Some years ago I did a series on the Lord’s Prayer. I think this prayer focuses on the heart of our faith and call to do justice, so I am sharing these thoughts again to help ground us in the trying times we are in.
Your progressive redneck preacher,
I continue to look to expand on my reflecting on prayers that have pulled me and others through exploring the prayer Jesus taught us, the Lord’s Prayer. The version of this prayer in my United Church of Christ Book of Worship follows:
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.”
One of the things that is striking to me about this prayer today is that it says not “give me this day my daily bread” but instead “give us this day our daily bread”. This is a point I honestly often overlook. But in reality it is key to understanding this prayer.
Often in the hum-drum of daily existence we get very focused on our lives. We can be like hamsters on treadmills in constant motion. Get up. Go to gym. Get shower. Go to work. Go home. Watch Netflix. Rinse, dry, repeat. We move through life in our little lanes not noticing others and what is happening around us. Not recognizing how interconnected we all are.
As I right I spent a wonderful morning at a conference on confronting systemic racism led by Rev. Dr. John Dorhauer, president of the United Church of Christ. He talked to a mix of preachers, social justice advocates, and run of the mill lay people about the problem of racism in the modern world. In his first talk on confronting white privilege he unpacked the ways in which the racism that creeps into every level of our society becomes insidious, invisible to so many people, particularly white straight men like myself. They cannot see the ways in which society is stacked in their favor and against people of color, women, queer people. Because of this they are shocked to hear stories of people being racially profiled in ways that leads them to be mistreated by police. They have trouble believing the vast inequalities in education, healthcare, and pay rates across racial lines or the stunningly high disparity in homelessness and suicide rates between straight and queer youth. When the statistics are listed their jaws drop.
And very few focus on confronting it, because in truth the way this kind of racism works is beneficial. To borrow a phrase from the Hunger Games, the odds are stacked in their favor.
I remember first really confronting my blindness to racial issues when I was with my good friend Terrence near the college I attended. Terrence is a great guy, a good friend, and someone anyone could trust with their life. He is also well over six feet tall, with long locks like Bob Marley has, and a truly intimidating frame. I never notice this because he is a loveable goof ball to all his friends. That is until we went to grab lunch one day he was visiting me near my college and tried to go into the fish restaurant nearby.
I still don’t know what he saw. But when he looked through the glass door inside his whole body stiffened. He looked like someone walked over his grave or he saw a poltergeist through his door. “We can’t walk in there,” he said. “Someone like me would get hurt there”.
He then unpacked his experiences growing up in a small town in the south as a child growing into a black man, having to learn some white people would respond to him in fear to a black man of his frame. And how such fear could lead such otherwise seemingly good fathers, brothers, and neighbors who happen to be white to lash out and kill him. His words ended up prophetic, not of him but of both a close relative of his shot, and of so many black boys and men these past few years.
Later on, while working as a pastor in a multi-racial, multi-cultural church in a southern military town I was invited by a strong, outspoken civil rights activist who attended our church to go with her, who also was a black woman who was the mother of a black man, to join in an event in which mothers of various races were talking with each other. I heard there countless stories of upstanding, law abiding young men harassed, attacked, forced to live with fear and wariness I could not imagine simply because of the biased fear and judgment their white neighbors had for them out of a social conditioning to fear and reject black people.
The racialized system in our society in America, in which the wealth and advancement of some comes at the oppressing of others whether due to race, gender, sexuality, or legal status – all of which happen regularly – is an example of forgetting that we are called not to pray “give me” or my special group “my daily bread”. No, we are called to pray “give us this day our daily bread”.
This is a call to recognize our interdependence, our connection, with all people.
Answering this prayer means recognizing the reality which Desmond Tutu and Martin Luther King gave us when they said:
“A person is a person through other persons. None of us comes into the world fully formed. We would not know how to think, or walk, or speak, or behave as human beings unless we learned it from other human beings. We need other human beings in order to be human. I am because other people are. A person is entitled to a stable community life, and the first of these communities is the family.”
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
One amazing example of where this failure to recognize our interconnectedness fails us is in the issue of hunger.
A few years ago the Huffington Post ran an article on hunger. It made some stunning points: “Hunger is caused by poverty and inequality, not scarcity. For the past two decades, the rate of global food production has increased faster than the rate of global population growth. The world already produces more than 1 ½ times enough food to feed everyone on the planet. That’s enough to feed 10 billion people, the population peak we expect by 2050. But the people making less than $2 a day — most of whom are resource-poor farmers cultivating unviably small plots of land — can’t afford to buy this food.
“In reality, the bulk of industrially-produced grain crops goes to biofuels and confined animal feedlots rather than food for the 1 billion hungry. The call to double food production by 2050 only applies if we continue to prioritize the growing population of livestock and automobiles over hungry people.”
What an amazing set of facts! We grow enough agriculture to feed all the world’s population, but fail to do so, because we fail to structure it in ways that acknowledge our interdependence.
I’ll share some thoughts next time about how this interdependence, when recognized, can help us in our times of trial and transition. In the meantime, I challenge you to join me in leaning into the discomfort this prayer invites us to face: the discomfort of facing whatever types of privilege you have, whatever ways they blind you to other’s struggles, and the discomfort of beginning steps to see in what ways you can begin to better reorganize your life, work to reorganize our communities & world.
Your progressive redneck preacher,