Are the sins of believers worse than those of the world?

Sermon Notes for 03182012 – Matthew 11 vs15-24

Are the sins of believers worse than those of the world?

Will believers be judged more harshly than unbelievers?

Why does Jesus speak this way? How can it be that Jesus’ audience would come under greater judgment than Tyre and Sidon and Sodom and Gomorrah? We’re not as familiar with Tyre and Sidon, so how about a little background information. In Ezekiel 26-28 and Isaiah 23 we read prophecies against Tyre and Sidon. These cities gentile nations had given support to Israel, including providing materials and resources for building the palaces and the temple. Yet they were to come under judgment because they became arrogant and oppressed their neighbors and the poor among them. So they also were conquered by Nebuchadnezzar.

And what about Sodom and Gomorrah? Their story is a proverb and a byword, it stands for all sin and the judgment that comes upon it. Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures we hear Sodom used as a comparison, a benchmark for the worst sin and greatest judgment imaginable. Listen to what is written in Ezekiel 16:46-63

So, now we may have a little more appreciation for what Jesus’ own audience might have heard when he referenced Sodom, Tyre and Sidon. And it even sounds as though he is in large part paraphrasing and quoting this text from Ezekiel 16. But that still doesn’t really tell us what is going on. What is he saying theologically? How are we to understand this word?

Are the sins of believers worse than those of the world?

Will believers be judged more harshly than unbelievers?

What’s going on here?

Let’s ask a preceding question – are all sins equal? Popular Christian theology tells us that yes, all sins are equal. That God does not judge us differently. We say this, I think, as a way to extend grace to those who have sinned greatly, and as a way to warn those who think they are ok because their sins do not seem as grave.

In Matthew’s gospel we hear Jesus speaking to the Pharisees: 23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others. 24 You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel! (Mt 23) Earlier in the Sermon on the Mount he says, “3 Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your neighbor, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye. (Mt 7)

Those two passages sound to me like Jesus is saying that all sins are not the same, that some are worse than others. I think the Levitical code supports this idea, since more severe punishments are assigned to some violations of the covenant.

1 John 5 says this: 16 If you see your brother or sister committing what is not a mortal sin, you will ask, and God will give life to such a one—to those whose sin is not mortal. There is sin that is mortal; I do not say that you should pray about that.

It certainly sounds as though our theology should be that all sins are not the same, that some sins are in fact worse than others. We’ll need to find a different way to extend mercy and grace on those with more guilt while not absolving those with less.

So is that what’s going on? Is it that the sins of believers are worse than those of unbelievers? Did the Jews of Jesus’ day sin more gravely than the residents of Sodom? Well, in a manner of speaking, yes.

Hear two more passages from the New Testament.

Luke 12:
47 That slave who knew what his master wanted, but did not prepare himself or do what was wanted, will receive a severe beating. 48 But the one who did not know and did what deserved a beating will receive a light beating. From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.

James 3:1 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.

Clearly there is much more to say on this topic. We could explore the teachings of Jesus and Paul regarding how our words and actions might cause others to stumble. We could discuss ‘blasphemy against the Holy Spirit’ as the one unforgivable sin. We could wonder about how Noah, Abraham, David and Job were considered righteous even though they were not without sin. We could study Jonah’s visit to Nineveh and think about calling unbelievers to repentance without conversion.

For now, let us remember:

Are the sins of believers worse than those of the world? – not necessarily.

But yes, some sins are worse than others,

Will believers be judged more harshly than unbelievers? – apparently yes.

The greater judgment comes because we have greater knowledge. Those who know and do not are more guilty than those who do not know what to do.

So, what does this say then about our understanding of being saved by grace through faith, if in fact our faith and belief put us in a position of being under stricter judgment from God?

2 Chronicles 7 vs11-22 – When it’s time for a turn-around

Sermon Notes:

What precedes the text:     Solomon

  • asks for wisdom above all
  • gathers support from others with resources and expertise
  • builds the temple
  • asks God to hear the prayers of all people
  • asks God to forgive and restore when the Israelites sin and are defeated, become captives, or have droughts
  • Sacrifices 22k oxen and 120k sheep – hosts a great feast!

The people said:    “For he is good. His steadfast love endures forever.” (2 Chron 5:13)

If my people, Called by my name

  • Humble themselves
  • Pray
  • Seek my face
  • Turn from their wicked ways

THEN I will..

  • Hear from heaven
  • Forgive their sin
  • Heal their land

1. God will hear…

The first of these is kind of strange. God promises to hear the prayers of God’s people. Does this suggest that at other times God is unable or chooses not to hear? Would that limit God’s power? Or might we liken it to a parent responding to an insolent child by saying, “I can’t hear you when you speak to me with that tone of voice and posture. I ask you to speak to me respectfully.” Does that literally mean that the parent can’t hear? No. it is rather that the experience of the parent is dominated by the negative energy of the bratty attitude coming from the child. Perhaps this is what the author has in mind in thinking about God hearing or not hearing us.

Or, maybe this kind of hearing is linked with an active response. If I am in genuine need and cry out for help, and you do not respond, then you have not truly heard me, even if you did receive the auditory stimulation of my voice. To hear is to be moved to act, to take in the message and allow it to move one on a deeper level. Perhaps this is what it means when we say God hears our prayers. When we ask selfishly, God does not hear. When we ask a prayer that will bring harm to others, God does not hear. When we ask something that is contrary to God’s will, God does not hear, at least not in this second sense. This seems to be the message of 1 John 5:14-15 And this is the boldness we have in him, that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have obtained the requests made of him.

The phrase “hear from heaven” is used by Solomon 7 times in 2 Chronicles 6 in his prayer to God.

The Psalmist repeats the call for God to hear, answer, be gracious and revive. (Psalms 4, 17, 39, 54, 61, 84, 102, 143) We need to understand that this first promise of God is not a statement that before God was not hearing, but rather that these actions of ours move us toward a humble posture of relationship in which we can experience God hearing us.

2. Forgive…

Here too, the issue is not that God is otherwise unforgiving, or that our actions result in God deciding to forgive or being made to forgive. It is rather that until we take the necessary steps in our own lives we are not free to experience God’s forgiveness. Recall this affirmation from Exodus 34:
6 The Lord passed before him, and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, yet by no means clearing the guilty, but visiting the iniquity of the parents upon the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” And again, in Numbers 14: 18 “The Lord is slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the parents upon the children to the third and the fourth generation.’ 19 Forgive the iniquity of this people according to the greatness of your steadfast love, just as you have pardoned this people, from Egypt even until now.” 20 Then the Lord said, “I do forgive, just as you have asked; 21 nevertheless—as I live, and as all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord— 22 none of the people who have seen my glory and the signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have tested me these ten times and have not obeyed my voice, 23 shall see the land that I swore to give to their ancestors; none of those who despised me shall see it.

These texts demonstrate Israel’s faith in a God who desires to forgive. They also make clear that forgiveness does not prevent the natural consequences of sin from unfolding. God forgives, but we (and others) may still receive the harvest of what we (and others) have sown.

