Morgan Guyton, a Facebook friend, posted that he would be holding a prayer meeting on the app Zoom at 10 p.m. Central time as a response to the #MeToo movement. He had written about his own missteps with women and observed young men and women on campus pushing past appropriate boundaries. Since I have Zoom on my desktop, Bruce and I typed his meeting number into the meeting tab and showed up. We’ve pretty much been showing up nightly ever since, though we missed out when Tessie was sick and there have been times Morgan has been busy.
Morgan Guyton and I exchanged books close to the time our books were published. I figured if I could get a mention on his blog, I might find a new audience because I write about the roots of evangelicals’ political involvement, what Frank Schaeffer calls “religion gone off the rails” in The River Caught Sunlight. Morgan sent me How Jesus Saves the World from Us possibly hoping the same thing about my audience.
Neither one of us has read the others’ books. (When my novel came out I was hopeful I could read and review assorted authors’ books hoping they would read and review mine. Those well-intentioned books are still sitting on my shelf, unread.)
Because I am unpacking the negative influences of my evangelical and fundamentalist background, and I want to understand today’s evangelical, Morgan’s book is next on my reading list because I think it would offer insight. The evangelicals I’ve bumped against aren’t the evangelicals of my childhood. These days they seem brittle, afraid, unwilling to listen to ideas that step outside the group think. I’ve noticed this from both progressives and conservatives. Benjamin Corey writes in Unafraid:Moving Beyond Fear Based Faith about how tribal this group seems. “Christianity in the United States today strikes me as being incredibly tribal, that is, it involves the grouping of similar people to protect against perceived threats from outside or from those belonging to other tribes” (131). If you don’t fit into their idea of Christian, you’re nobody. Maybe I’m idealizing my childhood faith, but I remember being open to the other person, listening to other people’s ideas, if only to earn the right to speak about my faith.
I have been a little uneasy around Morgan because he is so much more progressive than I am, and some progressives can be as judgmental as fundamentalists if you don’t believe the exact same way. (Even though I’m conservative about some things, I’d rather find common ground. I’d rather listen, so I don’t even try to say what I think. I think prayer is powerful, especially prayer with people agreeing on the requests. Bruce and I are available at 10 at night and can offer our support. We welcome the opportunity to reach out to God.) If Morgan and I were able to sit down over drinks, maybe the give and take of physical presence might allow a conversation where we talk about our differences.
Besides people are so much more than their slants on politics or even the culture. There is wisdom in that old saying, “Polite company doesn’t talk politics, religion or money.” I’ve learned the hard way that Facebook is not a good venue for talking through differences of opinion, though it doesn’t seem that people want to engage anymore in conversations other than politics. So I stay quiet, even if my first impulse is to say, “Hey, wait a minute, what about?” People aren’t interested in one more additional aggravation. Besides I don’t have the brainpower to hold my own against calls for facts with a footnote. Instead I want to show my audience how beautiful the world is, where the light shows up.
Morgan Guyton is also charismatic and has spoken prophecy into people’s lives, but he doesn’t strike me as one of those charismatics who will tell you who you are from some dream without you asking to know their perception. He works as a Methodist chaplain at Tulane, which draws me because being a chaplain at a university might have been a dream job if I were younger and able to go to seminary.
But as I’ve read Morgan’s words, I’ve seen his gentleness, with a humility and self searching that are refreshing and rare. I trust those qualities. Jonathan Martin describes these qualities in the Foreward to How Jesus Saves the World, “Morgan’s heart-first, soul bare way of engaging the world is the most awkward and least awkward thing I know of. In a world of calculated image management, the prophet in him makes him stand exposed before us, unadorned, pointing to something beyond him—such a wild and earthy holiness” (x).
Bruce and I sat on the couch and flipped open the computer. I opened Zoom and typed his meeting number. Morgan sits with enough light, so his face comes in clearly. It reflects off his head. (I sit with a light beside me and my face doesn’t show up so well, which is good because I don’t dress up for these meetings. I take off my glasses even though it is hard to read the prayers.) Usually the cat uses this time to run laps up over my writing chair, across a table and onto the top of my china cupboard and down to a pedestal with a lamp that we hope he doesn’t break. Bruce will get up and shoo him off because Bruce stays out of the camera’s eye.
