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Greetings All,

This weeks thought comes to you from Eugene Peterson. It's found in his book "Where Your Treasure Is."
Peterson is also the author of the Bible translation/paraphrase, "The Message." This thought has to do with one of the primary diseases of American culture, and the subversive many who engage in the remedy on a regular basis -- though their efforts are seldom recognized. I trust you'll find his words challenging and helpful, and most of all an encouragement to continue in that one subversive activity that we must engage in if we are ever to change our nation. Enjoy.

"On the ribbon of highway that stretches "from California to the New York island" -- the great American Main Street -- the mass of people seem completely self-absorbed. One hundred and fifty years ago Alexis de Tocqueville visited America from France and wrote: 'Each citizen is habitually engaged in the contemplation of a very puny object, namely himself.' In a century and a half things have not improved. For all the diverse and attractive, buzzing and mysterious reality that is everywhere evident, no one and no thing interrupt people more than momentarily from the obessive preoccupation with themselves.

America is in conspicuous need of unselfing. Concerned observers using the diagnostic disciplines of psychology, sociology, economics, and theology blame the deterioration of our public life and the disintegration of our personal lives at the door of the self: we have a self problem and that problem is responsible for everything else that is going wrong... Psychologists propose a therapy, educators install a new curriculum, economists plan legislation, sociologists imagine new models of community. Think tanks hum. Ideas proliferate. Some of them get tried. Nothing seems to work for very long.

In Alexander Solzhenitsyn's extensively reported and now famous sermon to America, delivered in 1978 at Harvard University, he said:

We have placed too much hope in politics and social reforms, only to find out that we were being deprived of our most precious possession: our spiritual life. It is trampled by the prty mob in the East, by the commercial one in the West. We are,' he thundered, at a 'harsh spiritual crisis and a political impasse. All the celebrated technological achievements of progress, including the conquest of outer space, do not redeem the 20th century's moral poverty. We need a spiritual blaze.'

What the journalists did not report -- not a single pundit so much as mentioned it -- is that a significant number of people are actually doing something about Solzhenitsyn's concern... Thousands of pastor, priest, and lay colleagues are doing far more for both society and the soul, tending and fueling the 'spiritual blaze,' than anything that is being reported in the newspapers. They are doing the work of prayer.

Prayer, of course, has to do with God. God is both initiator and recipient of this underreported but extensively pursued activity. But prayer also has to do with much else: war and government, poverty and sentimentality, politics and economics, work and marriage. Everything, in fact. The striking diagnostic consensus of modern experts that we have a self problem is matched by an equally striking consensus among our wise ancestors on a strategy for action: The only way to get out of the cramped world of the ego and into the large world of God without denying or supressing or mutilating the ego is through prayer. The only way to escape from self-annihilating and society-destroying egotism and into self-enhancing community is through prayer. Only in prayer can we escape the distortions and constrictions of the self and enter the truth and expansiveness of God. We find there, to our surprise, both self and society whole and blessed. It is the old business of losing your life to save it; and the life that is saved is not only your own, but everyone else's as well.

Prayer is political action. Prayer is social energy. Prayer is public good. Far more of our nation's life is shaped by prayer than is formed by legislation. That we have not collapsed into anarchy is due more to prayer than to the police. Prayer is a sustained and intricate act of patriotism in the largest sense of that word -- far more precise and loving and preserving than patriotism served up in slogans. That society continues to be livable and that hope continues to be resurgent are attributable to prayer far more than to business prosperity... The single most important action contributing to whatever health and strength there is in our land is prayer. No the only thing, of course, for God uses all things to effect His sovereign will, and the 'all things' most certainly includes police and artists, senators and professors, therapists and steelworkers. But prayer is, all the same, the source action.

The single most widespread American misunderstanding of prayer is that it is private. Strictly and biblically speaking, there is no private prayer. 'Private' in its root meaning refers to theft. It is stealing. When we privatize prayer we embezzle the common currency that belongs to all. When we engage in prayer without any desire for awareness of the comprehensive, inclusive life of the kingdom that is 'at hand' in both time and space, we impoverish the social reality that God is bringing to completion... We can no more have a private prayer than we can have a private language... [since] all speech is relational, making a community of speakers and listeners... The self is only itself, healthy and whole, when it is in relationship, and that relationship is always dual, with God and with other human beings. Relationship implies mutuality, give and take, listening and responding... If the self exploits other selves, whether God or neighbor, subordinating them to its compulsions, it becomes pinched and twisted...

[Yet] the unselfing of America is taking place all across the land. Bands of people meet together regularly to engage in the work [ie:prayer]. Disbanded, they continue what they began in common. They are persistent, determined, effective... Assembled in places of worship, they pray. Dispersed, they infiltrate homes, shops, factories, offices, athletic fields, town halls, courts, prisons, streets, playgrounds, and shopping malls, where thay also pray. Much of the population, profoundly ignorant of the forces that hold their lives together, does not even know that these people exist. These people who pray know what most around them either don't know or choose to ignore: centering life in the insatiable demands of the ego is the sure path to doom...

They know that life confined to the self is a prison, a joy-killing, neurosis-producing, disease-formenting prison. Out of a sheer sense of survival they are committed to a way of life that is unselfed, both personally and nationally. They are, in the words of their Master, 'light' and 'leaven.' Light is silent and leaven is invisible. Their presence is unobtrusive, but these lives are God's way of illuminating and preserving civilization. Their prayers counter the strong disintegrative forces in American life."

His words make me all the more intent to pray -- not just for me and not just in private. They make me more intent to pray everywhere I go and "infiltrate homes, shops, factories, offices, athletic fields, town halls, courts, prisons, streets, playgrounds, and shopping malls" with that silent and invisible "way of illuminating and preserving civilization."

In the hope more will infiltrate every activity and place with prayer, Pastor Jeff