3. Heal their land…

Finally, God promises to heal. This third step is about the journey back from the brokenness that comes as a natural result of our sin. We do not know why, but God seems not to prevent injury to the innocent. Sin has consequences, often unintended, and often to innocent bystanders. What God promises in this prayer is to bring healing to the land – the Hebrew word ha erets connotes both the physical geography and its inhabitants. In a time of violence and greed, people and the rest of the natural world are injured. God promises a healing to flow that will bring restoration and renewal.

This is a wonderful vision – God will hear. God will forgive. God will heal. We want and need this, in our personal lives, in our families, in churches, communities, nations, and among nations and peoples in the world. Solomon asked that God would do this, and that the temple might be an earthly focal point for this encounter between God and human kind. There is not mention here that it is the only place, and Solomon clearly affirms the Hebrew understanding that God cannot be limited or contained by any building, place, people, or even by the heavens we see.

The text also makes clear that we have a role to play, not only in the brokenness, but also in the redemption. God says, “If my people will…” This promise is given to the people of God who were a nation. This is not about political boundaries or ideologies. This promise is given to whoever is called by God’s name. Everyone called by God’s Name. 1 Peter explodes this notion by clearly including the Gentile followers of Jesus, establishing a parallel to the story in 2 Chronicles 6-7, now envisioning God building us together as a temple for God’s self – a spiritual, mystical temple not made with hands (cf 2 Cor 5:1?)

If my people will…

  • Humble themselves
  • Pray
  • Seek my face
  • Turn from their wicked ways

Notice that turning from wicked ways (i.e. repentance) is the fourth item in this list. Does that suggest a necessary order in the process? Not necessarily, but perhaps. It is something to consider – i.e. what are the steps toward repentance? Can we just jump right into repentance, or do some other things precede? I suspect that repentance is like forgiveness and love of enemy or love of neighbor as self – it is something toward which we are directly called, but we can’t get there directly. So, what can we see are three steps toward full repentance? Humility, prayer, seeking after God.

1. Humble themselves. This is an active discipline that requires our attention. It is about our thoughts and attitudes toward other people. Our humility is a posture before self, others, the world and God. It is our awareness that:

  • We do not know everything
  • We are not the center of everything
  • We are not in control
  • I.E. We are not GOD

2. Pray – Prayer also is an active spiritual discipline – it is attending to the spiritual conversation continually in process between God and the world – its like entering a chat line, picking up a party line, or tuning in to a CB or ham radio channel.

  • We have to turn the radio on.
  • We have to tune in.
  • We have to be quiet and listen.

This posture of prayer follows the openness that grows from our humility. Once we assume this receptivity, then we are able to understand more deeply God’s heart for us and for the world. We see the gap between all God desires and all that is. Our hearts break, not because of all that has been done to us, but because of all that we, individually and collectively, have done.

3. Seek my face. We realize through our humility and openness in prayer that we need God more than anything else. We yearn for God. The Psalmist captures our heart: “As a deer longs for flowing streams, so we long for you O God.” (Psalm 42:1); “Who have I in heaven but you, and having you, I desire nothing else.” (Psalm 73:25) “As a servant looks to the hand of his master, and a maid to the hand of her mistress, so we look to you.” (Psalm 123:2). We seek God’s face – God’s presence, God’s radiance. We seek God looking upon us as a loving parent.

I don’t know really whether these things MUST precede repentance – a turning away from our wicked ways – but they certainly will help in the ongoing process of turning away. Repentance of this sort is not a onetime thing. Our wickedness has a depth and breadth to it. It is not just a series of actions, but a complex of ideas, habits and systems. The turning away is a long, slow, laborious process that will continually require us rehearsing those other three steps in order for us to maintain our sense of who we are in God. Humble ourselves, pray, seek God’s face. Repeat. Continually.

Returning to the text of chapter 6 of 2 Chronicles, we hear a list when it may be time for a turn-around.

  • If someone sins against another
  • When your people Israel, having sinned against you, are defeated before an enemy
  • When heaven is shut up and there is no rain because they have sinned against you
  • If there is famine in the land, if there is plague, blight, mildew, locust, or caterpillar;
  • If their enemies besiege them in any of the settlements of the lands;
  • Whatever suffering, whatever sickness there is
  • If your people go out to battle against their enemies
  • If they sin against you—for there is no one who does not sin—and you are angry with them and give them to an enemy, so that they are carried away captive to a land far or near;

When we know we have sinned against someone, then it’s time for a turn-around.
When there is suffering or sickness, then it’s time for a turn-around.
When we are overcome by our adversaries, then it’s time for a turn-around.
When the things that sustain life are in short supply, then it’s time for a turn-around.
When we are up against great obstacles, then it’s time for a turn-around.
When we find ourselves in captivity, then it’s time for a turn-around.

And when it’s time for a turn-around, then we know what we need to do:
Humble ourselves. Pray. Seek God’s face. Turn from our wicked ways.

Lent 2012 Prayer and Study Guide

Flyer – Lent 2012 – Pryaer & Study Guide

Prayer & Study Guide
Lent 2012

Turn around &
Find new life
Repent, for the kingdom of God is here!

Special Days of Lent

Ash Wednesday – Jesus “sets his face toward Jerusalem – and so do we.

Wednesdays – 6:30pm meal and vespers

Holy Week

Palm Sunday –  Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem – we enter the sanctuary with palm branches

Maundy Thursday –Jesus’ Last Supper with the Apostles.

Good Friday – Jesus’ trial and crucifixion

Holy Saturday – A time of waiting in prayer – grieving Jesus’ death and waiting quietly for the resurrection

Easter Sunday – Jesus is Risen, Christ is Risen Indeed!

Flyer – Lent 2012 – Pryaer & Study Guide

Lenten Sermon Series:

Christ living in me…

Use these verses and brief notes as prompts for your own reflection and prayer on the Sunday scripture. Take some time during the week to read and pray through the passage. Share with others the things you discover.

2/26 When its time for a turn-around

2 Chronicles 7:11-22 ~ 14 if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.

What are some signs in your life that it may be time to turn in another direction? How do you do that and what might help?

3/4 None are beyond hope

Ezekiel 18  ~ 30 Repent and turn from all your transgressions; otherwise iniquity will be your ruin. 31 Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed against me, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit!

When have you felt beyond hope? If not you, who do you know who has or does feel beyond hope, beyond the reach of God’s love and grace? Ezekiel suggests that no one is beyond God’s reach.

3/11 Without repentance, we can’t be ready  Matthew 4 ~  17 From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

Lent is a season of preparation – opening ourselves to God’s work of making us new creatures in Christ and preparing us for Kingdom work. This always includes a new exploration of repentance as we seek to have God clear away any obstacles to the Holy Spirit’s work in and through us.

3/18 Sins of believers worse than those of the world?  Luke 13 ~ 2 He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. 

Jesus warns that the sins of believers will be judged more strictly than those of unbelievers. How does that affect where we focus our attention and energy?

3/25 Repentance reshapes life

Acts 2 ~ 38 Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.”

