Seeing Our Biases Through Prayer



13 People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. 14 But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 15 Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” 16 And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.
Mark 10 (NRSV)

The Gospel is worth nothing if it is only for people who agree with us.

Jesus routinely illustrated for his disciples that the Good News, alive within him, worked wonders for swaths of people the disciples would have naturally discounted. If they tried to keep a group as innocuous as little kids from him, imagine how they felt about him sharing close contact with prostitutes and swindlers and Romans. And yet, Jesus poured the Gospel out on these groups over and over again. He had a vendetta against the disciple’s inherited biases.

And it was a good thing. If those twelve disciples had stuck to ministry among Jews who made them comfortable, Christianity would have died a quick death. Instead, Jesus’ followers found good ground for the Gospel among what must have seemed to them to be unworthy communities across the Mediterranean world.

To get there, though, I think it was essential for them to witness Jesus crossing the boundaries their society taught them to avoid. They had to cling to Jesus and ask him to lead them onward, through and beyond their biases. They had to hold fast to him as he illustrated that his life, death, resurrection, justice, and mercy were for all manner of humankind. They had to really see him heal prostitutes. They had to see him bleed for executioners. They had to behold him offering his death-beating salvation to foreigners. The spread of the Kingdom of God depended upon it.

We stand in need of the same kind of seeing. Of course, we can’t get covered in Jesus’ boundary-breaking dust. But it is not as if we’re left in the dark. Jesus still leads his disciples into unmarked territories. It’s just that the process of following him is far less illustrious than we’d like. Prayer falls in that category. Many Christians just shut their mind off when they hear that word. But it is a deep and effective connection to the guiding hand of our Teacher. And if we’re to learn to love those we hold in contempt, we must reimagine the usefulness of prayer in our discipleship. If we can do that, Christ might just reteach us to see.

In that vein, I propose an exercise in prayer. I’ve written something below for two types of people. Perhaps you can’t pray words written by someone else, in that case, read what I’ve written and set to your own prayer. In fact, crafting your own prayer would probably be far better than reading mine. In any event, I ask each of us to settle in at Jesus’ feet and let him teach us about those he loves.

The relationship between police and young black men is as stark a dividing line in America as any. I’ve written two prayers for folks on either side of that line. Two prayers, not because I wish to divide us further, but because to come together we have to begin where we are. If you tend to hold the police and their actions in contempt, feeling intense anger and grief for the black men slain, then the first prayer is for you. If you tend to defend the police, while holding the black men responsible, then the second prayer is for you. May it help us all see the great and boundless extent of our Lord’s Gospel.

Prayer One

Jesus, you died for these officers. You loved them enough to ache and gasp for them. Help me see them through that love.

Help me acknowledge their humanity in my heart. Help me to see the difficulty they face every day. Help me see their family’s tears and anxieties. Help me sense their turmoil. Help me feel their fear. Help me refrain from presuming to know their motives or heart.

Shape within my heart an empty space to be filled with your love for them. Remove my animosity. Temper my anger. Prevent me from diminishing their humanity. Situate me entirely within your perspective.

I pray the same for those who I disagree with. I am struggling to muster any patience or grace. Teach me to hold more tightly to you and your character than to my desire to be right. Help me relinquish winning an argument as my main goal here. Instead, help me find ways to stand for what is good while using methods of grace and patience.

And if these officers have done wrong, work your justice. But not my justice or mob justice, those I let go of. I lean upon you to lead us--may my own efforts only serve you. Help me aid in transforming our culture’s systems in ways that honor and glorify you. And even so, help me to remember that within you, justice and mercy stand alongside one another. Create space for both within my own heart.

Teach me to see them as you see them.


Prayer Two

Jesus, men have died. Men you breathed in to life. Men you created with purpose and hope. Help me grieve over these lost lives, just as you grieve. Help me hear their mothers’ tears. Help me give validity to their families’ sorrows. Help me empathize with the community’s sense of loss and fear.

I must admit, though, I am struggling. I don’t feel grief. I feel resentment. My mind is filled with questions over these men’s final actions. Help me see that what I’ve read can only be a sliver of the story. Keep me from making hard and fast opinions out of slivers. Help me feel the grief first and ask questions of rightness later. Help me leave the blame game to you, trusting your transcendent awareness of all that happened.

Help me imagine what it feels like to be seen as a threat. Teach me to listen to the experiences of black men in America. Open me to their voices. You listened to crowds and crowds of people as they brought you their ailments. You listen to every prayer I offer you. Give me that patience, sensitivity, and ability to really see them. Teach me to offer goodness rather than condemnation. Teach me to truly value black lives. Teach me to hear them saying, “we feel like we don’t matter to you!”

Help me hear what you hear. Help me bring your valuation of life to any words I might offer. Bring me closer to those who hurt and grieve. Transform the part of me that leans toward dismissiveness and condemnation. Replace that part of me with your Gospel--that is, your self-sacrificing love for all humanity.

Teach me to see them as you see them.

Comments

Popular Posts