Thursday, March 17, 2005

Church Prayer Rug

free ramble

In my mailbox this week I found what may become an Lenten annual: another blatant example of idolatry, another human attempt to create a god in its image, another slot-machine divinity of jumbo payoffs, a deity completely congruent with one of contemporary American society's most brazenly unsubtle gods—consumerism. From a skinny envelope I unpacked purportedly a face of Jesus, sketchily represented crowned with a thorny tiara; four-color printing is the graphics industry standard, but this is a two-color likeness! In addition, nowhere in the mailing could I find either a web address nor an email address—in this year 2005?!?!?!

Next Sunday, continuing its journey through the liturgical year, the church reaches Palm Sunday, with Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem, city of prophets and in ages past, home to the Temple that for the Jews formed the axis mundi between earth and heaven—Jerusalem, the biblical City of God. Following the Revised Common Lectionary, the gospel chronicles the church reads during Lent consistently focus on Jesus' going to Jerusalem and to the cross (lest you imagine I haven't read the Bible, Crucifixion Friday gradually turns into Resurrection Sunday, with its astonishing empty grave: in God's system you cannot have Easter unless Friday precedes it).

Returning to the Church Prayer Rug! Conceptually, it is closely related to the common contemporary practice of consumer-driven and marketing-modeled churches, as in let's study the location, the demographics, traffic flow, in-migration and even out-migration (likely I've missed a slew of necessary statistical assessments), and then decide what the people will be clamoring for and what consumer options they'll be needing so our church can offer the right menu to meet their needs. Is that biblical?! Most likely Martin Luther (among others) would call it an example of that humanly always-popular Theology of Glory! The designation Church Prayer Rug (contrasted with simply Prayer Rug, or other possibilities, such as Tribal Meditation Rug, Rya Prayer Rug, Dhurrie Prayer Rag, Acrylic Broadloom Whatever…) reveals a lot, too!

Jesus: friend of sinners, companion of outcasts, Son of God, Son of Humanity, liberator of women, freer of slaves, lifter-up of underdogs, putter-down of overdogs, political upstart and rouser of the rabble, challenger of the religious establishment, yet Servant, Lord of all creation, Pantocratur…but…talk about a domesticated god, idolatry?! This one is offset printed, not even engraved, flattened onto a flimsy 11" x 16" sheet of not non-acid-free paper; due to the paper's quality (not!) I doubt it would qualify as a kitchen god, since exposed to any light for any length of time, it would crumble and fade; not surprisingly, the legend on the B-side is phenomenally unbiblical:
"This Prayer Rug is soaked with the Power of Prayer for you. Use it immediately, then please return it with your Prayer Needs Checked on our letter to you."
Here the quotes end, but the centered paragraph continues with: It must be mailed to a second home that needs a blessing after you use it. Prayer works. Expect God's blessing.

Tucked into the envelope with the rug itself (how much wear and tear could a paper rug withstand, anyway? Huh? Tell me, please!), there's a list of testimonials citing Rugged Benefits. They include, "Blessed with $46,000.00 after using prayer rug…;" "God blessed me with over $5,000.00"; "Received $10,000 in a financial blessing…"; "I've gotten a new car and a job,…"; "…17 acres of land…;" "Big 6 room house..." To assuage doubters, the *they* who sent me the Church Prayer Rug even threw in a spiritual boon, "Praise God! it is so wonderful to know that my husband is saved…"

A pair of scripture verses justifies the Prayer Rug endeavor:
  • Evening, and morning, and at noon, I will pray and he shall hear my voice. ~Psalm 55:17
  • God can do anything. ~Mark 10:27
My current email signature includes this site's address and pleading lines from the hymn, Make Our Church One Joyful Choir; I haven't posted it on this blog, so I'll quote the entire hymn:
  1. Make our church one joyful choir on this glad and festive day
    and by song invoke the fire that invites our hearts to pray:
    Shape us, Christ, to live and claim all it means to bear your name.
  2. Bend us low by song and prayer, low enough to lift the cross
    and to take the weight and bear love's uncounted final cost:
    Shape us, Christ, to live and claim all it means to bear your name.
  3. Lift us up by song and prayer till the way we deal with loss
    and our acts and words of care trace the pattern of your cross:
    Shape us, Christ, to bear your name.
  4. Bend us, lift us, make us strong, send us out with wind and fire,
    so the world may hear the song that we offer as your choir:
    Shape us, Christ, to live and claim all it means to bear your name.
    Amen, amen, amen!
Thomas H. Troeger
© 1994 Oxford University Press, Inc.

Shape us, Christ, to live and claim all it means to bear your name!
Bend us low by song and prayer, low enough to lift the cross
And to take the weight and bear love's uncounted final cost…
…and our acts and words of care trace the pattern of your cross:
Shape us, Christ, to live and claim all it means to bear your name!
To bear the name of Jesus Christ! One of the greatest theologians of the cross insisted,

"I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me." ~Galatians 2:20a

(Oh, by the way, that's from Paul of Tarsus' collected writings; I found it in the Bible!) For Jews in Jesus' time, the Jerusalem temple formed a gathering place and holy space connecting earth and heaven; for us Christians, the cross of Jesus Christ is the axis mundi between humanity and divinity! Our baptism into the cross affirms our creation and re-creation in God's image—that particular part of our Imago Dei is one of certified cross-bearers! Living and claiming all it means to bear the name of Jesus Christ means in us, the Church, Jesus still is friend of sinners, comforter of the sorrowful, liberator of the oppressed, companion along the way, forgiver of offenses; because of us, Jesus still is in this world, still carrying the cross. The Holy Spirit calls all of us who – in the words of the Apostle Paul – are "in Christ," to become and to be cross-carriers; for everyone our lives touch, God calls us to span what often seems to be a very far distance between heaven and earth.


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