As we change direction in our life through repentance, we also move into a time of formation or re-formation – i.e. our life changes shape, and is formed in new ways. We become like a lump of clay that is softened and then worked by the master potter. Repentance is essential in that process of softening heart and mind so that we are open to God’s creative work.

4/1 Everyone can change!

Acts 17 ~ 30 While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent.

The message is not just for people of a particular race, ethnicity, religion or tradition. God’s offer of new life is for all people. How are we receiving it, and how are we living and sharing it with others?

4/5 Lord’s Supper –Thursday @ 7pm

We gather for a meal and reenact the Last Supper as we remember Jesus.

4/6 Good Friday – 7pm

We remember Jesus’ courage and suffering for our salvation.

4/6-8 –  7pm Friday-7am Sunday

Join in our 36 Hour prayer vigil.

4/8 He is Risen!

Matthew 28  ~ 5 But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6 He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples, “He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.”

Talk about a turn-around! Repentance often feels like a death, as we leave behind (or ‘die to’) old ways of thinking, speaking and acting. We may be fearful of going through this process, but Jesus’ resurrection assures us that new life awaits.

Praying with scripture

One of the ways we grow to be more like Jesus is by learning to pray with him – by praying with scripture. Jesus prayed from the scriptures his entire life, even to the cross. And even more deeply, since we claim with John that Jesus is the Word of God, and that in Scripture we also find the Word of God, that when we pray the scriptures, we are praying with Jesus. So, how do we do this?

1. Put yourself in a quiet place where you can concentrate on the words and your own thoughts without interruption.

2. Acknowledge to yourself and God your complete dependence.

3. Express to God your desire (to be more loving, to learn forgiveness, to know God’s leading, etc.)

4. Read the scripture, not to study it, but simply to hear it. Try reading it aloud; read it several times. Listen for the word, phrase or idea where your heart or mind settle and stay there without feeling the need to rush on. Only when you’ve finished ‘thinking that thought’ should you continue with your reading.

5. Imagine yourself in the scene if it is a narrative passage. If not then imagine yourself sitting at Jesus’ feet with Mary, listening to him teach you. Either way, make note of what you feel and what you think.

6. Now have a conversation with God about what you’ve though and felt.

7. Finish by praying the Lord’s Prayer or another similar short prayer.

8. Briefly write in your journal about your prayer experience.

 (Based on the work of Ignatius of Loyola)

     For centuries Christians of many traditions have lived their lives of faith through the rhythm of the Church year, or Liturgical Calendar.  Almost all Christians at least acknowledge Christmas and Easter. Others add Advent, Holy Week, and Pentecost.

Lent, like Advent, is a time of preparation.  Forty days in length (not counting Sundays), Lent mirrors Israel’s 40 years of wandering from Bondage to Freedom, Moses’ 40 days on Mount Sinai, and Jesus’ 40 days of wilderness temptation between baptism and ministry.  We may experience several things during this time.  God is moving us from the bondage of prisons of our own making in sin and selfishness.  God is confirming the blessing of our baptism, “You are my beloved child; with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:22)  God is also seeking to move us deeper into faithfulness, until we come to maturity, to the full stature of the image of Christ (Ephesians 4:13).

As we approach the time of remembering Jesus’ trial, death, and resurrection, we are forced to wrestle with our place in that story.  Would we have done differently than His disciples?  He asked them, “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink?” (Matthew 20:22) Are you able to make the sacrifice necessary to be my disciple?  Lent can be an opportunity to once again confront and answer that question.

Many believers have rightly made sacrifice a part of their Lenten observance. Consider giving up (fasting from) something that you particularly enjoy (it must be a real sacrifice to be significant).  Perhaps it will be TV, or candy, or caffeine. You may also choose to take on a new behavior, such as more regular prayer, bible study, or service to someone in need.  All of these are ways of focusing on Jesus’ person and work, and will draw you closer to Him

Toward a Suburban Middle Class Postcolonial Theology of Liberation

Rev. Kendrick G. Crawford
(download pdf here)

How might the formation of Base Ecclesial Communities (communidades eclesiales de base or CEBs)[1] in Latin America inform the work of the church in North America – specifically in the United States, and most particularly in middle class suburbs? Even where congregants and neighbors look alike, they represent a diversity of backgrounds, experiences, world views and theologies. Liberation Theology, particularly as reflected in the experience of those living in CEBs, and then viewed through a Postcolonial lens, can offer us some insights for our path forward. By reflecting on their shared life together, bridging their own experiences of difference through community, we can gain a clearer picture of their faith practices, and how a faith lived in community matures and develops to the point where local laypeople are able to articulate their own theology of their own and the world’s liberation. Might we then find a way forward to a suburban middle class postcolonial theology of liberation?

Latin American Liberation Theology (LALT) grows out of a proclamation of “God’s preferential option for the poor.”[2] Yet “poor” must mean more than just economically disadvantaged. Poverty in the biblical sense is multifaceted and includes economic poverty, social poverty, relational poverty, religious poverty, spiritual poverty, emotional poverty, and poverty of self. God’s preferential option is for all of these – with the caveat that only those who recognize their poverty can respond to God’s gift of salvation from it. Part of what has always interested me in LALT is the notion of a theology rising from among the people – particularly in base communities. The Gospel in Solentename[3] illustrates the genuine articulation of faith by people in a base community. Classically trained pastor theologians, some from Europe, came and entered into Christian community among the indigenous peoples. These cultures were already in a process of hybridization –the commingling of blood and sweat, of culture and language and identity that had long been taking place.

Postcolonial thought – both postcolonial theory generally and postcolonial theology in particular, will serve as a corrective to some of the insights drawn from the above exploration. These theories consider the ways that language and identity are constructed in colonial and postcolonial contexts, particularly moving beyond binary dualisms toward an understanding of what creates those distinctions, what lies in the spaces between them, and what hybridities are created when these various factors intermingle. Immediately we note that all this wonderful work of liberation theology was done in the colonial and postcolonial context, in a conversation that included representatives of colonial and imperial power and representatives of the colonized. Through this postcolonial analysis we can discover how subversion of colonial interests came about – specifically through the formation of spiritual community.

Finally, some tentative suggestions will be made for how these insights might be applied to a middle class suburban community in Texas. One of the important insights drawn from both LALT and from Postcolonial Theology is the importance of concretization and specificity. One critique offered of Homi Bhabah is that his approach to postcolonial thought remains too broad, as though there were one common shared experience of colonialism. Not all colonial experiences or histories are the same or even similar. Reflection on them must recognize these differences;[4] so must the theology of each community. As Joerg Rieger puts it, “The problem with approaches that are born in moments of resistance elsewhere, however, is that they do not readily translate into sufficient challenges to the status quo at home.”[5] Indeed, I have found it difficult to offer much more than a cultural study when presenting liberation theology in a middle class congregation – it seems foreign, because it is. Do parishioners care about the poor?  Certainly, because they are good, compassionate people and because Jesus tells them to care. Do parishioners see the connections between third-world poverty and their own nation’s policies? Yes, but they feel confused and torn between the binary, or overwhelmed by the system and powerless. Do parishioners make connections between all this and their understanding of God? Probably not, at least not in the recognition that their theology may be part of the problem. Will simply pointing this out to them help much? No, for as Rieger notes, these ideas “do not readily translate.”


