the war came.

One eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the Southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was, somehow, the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union, even by war; while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war, the magnitude, or the duration, which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with, or even before, the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces; but let us judge not that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered; that of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. "Woe unto the world because of offenses! for it must needs be that offenses come; but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh!" If we shall suppose that American Slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South, this terrible war, as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a Living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope -- fervently do we pray -- that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether." 

With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan -- to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

From Every People and Nation, Intro

Several weeks ago I promised to post excerpts from the provocative, insightful book From Every People and Nation: A Biblical Theology of Race, by Dr. J. Daniel Hays. The book, written by a self-identified conservative, white biblical theologian traces the picture of race issues throughout the Bible. This first installment is from the book’s introduction:
Not long ago, in a conversation with my colleague Dr. Isaac Mwase, a Black professor and pastor of a local Black congregation, I mentioned that the race problem was an important issue for the Church today. Isaac quickly corrected me by stating emphatically that it is the most important issue for the Church today. This conversation illustrates to some degree of phenomenon that I encountered regularly as I read through some of the recent literature dealing with the race problem in the Church today. Black scholars identify the racial division in the Church as one of the most central problems for contemporary Christianity, while many White scholars are saying, “What problem?”
Likewise, even among those who acknowledge the problem, there is a wide difference of opinion concerning just how bad the problem is and whether the situation is improving or deteriorating. On the one hand, in recent years tremendous progress appears to have been achieved. (D.A.) Carson, for example, documents evangelical churches on the east coast and the west coast of North American that are doing a remarkable job of integrating (Love in Hard Places, 2002, 95-96). Particularly among many White Christians, there is the perception that in these regions things have improved; even in the south and the Midwest many feel that although lagging behind the rest of the country, the race problem is not nearly as pronounced as it was a generation ago.
 On the other hand, some have observed that the evidence for this perception is often anecdotal, and actual statistical survey data appear to suggest otherwise. Emerson and Smith in Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America (2000) study the problem, through statistical data based on actual nationwide surveys and interviews. They point out that there is tremendous disparity between the way Whit evangelicals view the problem and the way Black evangelicals view the problem. They also note that the phenomenon cuts across regional lines. Their studies indicate that two-thirds of White Christians believe that the situation for Blacks is improving, while two-thirds of Black Christians believe that the situation for Blacks is deteriorating. The survey data have led Emerson and Smith to pessimistic conclusions…. 
Emerson and Smith (p171) also suggest that one of the underlying factors hindering evangelicalism’s ability to address the race issues adequately is that evangelicals have a tendency to define problems in simple terms and to look for simple solutions. The race issue, on the other hand is extremely complex, involving history, tradition, culture, religion, economics, politics, and a host of other factors.…
Although there are some significant exceptions, in general there is silence in White evangelical congregations concerning the biblical teaching on this issue. Within these congregations, the current attitude of many Whites often falls into one of three categories. First, some people are still entrenched in their inherited racism. They are interested in the Bible if it reinforces their prejudiced views; otherwise they do not care what the Bible says about race. Second, many people assume that the Bible simply does not speak to the race issue, and particularly the Black-White issue. Third many others are simply indifferent to the problem, assuming the status quo is acceptable and that the Bible supports their current practices.
These views appear to carry over into academia as well. Indeed evangelical biblical and theological scholarship has continued to remain nearly silent on this issue, even though indications of the scope of the problem are obvious.
 So here's the first installment. What are your thoughts?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Dr. King, Persecution, and the Art of Prayer

The 1960s, the heyday of the civil rights movement, saw a polarized, volatile American public. At the symbolic center of the vitriolic rhetoric stood the figure of Martin Luther King Jr., hailed by some as a messianic hero and demonized by others as an un-American antagonist with evil intent.
Today Dr. King is more symbol than human. And despite the exposed human faults of the actual man, his human virtues are worthy of the symbol. For his endurance in the face of opposition, for his subjection to a campaign of lies, for his refusal to retaliate, for his submission to physical violence, for his suffering unjust incarceration, for his brandishing powerful nonviolent rhetoric, and for his proclamation of clear, if not universally accepted moral truth, Martin Luther King Jr. remains one of our nation’s most revered figures.
The persecution Dr. King endured was not feigned. It was no perceived attack with roots in legitimate criticism. His life, the lives of his compatriots, and the lives of their families were continually threatened, and the threats were punctuated with a series of actual incidents of horrible physical violence. He had little recourse in local government, who threatened and imposed further violence and incarceration. And the federal intervention was obviously too little too late.
Still when it came time for MLK to mount a rhetorical defense, he always chose to defend the cause of the needy, the oppressed, the poor, and the outcast. He never defended himself. He stood up for justice and truth, not himself.
Where did that moral stance come from? How could he endure what he endured and remain focused on truth and justice rather than on charges of persecution, which were real and not imagined? What kept him from crying “Persecution!” even when the threats became everyday realities of actual violence?
Perhaps the difference between Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and those who claim persecution today is born of King’s prayer life. Vanderbilt University’s Dr. Lewis Baldwin hints at as much in one of two new Baldwin release on Dr. King, Never to Leave Us Alone, published by Fortress Press (the other release is The Voice of Conscience: The Church in the Mind of Martin Luther King, Jr., published by Oxford University Press).
In Never to Leave Us Alone, Baldwin traces King’s prayer life. He begins by capturing the wellsprings of the African American prayer tradition that fed the young King. He follows with Kings’ experiences and writings as a young man at Morehouse College, Crozer Theological Seminary, and Boston University.
In three more chapters Baldwin opens up the period of Dr. King’s civil rights career leading to his violent death. Each of these three chapters captures a different aspect of the same period. First Baldwin looks at prayer and preaching, then at the power of pastoral prayers, and then at prayer as the heart of movement of the civil rights movement. In a final chapter, Baldwin reminds us of what we can learn from King and why he remains a respected figure around the world.
Discussing the book, radio and television host Tavis Smiley asked Baldwin, "What was Martin praying for? It’s one thing to talk about his prayer life, but obviously it’s important to pray for the right things and to pray in the right way. Tell me more about what he was praying for and what his prayer process was. How did he call out to God?"
Generalizing from his years of research, Baldwin answered, “He prayed for strength, his own personal strength, for guidance and direction in the movement. He also prayed for world peace. He prayed for guidance in the struggle for economic justice, in the struggle to overcome racial barriers, segregation in the society. He prayed for discipline and courageous leadership in the movement. He prayed for what he called “the least of these,” those who were in poverty, who had no jobs, who were devoid of medical care, who were ill-housed. His prayer, of course, had this social dimension. He majored in intercessory prayer—that is praying for others. His prayers were always relational.”
Baldwin documents Dr. King’s practice of renting a hotel room for a prayer-centered day, a “day of silence.” During those day-long retreats, King “poured his heart out to God,” he developed his own inner spiritual life, and he gained wisdom and the “attitudinal posture” required to keep moving forward in his God-ordained mission.
Central to Dr. King’s prayer life, according to Dr. Baldwin was the belief that prayers are to be lived as well as uttered. “Living prayer daily was, in King’s case, a cardinal principle, and this persists as part of his legacy for a nation and a world in which hypocrisy is perhaps more glaringly evident than ever before.”
Who can doubt that that living prayer sensibility is sorely needed in an age of commercially-driven bombast disguised as political rhetoric, when legitimate criticism is dismissed as illegitimate persecution. Dr. Baldwin reminds us that for Dr. King the method and the message can conspire to communicate truth. Prayer can keep the message and the method true. But even a true message can be dangerous.