I continue looking at prayers that have both pulled me and others through personal trials and struggles. In the last several posts I have looked at the Lord’s Prayer itself.
Here are the words of the Lord’s Prayer, as included in my United Church of Christ Book of Worship:
Who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins,
As we forgive those who sin against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
For this is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.”
As I continue to reflect on the Lord’s Prayer and our own lives, I am struck again by the prayer “lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil”.
A key thing I notice this morning as I read through and meditate on these words again is how, as in other parts of the prayer, Jesus asks us not to just pray “God lead me not into temptation but deliver me from evil” but instead “lead us not into temptation… deliver us..”
I think this important to not because of the way in which we individualize our ideas of holiness, sin, and justice.
Growing up the sense I got was what God required was obeying a set of rules and if I just followed them, I was good. Sin was to break the rules God gave me for living.
When I came to faith myself among evangelicals and charismatics, I learned from them this deep sense of responsibility. I needed to control my own feelings and thoughts, for sin begins there. I learned to fight against temptation to lust, to hate, to question. Particularly any thoughts of sex. Might I say, in retrospect, the fear of sex and sexuality, shame for our bodies, and distrust of my own impulses were things that really did warp relationships for me. Though these were taught by well meaning people and there were some kernels of truth to them – such as developing a rich interior life, the importance of fidelity in relationships, the need to look for what truly will make you happy most not just provide a cheap thrill – I have to say I had to unlearn a huge bulk of that religious programming to have a full life. To make romantic relationships work I had to make peace with my body, my sexuality, and my heart all as gifts to God. To experience emotional and spiritual peace I had to learn to lay aside a distrust of my own heart which is borne by believing we are born into this world with a sin nature that causes our own heart to betray us if we listen to it.
What I did not understand was the path of holiness personally is about learning to embrace yourself fully so that all of who you are comes alive, not just parts that scream for attention – like our sex drive or our desire to be right (both of which ran rampant in my & other’s hearts, it seems, in my evangelical days). But, what’s more, the strong emphasis on my own inner world and own personal sins lost sight of how true evil – that which, as I spoke about last time, rejects lovingkindness and justice toward self, nature, and others by treating them as expendable and exploitable without intrinsic worth – is embedded in community life.
The old Christian doctrine of original sin, which in the evangelical churches in which I first explored faith became degraded into a false sense of being broken beyond repair and unable to trust my own heart and body, actually was originally a way of talking about this reality. The idea is that in some way that is hard to account for before we have a say we become swept up in patterns of thinking, acting, and responding which become deeply embedded in our actions and attitudes, yet which are harmful to ourselves, to nature, and to others. The explanation that gets picked up for this later on in Christian history – that there is some way sex transmits a spiritual flaw almost in our genes which makes us all intrinsically faulty – is laughable, or would be if it did not cause so much damage. But the heart of the idea – that we develop in a world where we are caught up in patterns of thought, feeling, and action which shape us deeply, leading us to unconsciously participate in community life in ways that dehumanize ourselves and others, as well as exploiting nature, well there is a lot of truth to that.
Take racism, something almost universally agreed upon to be wrong today. Well, again and again social scientists do studies in which people who appear to be average folk, no hardened bigots, are given a chance to give their gut response to photos of people of various races. The tests usually include children young enough one would expect them not to have developed many biases. Every time the test is administered, even today in a society in which in our country we have had a president who was a person of color for two terms, still people react with more fear, anxiety, and distrust toward images of people of color; and more trust, respect, and affection toward pictures of white people. Many taking this test are not brought up in overtly racist homes and consider themselves tolerant and understanding. What is happening?
Well, we still live in a society built around privileging straight white cisgender men and marginalizing everyone else. And though we have made things less horrible, there is still this pattern at work. Still children look up and most of the role models of a good life are white straight cisgender males. Most minorities of all stripes are painting in cartoonish ways either as violent predators or buffoons in our films and television, instead of with the complexity that is needed to help cultivate real compassion.
In her book The Will To Change, bell hooks explores the ways in which our patriarchal culture not only harms women but also boys, teaching them to fear their emotions, to embrace violence and not nurturing compassion, to reject creativity and freedom of expression, and how prevalent this messaging is. In her book she gives many examples of even boys brought up in homes that teach an openness to one’s whole self and a freedom to choose your own values who, at the end of the day, end up buying into this messaging because it is so prevalent.
Is it any wonder, Jesus says for us to prayer for all of us to not be led into temptation and for all of us to be delivered from evil?
Ultimately to be a person of faith and spirituality requires being willing to engage yourself in consciousness-raising activities and relationships in which you can confront how you have unknowingly been led toward unconscious biases, how you can work against them, and build alternatives. I also think this prayer invites us to consider what ways we can change this pattern.
How can we change our messaging? The ways in which we tell the stories of our lives and our communities? The ways in which we relate in friendships, at work? The patterns our churches, our companies, our media, follow?
There are not easy answers. But this is the call of this prayer.
Since it is a prayer we are exploring let us remember included within these words is also the acknowledgment that we cannot do this alone. God is present with us in this journey, the all-embracing presence and energy of life who drives us into deeper community and interconnection with each other across all cultural barriers. With God’s help and each other’s we can begin to transform our selves, our communities, and God’s earth, so that the goodness inherent in us all can shine for, friend, we are not broken. We are instead carriers of the undying Light of the Sacred.
Your progressive redneck preacher,