Generous Orthodoxy  




Sunday, June 19, 2005

Prayer for our enemies at Trinity, Boston

Note to readers: Once again I am bringing this February blog to the fore because of its theological importance. In my recent travels I have finally found one congregation that includes a prayer for our enemies in the liturgy (Trinity Episcopal, Copley Square, Boston). The prayer that they use is only a short phrase, but it is better than nothing. In view of our Lord's express command that we should love and pray for our enemies, it seems disturbing that this not being done in more churches. As I have traveled from place to place visiting scores of congregations during the past two years, I have continued to note the pervasive absence of such prayers.

There is a very good prayer for enemies in the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer (page 816), yet I have never heard it used except when I have done so myself. It has the virtue of being short, simple and inclusive of both enemies and ourselves. It avoids the we-they dynamic that poisons so much discourse these days. Here it is:

O God, the Father of all, whose Son commanded us to love our enemies: Lead them and us from prejudice to truth; deliver them and us from hatred, cruelty and revenge; and in your good time enable us all to stand reconciled before you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Here is one for St. Stephen's Day, December 26, from Prayers for Every Occasion (Morehouse-Barlow, 1974) :

Merciful God, you gave your son to reconcile us, your enemies, to you: Grant, we beseech you, that we too may learn to pray for our enemies, as your servant Stephen prayed for his persecutors, and, like him, be permitted to see your glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

And here is another, from the same source. This prayer was written in England to be used at the height of World War II. In other words, the Church of England was praying for the repentance of the Nazis even as they were being bombarded. Sixty years later, we can acknowledge a miracle; this prayer has been at least partly answered. I read recently of a Jewish writer who had established his residence in Berlin. He said that he believed the Germans had accepted their guilt. Here is the prayer:

Lord Jesus Christ, before whose judgment seat we all shall stand, we pray, as thou hast taught us, for our enemies; so turn their hearts to you that they may truly repent; and grant that they and we and all the peoples of the earth, being cleansed from sin, may know and do thy will, as you were lifted up upon the cross to draw all men to yourself, our Savior, our Lord and our God. Amen.

It has been pointed out to me that we pray for our enemies every time we say the Lord's Prayer, and that is an excellent point that I had overlooked. Preachers could certainly make something out of that. {Reflect on the fact that Todd Beamer prayed the Lord's Prayer over the phone before he and the others took down Flight 93 over Pennsylvania.}

And here is a testimony from one of the clergy at Trinity, Boston (Maribeth Conroy):
At Trinity we have included the prayer for "our enemies and those who wish us harm" in our worship since September 11th, 2001. Nothing seems to speak more profoundly to the call to prayer for all people, and Jesus' admonition that we pray for our enemies, than this simple line. It has shaped my own prayer life and that of our community in truly wonderful ways. Thank you for noting it and here is hoping that more congregations will offer such prayer.


New events in Iraq suggest further thoughts about the Christian imperative concerning enemies

Amateurs like me cannot pretend to know the whole picture, but today's NYTimes reports some things that would seem indisputable. First, many of the insurgents in Iraq treat their captives with extreme brutality and often kill them with impunity ("Iraqis Found in Torture House Tell of Brutality of Insurgents", front page). These victims are often seized for nothing more than signing up for the Iraqi army, or for nothing at all.

The temptation in such a situation is to say, "See how much worse they treat their prisoners than we do. Saddam Hussein, one of the monsters of our time, is getting three meals a day and medical care." True. But this is not the point. America has always stood for a higher view of individual human life, and the fact that we are such a religious country makes it even more imperative that we maintain strict standards of humane treatment. The very heart and center of the Christian gospel is God's gift of his Son to reconcile his enemies.

The second apparent fact is that disproportionately large numbers of insurgents appear to be coming in to Iraq from Saudi Arabia, Algeria and other African countries. The Army general in charge of "detainee operations" reports that the new group seems "more violent" and "more committed." Senator Biden also reported from Iraq that the new jihadists are "more sophisticated" and "more capable."

As the number of insurgents captured by the Americans has increased, so have the numbers of 3-member military interrogation teams. "Much has been learned about the insurgency," says General Brandenburg.

In recent months I have read a good deal about professional-level interrogation in Israel, and also in British intelligence. They express disdain for the amateurish, poorly controlled American style of interrogation. I believe that it is wrong for Christian leaders to glamorize, romanticize, and valorize our American "heroes" across the board without taking a hard look at the failures of command that occurred at Abu Ghraib, in Afghanistan, and at Guantanamo. No one in high command has been held even remotely accountable for what went on there. That is one of the reasons that we still don't know what goes on. (More later about the Time magazine cover story this week.)