“This insight [that ‘the conversionist agenda of the churches was often seen by colonial administrators as subversive of colonial hierarchical relations’] might direct us to the studies on missionary practice in colonialism as mixing blatant reinforcement of colonized peoples’ subjugation with penchants for subverting that subjugation.”[6]

Working toward a postcolonial theology of liberation in conversation with the community voices of Latin American Liberation Theology requires an understanding of the impact of colonialism on those communities and voices.[7] In what ways did the experience of being colonized shape the engagement of indigenous peoples with the message brought by the Dominicans and others?  And how have those communities changed in the years since the end of the Colonial Era?  The priests who formed CEBs in the 20th century were generations removed from the experience of colonization, so we need to look not only to the work of Romero, Boff, Gutierrez and others, but also to the legacy upon which they built, notably the work of Bartolomé de las Casas. We see in the text by Gutierrez, LAS CASAS: In Search of the Poor of Jesus Christ, that at least some Christian leaders wrestled deeply with the tension between the colonial impulse and the needs of the indigenous populations. He describes that, in 1510, Dominican Friar Anton Montesino preached a series of scathing sermons which pronounced judgment on the Spanish colonial ruling class for their unchristian and inhuman treatment of the Indians – which in the eyes of the Dominicans amounted to a total rejection of Christ and the salvation he offers.[8] The immediate response was a backlash by the establishment who understood that their power was in jeopardy.[9] Though Liberation Theology as a school did not develop until the second half of the 20th century, its legacy draws on centuries of struggle by theologians concerned to be able to proclaim the Good  News of God’s salvific reign for all people – European immigrants and the natives of this ‘new land.’ This witness was brought by the very clergy charged by the crown with converting and Christianizing the Indians. Las Casas was convinced that peaceful tactics were both more effective and more in line with the Gospel, and he outlined such in De Unico Vocationis Modo Omnium Gentium ad Veram Religionem.[10] In Guatemala, las Casas formed a community he named tierra de vera paz, where he practiced his peaceful method of witness.[11] Though most of his ministry was at court or in other places removed from the community of the local parish, he never gave up his concern and advocacy for the liberation of the Amerindians, perhaps serving as a model for future academics and others who minister beyond the local congregation.

Michelle Gonzalez quotes Roberto S. Goizueta in positing a “theological anthropology that ‘understands the human person as constituted by relationships, not only relationship to the human community which precedes and forms the person, but especially by relationship to the primordial, triune Community whose life is life.’”[12] The truth of this would help explain the alienation felt by those living in middle class suburbia in the U.S. where identity is defined more by interaction with objects, vocations and avocations than in relationships. And thus we might find a way back from this alienation by the way of community, which will be the way of the cross as we release self-serving impulses in consideration for the needs of those around us. This results in our needs also being met in that community. Karen Baker-Fletcher invites us into a theologically nuanced dance exploring these ideas of relationship and cross-bearing as central to the salvific journey on our way back into God’s kingdom.[13] Again, we can see this in las Cassas and Mendosino, along with the religious leaders of the CEBs. There seems to be an experience of relationship which transforms the perspective of those leaders toward the indigenous peoples, their ‘parishioners,’ and an appreciation of the latter as co-humans who are also in and worthy of relationship with the triune God. The church will benefit from a deeper reflection on both the process and the content of this theology.


“Liberation theology can be said to have pursued a tri-focal critique (1) of the oppressive powers of state, economy and culture; (2) of how the church has absorbed, justified and benefited from these powers; and (3) also of the ways the people, the poor, the oppressed (often but not always considered as Christians) have themselves internalized oppressive patterns, requiring hence a process of conscientization, a ‘pedagogy of the oppressed’. Postcolonial theory will further our understanding of this three-way circulation. It will help in the analysis of the troubling ways that Christianity, born as a movement of a colonized people, could also come to mimic the empire.”[14]

R.S. Sugirtharajah asks, “At [this] time…what is the task of contextual theologies which have invested so much in locations, roots, indigenous resources and soil?”[15] He offers three options – (1) to ignore the cosmopolitan and become immersed in the vernacular; (2) to become an unrooted citizen of the world, with no ties to any particular vernacular; or (3) to “blend creatively cosmopolitan and vernacular cultures.”[16]  He goes on to say, “Vernacular Cosmopolitanism is about an appropriation and transformation which resist any simplified binary understanding.”[17] In other words, he suggests the formation of communities, of ways of being that move beyond and overcome the either/or, us/them, rich/poor, colony/colonized, white/other male/female, Jew/Greek, slave/free categorizations. Might doing so within the community of a local congregation lead also to a theological vernacular cosmopolitanism – a theology that is at once connected to context yet engaged with the global, specific but not rigid or superior? He goes on… “It is in this multi-directional swirl of cultural ideas that I foresee the emergence of postcolonial theology.”[18]  One of the criticisms of much liberation theology is that in its leaning toward Marxism it divides the world into poor and rich, oppressed and oppressor, good and evil. More recent work has sought to clarify and rectify that error.[19] Sugirtharajah’s nuanced work seeks to bring us beyond the binary through honoring difference.

Postcolonial Christian Theology seeks, in part, to set Christianity within its historic context, i.e. that of globalization.[20]  Rieger asks: “How do [the previously described] various embodiments of globalization measure up to how we understand the divine as embodied in core Judeo-Christian traditions and in the person and work of Jesus Christ? More specifically, what kind of power is at work here, and how is it related to how different theologies envision divine power?”[21]  Part of the work of the church is to understand how power functions in communities of all sizes – familial, congregational, municipal, regional, national and global – and what God has to do with it. In what ways do our uses and experiences of power in our relationships reveal our view of God? For instance, does a view of God as omnipotent and exercising power through domination correlate strongly to communities where someone has to be in charge – a hierarchical understanding of power in community? And in what ways does our view of the Trinity specifically impact our use and abuse of power?[22]

One of the advantages of postcolonial thought is that it helps to critique liberation theologies, which themselves are critiques of the contemporary theologies of their (and our) days. Rooted first in cultural analysis, applied early on to the academic study of literature, postcolonialism helps us understand how and why certain ideas, ideologies, and forms of expression emerged in the context of colonial and postcolonial/empirical power. This corrective function of theology was emphasized by Barth.[23] Reflecting back on las Casas, we can see how power played a significant role for the colonists, the colonized, and for Bartolomé himself caught in the middle. It was akin to the quote of one pastor of an affluent congregation who said, essentially, “They need Jesus too, and I can do more for the poor from this position of power.” It is not an articulation of the choice everyone should make, but an example of making difficult decisions in the particular. Also I am reminded of the earlier critique of Bhabha’s thought as being overly universal and flattening the contours of the conversation, with the correction brought by Sugirtharajah’s call toward a vernacular cosmopolitanism, which incorporates the universal while respecting the particular. This notion will be taken up again in the last section as we look at how liberation theology and postcolonial thought might influence the work of ministry in suburban middle class congregations in the US.