We use Shane Claiborne’s Common Prayer (http://commonprayer.net) which is easy to find on the net. I can minimize Morgan’s face and read along. Bruce and I have prayed with Phyllis Tickle’s The Divine Hours for over a decade. We have felt safe reading prayers already written down and praying the Our Father together. Liturgical words say it better than I can. When we have been tense with each other, I have asked Bruce to read morning, noon and night so I can hear his voice. The ancient words in the book seem to ease these tensions. One of my favorite prayers has become, “In the evening, in the morning and at noon day I will complain and lament and the Lord will hear me. He who is enthroned of old will deliver me” (from Ps. 55).
But the evening prayer of Common Prayer offers a place for people to pray out loud-freestyle-not liturgy. Lutherans will simply name names during those freestyle blanks, and it’s been years since I’ve prayed aloud with anyone. I don’t even say my prayers in front of the horses or the sparrows in the barn. My prayers are inarticulate and simple. I ask God to help or comfort or heal or bless specific friends. I sometimes imagine myself like Abraham standing on a prairie, the grass dry and short, the wind blowing its song in my ears, talking to three strangers.
I pray for President Trump and Kim Jung Un to know the Lord. For peace between the Koreas. For peace and justice for the children in Chicago. Peace and Justice for the people of Syria and Yemen and Myanmar. These are big prayers said by a very tiny person.
But prayer is good. Jesus has said, “When two or three are gathered together, there will I be in their midst.” He’s also said that we can ask for anything and if we agree, he will grant those things. And he told a story of a woman bugging a judge for justice. The judge ignored her but she kept bugging him. He has said we should do the same.
Bruce and I showed up despite our reticence about praying aloud and offered our presence and words. Some nights the words flow easily. Other nights, not so much. But these prayer meetings have helped me come to the point when I have prayed for a friend, aloud, with her sitting there, that God would lift her load.
It is good to say good night to God.
It is good to say, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb. Naked will I return.”
In the darkness of night, it is good to repeat, “O gracious Light, pure brightness of the ever living Father in heaven, O Jesus Christ, holy and blessed! Now as we come to the setting of the sun, and our eyes behold the evening light, we sing your praises, O God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. You are worthy at all times to be praised by happy voices, O Son of God, O Giver of life, your glory fills the whole world.”
I have been struck through these encounters in prayer how very diverse the body of Christ is. I would imagine that The Man in the Fringed Coat that I wrote about a few weeks ago and Morgan and Bruce and I would disagree on many things, yet what binds us even deeper than that is our love for God and our neighbor. Jesus was adamant that he did not come to judge the world. Oh and Maggie with the most beautiful voice and pink hair, has also started showing up regularly, as has Lily, who is a talented journalist, and Prism at Tulane. Our little group is growing.
Howard Cutler in The Art of Happiness in a Troubled World notes how a basketball team can show “the perfect balance, where you can see the individual effort–individualism at its finest and at the same time the highest representation of group effort. In these truly great teams, you’ll see five separate individuals, each with his own unique talent, each clearly delineated with their own personality…No one man may have it all, but each has developed his own specialized talent, while knowing the strengths of others and when they have come together, they are in complete sync with a kind of synergy as if they are truly one organism, with the whole greater than the sum of its parts” (103-104).
This is what I think of when I think of the diversity of Christians—how people with differing slants on Christianity and culture, can work together, can balance each other out like opposing muscles, so that we can do Christ’s work in the world. Unfortunately we seem to allow our differences to prevent us from doing this. Maybe it’s easier to be divided and lazy, than unified and doing difficult work like feeding the poor, or cleaning up the environment, or listening to the person who makes us tired or showing up at 10 on a winter’s night to pray, when there are dogs that still need to be walked and horses that still need to be fed.
If you would like to join us, the meeting number on Zoom is 407-502-3281. We are meeting nearly every evening at 10 Central Time during Lent. Morgan is not sure how regularly we will meet after that.
I write about where I find light and sometimes where I find shadow. I want to show you the beauty I’m finding in the world. Here you will find a variety of subjects ranging from the farm to horses to spirituality. If you would like to be sure to read these essays as they are published, feel free to fill out the form at the bottom of this blog and you will receive emails when I publish an essay on here. If you’ve already subscribed thank you so very much for being part of my community. Social media is constantly changing and there are no guarantees you’ll continue to see these posts.