I personally have spoken with a significant number of people who have close contacts with military people serving in Iraq. Their contacts (sons, friends, colleagues) express dismay at the Administration's lack of planning for this occupation. We are not being told this, although news is beginning to leak out. John F. Burns reports from Baghdad in the NYTimes " Week in Review" that whereas senior commanders are afraid to complain for fear of damaging their careers, officers and enlisted men in the field are saying plenty (6/19/05).


Thursday, June 16, 2005

Saint Carlo of the Symphony: a spiritual conductor dies

The example of Carlo Maria Guilini, who died at 91 this week, is inspiring for Christian preachers and leaders. One music critic called him "San Carlo of the Symphony." Here is an excerpt from the NYTimes obituary:

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Far from being an autocratic conductor or a kinetic dynamo of the podium, Mr. Giulini was a probing musician who achieved results by projecting serene authority and providing a model of selfless devotion to the score. His symphonic performances were at once magisterial and urgent, full of surprise yet utterly natural. He brought breadth and telling detail to the operas of Mozart and Verdi. Handsome and impeccably tailored, he was a deeply spiritual musician. The former New York Times critic Donal Henahan once called him "San Carlo of the Symphony."
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Maestro Guilini was not "spiritual" in an otherworldly sense. During World War II he was sent to the Yugoslav front with the Italian Army, but he was a passionate opponent of Fascism and went underground for nine months. He emerged (and made his conducting debut) when the Allies liberated Rome in 1944. The word "spiritual" is used to describe his "selfless devotion" to the music and its humane dimensions, rather than self-aggrandizement. Another factor (which is related both to preaching and to leading a congregation, is described as follows in the Times obituary:

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Mr. Giulini attributed his ability to empower each musician in an orchestra into collective music-making to his own youthful experience playing the viola. "I had the great privilege to be a member of an orchestra," Mr. Giulini said in a 1982 interview with The Times Magazine. "I still belong to the body of the orchestra. When I hear the phrase, 'The orchestra is an instrument,' I get mad. It's a group of human beings who play instruments."
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A third analogy to preaching and leading a congregation can be made from this excerpt about Maestro Guilini:

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He explained that a musician needed more than technique, that you must do more than get things "right." "And only after this," he said, "comes this mysterious thing that is the life of the music."
Once, at the Los Angeles Philharmonic, two weeks before the first rehearsal of Brahms's German Requiem, Mr. Giulini placed copies of the text on the stands of the players so that they could contemplate the words. To Mr. Giulini, pondering the sacred message of this requiem was essential to playing it with musical understanding.
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It seems to me that there is much here to be learned from Maestro Guilini. In an era when flashy technique is prized over substance in almost every field, this man's example is both humbling and ennobling. Thanks be to God.


Sunday, June 12, 2005

On suffering pain

After four months of increasingly severe sciatic pain, I am now experiencing even greater pain as a result of surgery to remove a synovial cyst in my spine (this is temporary, however, and God willing I will soon recover completely). During this period I am having two sets of preliminary thoughts.

The first is related to Billy Graham's example, which is heroic beyond my imagination or capacity, though I aspire to it by the grace of God. This is part of what he says in an interview in today's New York Times:

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I have a lot of physical problems, it keeps me very weak. But I'm thankful for it.
I rejoice all the time because all these things that happen have happened to the furtherance of the Gospel. That's what the Apostle Paul said about his infirmities. He prayed several times that he might be released from these physical problems. But God didn't answer it that way. He said no, and Paul finally decided that the reason he had it was to keep him humble. And I think there's a lot of truth in that. I've had a lot of illnesses and sicknesses and operations and hospital stays, and I've rejoiced in all of it. When I fell and broke my hip a little over a year ago, I was very happy because I knew the Lord was working. Then a few months later I broke my pelvic bone in three places, and I had to go through all that getting well again, and it was a very slow process, and it helps me to relate to people who are suffering. It helps me to relate to people in hospitals. And it's been a great privilege for me, to have that type of ministry now, writing small articles, and talking to people.

Link to entire interview, well worth the reading: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/06/12/national/12gtext-web.html

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The second set of thoughts during this time has centered on people suffering torture. While I have been in pain I have continually imagined what it would be like to be in extreme pain with no clean sheets, no toilet, no opportunity to lie down, no pain medication, no one present to care for me and above all a pervasive atmosphere of menace and brutality.

Someone (I forget who) wrote recently that pain is a meaningless concept unless you are having it. All I can say right now is that, having suffered pain for a period of time, I would not want anyone to suffer extreme pain from other humans and I would not want anyone to inflict it on anyone else.

The most important new article about this is by the highly experienced Joseph Lelyveld and the link is
http://www.nytimes.com/2005/06/12/magazine/12TORTURE.html