When the postcolonial ethos of ‘differentiated liberating struggle’ is discernible in religious communities, we can speak of those communities as manifesting postcolonial spirit. These historical communities of spirit constitute necessary conditions for achieving a postcolonial theology. [24]

People in my particular context often seem to feel powerless against invisible forces that are controlling their lives – in particular corporations and government – and as a result seek both a scapegoat to blame, and a ‘firm foundation’ of certainty against the vagaries of life. Rieger suggests that this experience is broadly felt, and in part results from globalization.[25]

Diana Butler-Bass and others have written extensively on the decline of Christendom, and the struggles of congregations and denominations.[26] It used to be that these symptoms were visible only among mainline churches, and so it became easy for others to blame liberalism, thus laying a foundation for the rise of evangelicalism as seen in denominations like the Southern Baptist Convention and in the non-denominational ‘bible church’ movements. Bass points out that in the last several years the symptoms have spread even to the SBC which has seen its growth halt and now begin to reverse. Enter the “Emergent/Missional Church Movement” with a brand of grace-filled, open evangelicalism. This movement has a lot of heart, but not much theological articulation as yet. Will theologians come forward to articulate the renewed faith(s) of this movement? Again postcolonialism offers us insight, for as Rieger notes: “Globalization from below ultimately demands nothing less than the tearing down of top-down power differentials and reconstructing society and the church from below.”[27] The vernacular cosmopolitanism will result in a re-formation of structures within the church, requiring that we reconsider how we construct communities, and how our communities relate in covenant with one another through denominational, ecumenical and interfaith networks. This work will require sophisticated theological reflection that is rooted in local contexts – an incarnational expression of this new vision, not only God on high, but God from on high here among us, Emmanuel. This will be good news indeed.

One question arising from the re-formation of faith communities is, “What are the sources of our faith and theology?” Various historical examples are well known, including the papal claim to infallibility and the protestant reaction of sola scriptura. The familiar Wesleyan quadrilateral includes scripture, tradition, reason and experience. Wesley’s own insight that religion must flow from the bottom up[28] suggests that we might want to look again at scripture for its internal articulations of source. Given that the Source is God, how does this come to us in the human community? A formerly enslaved herding people are called to be a light to the nations. The incarnation comes not in the palace in Jerusalem but to a poor couple from the country. And Jesus himself is quoted as saying, “unless you become as little children…,”[29] and “Thank you father that you have hidden these things from the wise and revealed them to infants….”[30] Part of the prophetic vision of God’s future for the earth is that, “The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.”[31]

All of this together suggests that we as church may need to rethink power in the congregation and in the Church, with a view toward seeing the vulnerable – poor, widows, orphans, hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, imprisoned, strangers, and of course children – as a primary source for and voice of theology. I think most people are inclined to take the Wesleyan Quadrilateral to mean primarily “my experience,” rather than human experience. Scripture, reason and tradition, as found in the insights of liberation and postcolonial thought, become guides for us in knowing which experiences should carry theological weight. A challenge for us in middle class suburban churches then becomes how to hear these voices in a way that honors their subjectivity. We might begin by finding the most vulnerable within our own congregations and setting ourselves at their feet.[32] The church receives the revelatory communion with God through these sources – they become voices or channels through which the Holy Spirit speaks to the church.

As the identities of the postcolonialized and postcolonizers are being constructed, the strict binary categories of the colonial era are revealed as inadequate.[33] Who then are we, and who am I as a self, in relation, as a resident and citizen of the one remaining superpower?  The United States has participated in the colonial and imperial exercise, and it has done so from its own identity as a former colony, though one which has superseded the authority and influence of its colonizers. With independence from Great Brittan did not come a return to a precolonial reality. There was no sloughing off of empire, for the resident population was so overwhelmingly of European decent as to create a new reality here in the northern two thirds of North America (Canada and the United States).

“There is a psychological phenomenon that consists in believing that the world will open up as borders are broken down. The black Antillean, prisoner on his island, lost in an atmosphere without the slightest prospect, feels the call of Europe like a breath of fresh air.”[34] This correlates to the experience of unfulfilled hopes in the Tricontinental World as colonial powers formally left without the resulting expansion of economic and social prosperity for the masses. Perhaps part of the frustration and animosity felt in other parts of the world toward the West, and toward the U.S. in particular, results from this disappointment – the opportunities promised do not materialize as others might have hoped. We in the U.S. no longer mean what Lady Liberty sings to the world – she no longer speaks for us, it would seem. Much of the political conversation is isolationist and protectionist, giving no more voice to that welcome of generations past, nor of the “Great King” of Matthew 25 who calls us to care for precisely those tired, poor, huddled masses, “naked…hungry…thirsty…sick…in prison…stranger.”

Absent dialogue with and understanding from the margins, the current debates in the U.S. between political and economic conservatives, moderates, and liberals will accomplish little.[35] These debates might be compared to the work of Kohlberg who presumed to describe moral development among all children by only studying boys. Carol Gilligan in her work that was first collaborative and later corrective, sought to offer a view ‘from the margins’, i.e. from the experience of girls. Surprising to many, though not to her or other women, Gilligan’s findings differed starkly from Kohlberg’s – boys and girls, she summarized, experience the world very differently. This conversation has continued, with various theorists seeking to bridge or at least understand the distance between the two.[36] The broader implication, returning to Rieger, is that we cannot understand the whole when we have seen and heard only part. We cannot understand our social, economic and political (not to say religious or theological) realities without hearing the voices of the silent, without seeing the invisible.

How will we undertake this project? One option may be to bring in a group of spokespersons for the marginalized to address those of the dominant culture. I have seen this lived out through the work of Reverend Irie Session and the group New Friends New Life. Reverend Session leads these women who, in a liberative community of the oppressed, are finding empowerment and grace as they make their way out of the violent objectification of sex trafficking and ‘adult entertainment’. A part of their work is to speak to groups about their experience in a panel format, one that often includes a male who has personally struggled with sexual addiction or otherwise participated in the oppression of women at the margins as these women were/are. Through this experience, these women move toward subjectivity while they also educate others and shed light on an area of society intentionally kept in the shadows. This work is made possible because, together with Rev. Session, these women have arrived at a place of sufficient confidence and security that they have the courage to stand and name their brokenness, to be the face of the victimized, and to call, in community, for something more for the whole human family, beginning here in this particular locality.[37] We see the project initiated from the margin with support of someone who serves as a bridge builder, someone who has found or made a way to recognize and be recognized in both communities – in the center and at the margins.[38]

This may actually be a beneficial starting place for a much broader awakening. It is difficult to envision that a Christian congregation in this region would argue in support of the sexual objectification, exploitation or abuse of others regardless of race, class or gender. It is fairly easy to see what is wrong with that system. What is hidden is our own complicity – and yet it can be revealed fairly easily if painfully. One might engage the high incidence of pornography use and the science relating it to neurological, attitudinal and behavioral changes.[39] Within a local congregation this dialogue can then open the way for other notions of hidden objectification and the ways that many are unknowingly complicit.

