Sunday, 13 July 2008

Reflections on the Lord's Prayer

Suzanne has asked me to share this with you, as it includes reflections on her experience among Sheffield Friends this past year. She will be giving this as a sermon at her Mennonite Church next month.

As we look at the question of peace in our time, I thought it would be interesting, and perhaps helpful to look at the Lord's Prayer as a cultural blueprint of a way of life that naturally expresses peace-making and pacifism – a blueprint that lays out the human and spiritual qualities of living simply, practicing forgiveness, humility, and offering gratitude and affirmation which are foundational to genuine peacemaking.

I will share my thoughts and experiences today on these four lines of the Lord's Prayer and the four themes they embody. I will conclude each section with a few queries or questions for us to ponder in silence. One thing I learned to appreciate from the Quakers is silence out of which grows new understanding of things eternal as we explore each other's truths and realities together.

A culture of simplicity. "Give us this day our daily bread." I love this image. It's vegetarian, it's living – until it is baked! It can be broken and shared. It is symbolic of the basic things we need. We don't need much, really.
When we were on our sabbatical leave in England this past year, we considered carefully what we really needed, and what we could do without. Here is what we learned.
We had a tiny flat, with two bedrooms, the second of which could not fit two single beds. The windowed closet, which fit a narrow air mattress became Naomi's room – at her request, I should add! She found refuge there when the flat became too crowded with the rest of us. On the other hand, Naomi was confident our flat was large enough for sleep-overs, which we had several times! So we didn't "need" a big house – although coming to back to more space has been welcome and much enjoyed!
We lived without a car. Sheffield is trying to reduce traffic by making parking very difficult, changing some streets to bus only, and adding many one-way streets. So walking everywhere was a pleasant alternative to battling traffic. We walked and talked together, even in the wind and the rain -- and even in the cold -4 degree weather we had in March. We had time because we had a very pared down schedule. For shopping, four arms could carry quite a bit. We had strong nylon bags that could carry a lot. We also used buses for places further than 30 minutes by foot. If we wanted to visit the countryside, there were several bus options to take us there and back. And visiting other cities was so convenient by train – and cheap with our family rail card, as long as our 12 year old was along. When you walk, and travel by public transport, you do have to plan well – or you miss your train! But the travel is stress-free once you are going, and there is opportunity for interaction with each other and with strangers. We have a lot of train stories to tell, but I will save those for some other time.
We also lived without a toaster and a microwave (our flat came furnished, which didn't include dishes, except for the requisite electric tea kettle, so that we had!) We went as long as we could without a sieve, but eventually broke down and bought a cheap one at Poundland! That way I stopped wasting pasta trying to drain it with the lid!
We lived without an electric mixer. We took turns whisking egg whites and whipping cream by hand! It was great exercise and very satisfying. We also baked only for special occasions!
We lived without a piano. Now that was hard. But I found a communal one to play on now and then. And we lived without a TV. It is interesting to watch TV after you haven't for an extended period of time. The commercials are so bold and loud, and some of the programming -- well! But we did enjoy the semifinals of “Britain's Got Talent” for a few days when we were in Ireland!
We got a box of locally grown food at our doorstep once a week. I left the money in an envelope and they left the surprise box. Parsnips got a little old by the end of March, but cooking with seasonal vegetables with little notes explaining why the potatoes didn't look so good that week and recipes for the strange looking vegetables we didn't recognize was a refreshing reminder of our connection with the earth and our daily bread.
Unless you are Amish, there is no blueprint for living simply. It's not an easy “this is good and this is bad.” But it is an interesting exercise to do without some things to see what effect it has on us, how we see things differently, what we do instead. Then we can be more conscious and more intentional in how and what we consume. PAUSE
"Give us this day our daily bread." What is this daily bread for you? Could we consider every time we plug something in whether we can do it on our own steam ,or every time we get into our car whether we could instead walk together and carry the load together? Could we live more gently and seasonally, at peace as conscientious stewards of what we choose to use?

A culture of forgiveness
“Forgive us our debts. " The word "debt" is sometimes translated as trespasses, or sins, but I like the concreteness of debts. And I think especially of the huge debt we westerners owe the earth and future generations for the taking of resources far beyond what we need. One Quaker friend I have in Sheffield feels that working for peace was a 20th century priority. The priority, if not urgency for the 21st century, according to Simon, is to relearn simplicity -- to stop consuming and consuming and feeding greed and fueling violence to satisfy greed. As a socieiy, we have become like compulsive gamblers wanting more, measuring economic success in terms of sales and more sales, and profits, worrying about our investments. Economic indicators can seem so skewed if you stop and think about it in human community terms. It is all a type of violence -- to the earth, to the workers, to ourselves as we stress about things that should be in the hands of God. We can ask for forgiveness for what has gone before -- our debts from the past. Acknowledging our debts can give us wisdom and courage to embrace a new way and to challenge policies that promote consumption at the expense of shared co-existence.
“As we forgive our debtors” The assumption here is that we are a forgiving people who give others another chance, who give room for dialogue and coming together, who restore relationships. Sometimes, we take on the debts of others. For example, in England the government policy is to treat asylum seekers – what we call refugee claimants here -- as if they were pawns to be moved around from city to city, to be deported at any time, to have no accomodation nor stipend nor the right to work if they are refused asylum, even as the government admits it is unsafe to return to their home country. A group of mostly ecumenical faith-based people got together to form ASSIST which supports asylum seekers in various ways to avoid homelessness among this population and to give as much dignity back as the UK government takes away. The debt owed asylum seekers is being repaid by Robert and Margaret and Myra and Tendero.... and through this, there is the possibility of forgiveness.
In a culture of forgiveness, it doesn't matter who is in debt to whom. Through prayerful thought, we react, seeking guidance from the Holy Spirit, and we work at making things right with the world that is all around us and we work at restoring relationships– all parts of spreading peace. PAUSE
Do we recognize our own debts, many of which may not be monetary? Do we respond to debts owed and grievences and harm done to us out of a culture of forgiveness?

