Wednesday, November 15, 2006

"Ani Ma' Amin"

Wednesday Worship was more beautiful today than usual. Every Wednesday at noon, my dear friend Katie Crowe leads a group of fellow travelers on the walk of faith through a 30 minute service of worship, song, prayer, and teaching at First Presbyterian Church here in Charlotte. The services are entitled "Faith@Work."

Today we were blessed by the children's choir from the Trinity Episcopal School with three songs. The title of the first song was the same as that of this blog. After they sang two stanzas of this song, one of the singers stepped forward and read a thoughtful translation of the words and the sentiment of the piece.

Ani Ma' Amin, she explained, is an ancient Hebrew song of hope that is roughly translated like this: No matter how long the Messiah tarries in His coming, I will believe in Him. No matter how long He tarries, when He arrives, He will find me waiting for Him.

Even as they entered the gas chambers during World War II's atrocities, thousands of Jews sang this song, ceasing their worship only when the gas filled their lungs and silenced them forever. No matter what we face, no matter how dreadful our circumstances, we will believe. We will have faith.

This morning in her strong voice, that young African-American girl spoke eloquently of the value of every face, every race, every person, and every soul. It is only when we honor every person created in the image of the Creator as a soul in need of love, acceptance, and forgiveness, it is only then that we will turn away from prejudice, from rejection, and even from violence. She concluded with these two statements: "This is what we sing. This is what we believe."

Many years ago when I was still in college,
I sat in tear-soaked silence as Sweet Honey in the Rock sang these words:
"We who believe in freedom cannot rest;
We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.
Until the killing of black men, black mothers' sons,
is as important as the killing of white men, white mothers' sons."

At the time they first sang their melodic homage to freedom in the 1960s, Sweet Honey in the Rock was embroiled in the civil rights movement in our nation's southern states. When I heard them lift their voices in the early 1980's, they were urging us to take a stand against apartheid in South Africa.

Today those words apply yet again - or perhaps "still" - to Darfur, the Sudan, and many war-torn, poverty-stricken areas not only in Africa, but also in New Orleans and its environs. The tens of thousands of brown-skinned Iraqis and Afghans who have lost their lives in the past four years have been counted far less rigorously than the American, English, and Italian soldiers who have died there.

We who say we believe in freedom, in democracy, in human rights,
We who say we ought to stand up against injustice, terrorism,
and evil
no matter where we find it -
We cannot rest
We ought not rest
Until the killing of anyone's sons matters to all of us.
Until the death of children due to hunger and malnutrition makes us push our obese bodies away from the buffet table in disgust.
Until the constant acquisition of more stuff for ourselves and for our children bothers us more than only when the bills arrive at the end of the month.

I have begun to pray new prayers of late.
I have begun to pray and ask for deliverance from the spirit of consumerism.
I have begun to pray that my family will find television repulsive, the commercials infuriating, and going shopping (except for food shopping) excessive.
I have begun to pray that we who have been so richly blessed will understand our responsibility to bless others who have less than we have. And not only will we understand and appreciate our responsibility, but also that we will joyfully fulfill it.

I have begun to ask myself to make clear and uncompromising distinctions between what I need and what I want. As clothing and shoes wear down and wear out, I want to carefully consider whether or not I need to them. When the lease on our very luxurious car ends next summer, I want to be ready and willing to let it go and not replace it. I want to become a person who is willing to forego personal pleasure in order to provide for someone else's needs. In the words of Ronald Sider: I want to learn to "live simply so that others can simply live."

I used to live this way. I used to think this way. Back when my children were young and money was tight, I went through an entire year without buying any clothing for myself. After the first couple of months, it wasn't even hard to bypass the mall and Good Will stores. I had more than enough. I have even more now. So very much more.

Perhaps it is time to get back to that simpler way of life.
Certinly it is time to get back to that place of the simple faith those children sang about this morning: faith in the beauty and worth of all the people around me. Faith that people of all colors, shapes, and sizes, all economic and social backgrounds, all political and religious persuasions can sing together, work together, and live together in such a way that we bring an end to as many of the atrocities that daily victimize thousands of people as possible.

And when He returns, may the Messiah find me waiting.
Not sitting passively, mind you, but actively waiting.
Working for peace, liberty, and justice for all.
So help me God.

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