These stories are about the Good News as God’s power for redemption – and thus they are the Gospel, and their sharing is evangelism. Elaine Heath (The Mystic Way of Evangelism) has taken up William Abraham’s definition of evangelism as “primary initiation into the kingdom of God,”[40] which she expands: “evangelism as an initiatory process is complete only when individuals are fully incorporated into the church.”[41] Given the insights above, we can understand that this process of incorporation is one of mutuality, wherein we are incorporated into each other, or together into some new hybridity that does not yet exist. The sources of truth must include the voice of the other, particularly the vulnerable. Christian truth must include the understanding that God’s Good News, the Gospel of Jesus, must be good news for all people, not just me and my group. Thus those “being incorporated” need to have the freedom to say, “What I am hearing and experiencing is not good news to me,” at which point we realize that either: they have misunderstood us, we have misspoken, we have misunderstood the Gospel to begin with, or perhaps a combination of these.

Heath observes that on the margins we will find our prophetic voice “to speak to the dominant culture” in ways that subvert the status quo and move us toward God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.[42] She proceeds to apply mystical spirituality concepts (apophatic, kataphatic, kenosis) to the experience of faith communities, particularly those that are experiencing their present life as one of struggle through what feels like a dark night of the (congregational) soul. “Christians are yearning for a simpler, unfettered relationship with God in community, for a new day for the church.”[43] This longing sought be met in and through the liberative journey of the Suburban Base Community and the encounter with “the least of these,” who are Christ to us when we serve them and when we refuse – they are Christ to us in relationship. We encounter God anew when we encounter them, and if we refuse, then we will not encounter God in grace, but in judgment.

The economic and governmental systems of the U.S. purport to provide opportunity for all who want it, though they primarily provide exponentially greater opportunity for a privileged few.[44] This reality traces its roots back to our own colonial history and the imperial ideations of manifest destiny. We need to study colonialism and the responsive development of various forms of theological resistance, including liberation theology and postcolonial theologies that are focused largely on the experiences in other places. This can give us some distance and perspective by which to appreciate those struggles, and from which to return to study our own history and understand our own present. This reflection will be difficult because we benefit in substantial visible ways in the immediate and short term, the system promises long term rewards, and we participate happily and defend it vigorously.

The middle class is much closer to the economic reality of the working poor than that of the wealthy who we aspire to emulate. Here in Collin County I am involved in the local response to homelessness, and we see the fracturing of tenuous middle class lifestyles common in our seemingly affluent communities. While this paper does not permit room for an in depth economic analysis, and I’m not an economist, I do want to argue that our relationship with spending on consumer products, services and recreation poses threats not only to our economic stability, but to our moral and spiritual health.

We are surrounded by temples to gods of every shape and name – much like Paul when he arrived in Athens. [45] One can pick out, perhaps, an obscure temple to a seemingly ‘unknown god,’ but it isn’t easy.  To quote Walt Kelly’s famous Pogo comic strip, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”[46] We have built these temples and we worship at them with our currency on which is written, “In God We Trust.” The situation of the middle class parallels that articulated by Míguez in their explanation of the Pax Romana: “the colonized elites found that it was convenient for their own existence and power to conform to this power as a means of survival;”[47] indeed! Heath recommends spiritual practices for the church as we move out of our current situation into God’s future – the last of which is to actively resist the consumer culture that teaches and reinforces (forces) us to objectify others, self and God and subjectify things.[48]

Exciting and promising work can be done in this direction by drawing on the ideas presented in this paper, work that would bring together insights from Latin American Liberation Theology, the concrete experience of Base Ecclesial Communities (CEBs) and Postcolonial Theologies and apply them to the formation of a vernacular cosmopolitan theology of the “Liberation of Suburbia,” what I like to think of as Frappuccinist Theology (I find the ubiquitous experience of paying $5 for a gourmet frozen coffee from Seattle to be symbolic of our middle class consumer culture). I believe that this proposal, taking into account all that is said above, can avoid the pitfall of a middle class misappropriation of liberation theology,[49] particularly through the concern to start with the voices of the vulnerable and powerless within the congregation itself, and in relational conversation with our neighbors so that we might hear and know them and be known by them. We can work toward that which has been identified as “a different way of conceiving power and human life.”[50]

In this time of hybridity and liminality, in our in-between-ness of ceasing to be and moving toward becoming, we will engage the “discourses of difference” and the “discourses of liberation,”[51] thereby “setting aside what is behind…and pressing on toward the goal of the higher calling in Christ Jesus, our Lord.”[52] We are called, as people of Christian Faith, to live in the already/not-yet of the Kingdom of God which is within, at hand, and yet to come. The old is passing away; all things are made new.[53] The Suburban Vernacular Cosmopolitan Middle Class Base Community can be a way for particular communities to live into God’s vision for all creation. The essence of the Christian faith is rooted in a community that participates in the liberative work of God to move beyond all systems, structures, and experiences of captivity and oppression and onto a journey toward a land of promise.



[1] Smith, Christian. “The Spirit and Democracy: Base communities, Protestantism, and Democratization in Latin America.” Sociology of Religion. Vol. 55, No. 2. Summer, 1994: p119.

[2] “The phrase ‘preferential option for the poor’ was coined by theologian Gustavo Gutierrez in the period between the second General Meeting of the Conference of Latin  American Bishops (CELAM) at Medellin in 1968 and the third General Meeting at Puebla in 1979.” Thompson, J. Milburn. Book review of Gerald S. Twomey. The “Preferential Option for the Poor” in Catholic Social Thought from John XXIII to John Paul II. Reviewed in Cistercian Studies Quarterly, 2006, Vol. 41 Issue 3, p384.

[3] Cardenal, Ernesto. The Gospel in Solentiname.  trans. Donald D. Walsh. Maryknoll, N.Y. : Orbis Books, 1982.

[4] Gonzalez, Michelle A. “Who is Americana/o?” Postcolonial Theologies: Divinity and Empire. Ed. Keller, Catherine, Michael Nausner and Myra Rivera. St. Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 2004. pp62-3.

[5] Rieger, Joerg. “Liberating God-Talk”. Postcolonial Theologies: Divinity and Empire. Ed. Keller, Catherine, Michael Nausner and Myra Rivera. St. Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 2004. p212.

[6] Taylor, Mark Lewis. “Spirit and Liberation.” Postcolonial Theologies: Divinity and Empire. Ed. Keller, Catherine, Michael Nausner and Myra Rivera. St. Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 2004. p47. Referencing Comaroff and Comaroff.  Of Revelation and Revolution.

[7] Gonzalez. p64.

[8] Gutierrez, Gustavo. Las Casas: In Search of the Poor of Jesus Christ. NY: Orbis. 1993. pp28-29.

[9] Gutierrez. las Casas.  p33.

[10] Lippy, Charles, Robert Choquette and Stafford Poole. Christianity Comes to the Americas 1492-1776. St. Paul, MN: Paragon House, 1998 p84. Las Casas’ work in English is entitled The Only Way. Ed. Helen Rand Parish. Trans. Francis Patrick Sullivan. New York: Paulist Press, 1992.