A culture of humility
"Lead us not into temptation BUT deliver us from evil."
That God would lead us into temptation has always been a puzzle to me. Why would a loving God do such a thing? One alternative translation to the word “temptation”, apparently, is trial or crisis. In fact, in our pew Bibles, the word is translated as trial. I am borrowing liberally from two Anglican Archbishops here, The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams and David M Gitari Archbishop of Kenya and Bishop of Nairobi.
In praying "Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil" we acknowledge that we do not know how we will respond in a time of crisis or trial, and we ask God to give us what we need to face a crisis when it comes. A loose paraphrase may sound something like this: “God, do not lead us into crises before we are ready but, rather, set us free from all those things, the fears, the sins, the selfish habits that keep us prisoner and that make us unable to face crisis.”
Is it not during times of crisis that violence erupts in our human relations and our global national relations? To pray for freedom from those very negative human responses to threat is foundational to paving the way to peace.
Understood in this light, this line of the Lord's Prayer is full of humility – that quality that shows we know our limits, our boundaries, our challenges. In praying this line, we are humbled by the forces of life around us, humbled by the acceptance of our own frailness, and humbled in the presence of a God who can deliver us from evil. Of course, this does not mean that trials and crises will not test us, but we are assured that if we remember to draw on the Power of God, we will not be prisoners to fear, but rather free in God's infinite wisdom and love to respond to whatever trial presents itself – feeling at peace and promoting peaceful outcomes. PAUSE
Do we cultivate a culture of humility? Are we aware of the bondage of fear within us? Do we acknowledge that those fears keep us from experiencing God?

A culture of graditude and affirmation

“For Thine is the Kingdom and the Power and the Glory forever and ever!” This final line conveys joyful gratitude and affirmation. One thing the Quakers in Sheffield were very good at was affirmation of each other. I noticed this because I felt like such a stranger at first, with my funny accent, my unquakerly way of saying things – yet they affirmed me! They seemed never to miss an opportunity to affirm what someone said in meeting, what someone wrote in the newsletter... And being a part of a culture of gratitude and affirmation makes one want to sing praises to the universe -- the Kingdom and the Power and Glory that is God! Affirmation is foundational to community, which is foundational to lasting peace. PAUSE
Do we express joyful gratitude and affirmation to God and to each other? Does this gratitude and affirmation extend to all those we encounter no matter the faith or culture?

The culture in the Kingdom of God is basic and simple, forgiving, tempered with humility, and filled with joyful affirmation of our God and of each other. Out of this flows a lasting peace that permeates us, our relationships and our faith and the world around us. Let us nurture and cherish this culture – our true inheritance! Amen.


Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed reading this reflection on the Lord's Prayer, but I hope you will allow me just a couple of small points here.

An asylum seeker and a refugee are two different categories in all countries according to the UN, which is in charge of deciding these things. Only the UN can declare a person to be a refugee.

Using the terms incorrectly can lead to confusion about the rights and oblligations associated with each. Here is a web site that outlines the differences between them.

Also, after having two decades of anthropological fieldwork with the Amish, I would not say that their lives are simple. They appear that way on the outside, but in reality, they are very complex.


Anonymous said...

Pardon my double post--and maybe these comments should have been posted un "Failed Asylum Seekers."

I work in the refugee sresettlement and refugee aid. The basic difference between a refugee and an asylee is these:

1) An asylee has left his home country and cannot return for fear of death, torture, imprisonment, etc. and applies for asylum in another country. This may be a country of his choice and he has the burden of making his case.

2) A refugee is someone who has left his home country for the same reasons as an asylee and has become displaced in an interim country where he may live in a refugee camp (or some other interim arragement) until he can be given an official refugee number and approval by the UN and assigned to one of 16 countries who will accept refugees as legal immigrants." This process often takes a decade or so. Once the refugee has reached the country where he is to be resettled (and he doesn't have a choice unless there is family to be found) he does not have to make case for staying--that case has already been made to the UN.

Of course't here is more to it than I can post here. I would suggest reading the link I provided.

Now, back to the reflection--I went to a worship service today at a Karen Baptist Church. The entire service was in the Karen language, so I understood very little, but I could tell when they were saying the Lord's Prayer.

Even though I am not a Christian by the standard definition, I do find great nourishment and encouragement in the ministry of Jesus. I find this prayer to be layer upon layer of meaning and help for us all, and I am grateful for this reflection.


Anonymous said...

phooey--didn't preview! :) Pardon my grammatical errors.


Peter Lawless said...

would you object to me copying this blog and posti it on
Quaker Faith and Fellowship
As I am sure it will be found to be of much interest as I did.
In Friendship

Peter Lawless said...

Robert address is
as not clear in earlier posting

S Fred Langridge said...

Robert, thanks for posting this, and please pass thanks to Suzanne, for a piece that 'speaks to my condition'. I found the part on 'forgive us our debts' particularly useful and interesting. I have grown up with this line given as 'forgive us our trespasses' or, sometimes, 'sins', but 'debts' makes it much easier for me to get a handle on what is meant and how it applies to me.

On another note, would Suzanne be happy for this piece to be published in next month's Sheffield Quaker News?