[11] Lippy p85.

[12] Gonzalez. p74.

[13] Baker-Fletcher, Karen. Dancing with God: Trinity from a Womanist Perspective. St. Louis, MO: Chalice Press. 2006.

[14] Keller, Catherine, Michael Nausner and Mayra Rivera, eds. Postcolonial Theologies: Divinity and Empire. St. Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 2004. p8.

[15] Keller. p37.

[16] Sugirtharajah, R.S. “Complacencies and Cul-de-sacs.” Postcolonial Theologies: Divinity and Empire. St. Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 2004. p37.

[17] Sugirtharajah. p38.

[18] Sugirtharajah. p38.

[19] Rieger. Postcolonial Theologies.

[20] Rieger, Joerg. Globalization and Theology. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press. Kindle Loc 58.

[21] Ibid. Loc 106-108.

[22] Again, Baker-Fletcher’s insights on the communal nature of the trinity are valuable here. In particular, I think there is some opportunity to explore how power functions in dance among partners, and how that may relate to our understanding of power in community vis-à-vis the trinity. Dancing with God.

[23] Rieger. Globalization and Theology. Kindle Loc 253.

[24]  Taylor. p47.

[25] Rieger. Globalization and Theology. Kindle Loc 288.

[26] Bass, Diana Butler. Christianity for the Rest of Us: How the Neighborhood Church is Transforming the Faith. New York: Harper One, 2006.

[27] Rieger. Globalization and Theology. Kindle Loc 348-349.

[28] Jackson, Thomas, Ed. Works of the Rev. John Wesley, 3rd ed. (London: Wesleyan Methodist Book Room, 1872; reprint, Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1986), 3:178.

[29] Matthew 18:3.

[30] Luke 10:21.

[31] Isaiah 11:6.

[32] Míguez, p20.

[33] Gonzalez. Postcolonial Theologies. p63.

[34] Fanon, Frantz. Black Skin White Masks. Trans. Richard Philcox. New York: Grove Press, 2008. p5.

[35] Rieger. Postcolonial Theologies. p214.

[36] For a further discussion of this, see: Gabriel D. Donleavy. “No Man’s Land: Exploring the Space between Gilligan and Kohlberg.” Journal of Business Ethics (2008) 80:807–822.

[37] Baker-Fletcher builds her work on similar redemption narratives where survivors have had the courage to press through their own suffering and make of their courage an offering to God’s kingdom work.

[38] For more information on Rev. Session and New Friends New Life, see: ;

[39] Hilton, Donald L & Jr, Clark Watts. “Pornography addiction: A neuroscience perspective.” Surg Neurol Int. 2011; 2:19. Published online 2011 February 21. doi: 10.4103/2152-7806.76977

[40] Abraham, W.J. The Logic of Evangelism. Grand Rapids, MI. Eerdmans. 1989. p13.

[41] Heath, Elaine A. The Mystic Way of Evangelism: A Contemplative Vision for Christian Outreach. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008. p13. While she seems to have in mind a clergy and faculty audience, the book would be a good primary source for congregations on their journey toward becoming, particularly with the aid of a small group discussion guide that included prayer and retreat experiences.

[42] Heath. p26.

[43] Heath. p36.

[44] Rieger. Globalization and Theology. Kindle Loc 850.

[45] Acts 17:15-34.

[46] Kelly, Walt. We have met the enemy, and he is us. NY, NY: Simon & Schuster. 1972.

[47] Míguez, Nestor, Joerg Rieger & Jung Mo Sung. Beyond the Spirit of Empire: Theology and Politics in a New Key. Norwich, UK: SCM Press. p4.

[48] Heath. p171.

[49] Míguez, p32.

[50] Míguez, p2.

[51] Taylor. p45.

[52] Philippians 3:13-14.

[53] 2 Corinthians 5:17. Cf. Revelation 21:1-5.

Sixty Minutes to Change Your Life

You can spend sixty minutes each day in prayer. That may seem to many of us like a monumental task, entirely unrealistic given our daily schedules and the number of minutes we currently spend in prayer each day. I understand this entirely, as it has been daunting to me as well. But I firmly believe that absolutely anyone who wishes can make this work for their own lives, and will in the process find that their lives are transformed by the power and presence of the Spirit of God at work in them.
First, let me say that I am not suggesting that you attempt to sit down and pray for sixty minutes straight. (If you follow my suggestions here, you’ll eventually get to that, without even trying, so don’t knock yourself out right now). Rather, I want you to think about sixty minutes spread throughout your day. As a Christian, I approach prayer from a Biblical and Christian theological perspective (which is not to say that all Christians will agree with me, or that I believe there is only one faithful interpretation of scripture – this is simply my understanding at the present time, from within my faith context). I do believe that this principle will work for people of any faith, or even for people of no faith, perhaps those of us who would call ourselves ‘spiritual but not religious’. The New Testament offers us good evidence that the prayers of people who desire to love and serve God are in fact heard by God, even if those people are not followers of Jesus! (See in particular Acts 10). Simply seek God, and know that before you even thought of Him, He was seeking you.
So, Sixty Minutes to Change Your Life. I have a strong aversion to things that sound too easy or too good to be true. This is not a spiritual version of a get rich quick scheme or a failproof diet plan to loose 100 pounds in 30 days. In fact, I am not suggesting that the changes in your life will come quickly at all. I don’t know how or when your life will change through these habits I want to suggest – simply that your life will change significantly and for the better. The changes may come suddenly as they did for the Apostle Paul (Acts 9) or slowly, as for the Apostle Peter (you really have to read the whole Gospel, but here is a summary.
Let’s get honest. How many of us look at our day and think, “Man, I’ve got so much spare time on my hands, I just don’t know what to do.” In the fast paced fractured world in which we live, not many of us in North America feel that way. Even so many retired folk are heard to say, “I’m so busy now, I don’t know how I ever had time to work.” And most of these folks are not meaning that they are now so busy with spiritual practices. So, where, exactly are these sixty minutes? I am not, at this point, going to ask you to stop doing anything in your weekly routine in order to accomplish this. I will not suggest that you watch one less hour of tv each day (though that might not be a bad thing). These sixty minutes are already available in your day, as you’ll soon see. Really, I promise.

We could approach this several ways. For starters, consider dividing that hour into 3 segments – 15 minutes in the morning, 15 minutes in the evening, and 30 minutes throughout the day, divided into 3 minute increments. Begin your day with 15 minutes of prayer while your are doing your daily routine. I begin each day with prayer before I even roll out of bed, giving thanks for the day, asking God for guidance through the day. As you stumble to the shower, where is your mind? What if it were focused on God? Now, it is helpful at this point to have some words of prayer, scripture, or song committed to memory, to prime the pump as it were. Perhaps you know the Lord’s Prayer from Matthew 6:9, or Psalm 23. I’ll share more simple prayer suggetions later. For now, the point is to think in terms of praying while you do other things. Praying is to our spirit what breathing is to our body – we exhale the waste and inhale the sustenance. In fact, the word for breath, in Hebrew Ruwach, in Greek Pneuma, can also mean spirit or wind. You breath most times unconsciously while doing your other activities. Prayer can take on the same character in our lives, that it is something we do continually, without needing to think about it – though certainly at times we will want to, just as we will focus and concentrate on our breathing at certain times.
You’ve taken a shower, brushed your teeth, gotten dressed, and whatever else you may do in your morning routine. Give thanks in a breath for the ability to do each of these things with whatever ease you have. That may all take more than 15 minutes right there. Even so, before you rush out the door to begin your tasks appointed for the day, take 5 minutes to sit still focus on your breathing, and ask for God’s presence with you throughout the day. Again, here is a place that breath prayers can be very useful. And now you’ve prayed 20 minutes – you are already 5 minutes ahead for the day – we’ll call that extra credit.
The next part of your day is 30 minutes of prayer broken down into small increments – 2-3 minutes each. If you got 9 hours of sleep (wouldn’t that be an answer to prayer!) then you’d have 15 waking hours through the day. Spend 2 minutes in focused prayer at each of these hours, and you have spent another 30 minutes in prayer during the day. Here are a couple of suggestions on what to do with those minutes:

  1. Take a deep breath. Breath in the Spirit and Presence and Healing and Peace of God, and breath out stress, anxiety, fear, worry, anger, frustration. Do it again.
  2. Read a scripture. You may have a part that you particularly like – read that. Have a Bible handy in your work space, or wherever you spend your days, and simply turn for two minutes at the changing of the hour and pause, give God thanks for the opportunity to live in this present moment, and read the text before you.
  3. Read a few verses of a Psalm or Proverb and meditate upon the text. If you’re not sure where to start, consider this daily habit of Praying with Psalms and Proverbs.
  4. Incorporate one or more of these or another prayer habit as you transition from one task to another. I have found it particularly helpful, having prayed with the Psalms and Proverbs as I start my day, to go back and revisit one when ‘shifting gears’ between different tasks, or as a way to refocus after a particularly challenging conversation, or in preparation for one.
  5. Prayer of Now – How attentive are you to what is happening right now, this very minute, as you are reading these words? Who else is around you? What is your physical posture and attitude? What sounds and sights and smells are in your environment? What qualities does the light have? Attending to the present is a way of being grateful for life – living not in the glories and regrets of the past nor the hopes and fears of the future, but in this very moment, which after all is your one and only moment.
  6. Prayer of Attention – Related, but focused specifically on the people present in your life at any given moment, and having/developing a heightened spiritual sense/sensitivity toward them. As you look around, and truly notice people, in the room with you, i
    n the next car at the light, wherever, offer a prayer of blessing to God for them, that they may know how very much God loves them and desires to heal and bless them. An amazing story is told in scripture of a time when Jesus walked through a crowed market, on the way to a very important appointment, when he stopped. “Who touched me,” he asked. His disciples laughed, pointing out that this was a silly question, for in this great crowd, many people were bustling around and ‘touching’ him. “No,” he repeated, “someone touched me,” for he had felt a spiritual connection and transfer of power to/with someone there. Jesus was attending to the people around him and was thus aware that one of them stood out as in particular need of his attention at that moment. She had reached out to Jesus because she needed and wanted to be loved, healed, blessed. Not only did she receive healing – she also received his attention. Can you give someone 2 minutes of attention each how as a consecrated act of prayer?

And the day has passed, the night has come, and your dream world becons you. Reverse the morning pattern:

  1. Take 5 minutes to sit still, breath, and give God thanks for the day.
  2. Ask God to show you where you might have chosen differently during the day – chosen more for blessing, more for hope, more for reconciliation.
  3. Ask God for forgiveness for the places you failed to be who and what you knew you were called to be.
  4. Ask that God might prepare your mind and spirit through the night, so that if tomorrow comes, you will be ready to embrace it as God’s child, stepping out into a world in need of love which, having received from God, you are now called and equipped to offer to others in His name.
  5. Carry this prayer into your nightly routine of preparation.
  6. Read a scripture. Was there one that spoke to you at some other point during the day? Perhaps you have chosen a theme scripture for the week, or the month, or even the year – meditate on this text briefly. Songs, poems and other spiritual writings can also be useful at this time. While we sleep, our spirits ‘chew’ on the things we feed them at the close of the day – what are you in the habit of feeding yours?

And the sixty minutes has passed, sprinkled throughout the day in small amounts like sips of ration water on a walk across the desert. You may expect several things to happen to you as you pursue this course:

  1. Irregularity. Starting a new habit is difficult. Build in supports – tell other what you are doing, ask them to encourage you and even invite them to join you. Put reminders around – postit notes, 3×5 cards with verses or prayers on them, etc. And cut yourself some slack – prayer is a source of grace, not one more thing about which to feel guilty and inadequate.
  2. Imperceptible change. Often only in retrospect will you realize that your character and attitude have changed. This is a piece of what the Apostle Paul meant by being transformed by the renewing of your mind.
  3. Sudden change. At times something dramatic may occur. You may do something wonderfully out of character and grace-filled and wonder, “Wow, where did that come from?”
  4. God moments. Like the previous. Also, encounters with people that take you pleasantly by surprise. Other people may begin to act differently toward you, approach you to talk about things, offer things, even bless you. I don’t know really whether more of these things are happening for you, or if your skills of attention are hightened so you notice and are open to them. Its probably both, I think.
  5. Peace. Perhaps this is the most dramatic and significant change I have found in my own life. Peace is increasingly prevalent in my life. Admittedly, I still have my moments when I’m feeling anything but peaceful, but they’re fewer and farther between.
  6. Sabotage. I hate to say this, but when we make positive changes in our lives, there will be people around us – often those who think they love us most – who will knowingly or unknowingly do things to undermine, derail, or reverse our progress toward spiritual health and wholeness. At these times we must be like water flowing around and over rocks in a stream. The water does not fight the rock. It does not avoid or ignore the rock. It comes close, touches, even caresses and dare I say blesses, and then flows on, not being deterred from its forward progress. This experience of sabotage then becomes a great test of faith and an opportunity for you to hone your prayer skills.
  7. Hunger. This may be difficult to believe now, but you will long for more prayer as you enter deeper into this habit. Once you drink deeply of these waters, no other will satisfy.
  8. Productivity. You will find that every minute you take for prayer makes your other minutes that much more productive. While prayer should never become some tool in our success toolkit, it is true that the moments doing other things increase in value in proportion to the time we spend in prayer. This may be because you choose choose to spend moments on fewer urgent items and more on important ones. It may be that your mind is clearer to concentrate, think, create. It may be that your conversations are blessed and anointed by God (cause after all you’ve been praying that this very thing would happen). Most likely, its all of this and more.

Sixty minutes to change your life. I hope now you are convinced enough to try this experiment – sixty minutes for sixty days. That’s long enough to ingrain these practices into your life as habit, and long enough to see some noticeable results. I look forward to hearing your story and how God moves in your life.