Prayer of Protest
1.5 hour Workshop offered at Cahoots Festival, 2015
Prayer can be used to name injustice; lament sickness, destruction and death; to glorify God and much more. Prayer has always been part of faith-driven social movements as a way to unify struggles, collectively calm our woes, and remind ourselves (and others!) that God is bigger than the Powers that aim to deny God’s goodness in the world.
Participants will discuss their experiences of prayer – good and bad, faithful or desperate, silent or shared. We will talk about how glorifying God can be a revolutionary practice. We will design Christian Peacemaker Teams Emergency Prayer Vigil Kits to help bring prayer into the public square.
Begin with an offering and prayer
Invite participants to offer something that they have with them. Something small, like a coin or pen or key-ring. If they don’t have anything they can give, they can draw a picture.
While we pass around the offering receptacle, people introduce themselves and say something about why they have come.
Once offering and introductions are done, pray the prayer that follows:
God of extravagant mercy, with hands outstretched you have poured out wonder and pleasure and delight, goodness and beauty and bounty. So take these offerings, we pray, as our protest against all that is evil and ugly and impoverished, trivial and wretched and tyrannical, in our world and in ourselves— That we, too, may be poured out for the world. Amen.
Reflect on this. Offerings as generally seen as turning something material (cash) into something spiritual (treasure in heaven). This prayer asks the offering to be something political using the language of protest.
Play Bree Newsome taking down the flag.
Hold space for reflection/comments.
If people start to analyse the larger context and the issues around the flag, invite them to consider what is in the video, the action, the prayer, etc.
Consider making available a printout of the ‘whom shall I fear’ article:
Definitions and Diagram
Invite everyone to gather around Diagram 1
It has PRAYER on one side and PROTEST on the other. People circulate the paper, writing things in each column as they think of them.
They are writing both examples and definitions
Maybe play some music or ask people to speak aloud what they are naming. Explain that we will get the chance to tell stories later, so if people need to make clarifying comments, keep it brief.
Look over what has been said. Ask if anyone is surprised or resistant to any categorization.
Ask people if there are unfamiliar terms. Try to hear something from everyone.
The ‘What Is…’ brainstorm brings out a series of ideas we will continue to develop and work with.
Remove Diagram 1 to reveal Diagram 2
It is a Venn Diagram, two circles (PRAYER and PROTEST) with a large overlap.
Explain that this process is about expanding our definition of both these words to find the places where an action is both prayer and protest. As people to take words from the first sheet that are both PRAYER and PROTEST and write them up. Discuss each example as it is mentioned, asking for comments from others.
To stimulate discussion, invite people to think of other examples that have not been mentioned yet and add them in. What about scripture? Can people think of songs?
Ask if there are examples that do not overlap and are purely PRAYER or PROTEST. Identify that these things are not the point of the workshop, but that there can be some interesting conversations around what people think of.
The Protest/Prayer Venn Diagram shows how many things function in both categories and brings out a some significant things that function as both.
Remove Diagram 2 to reveal Diagram 3
This is a two-axis graph, with one axis from PRAYER to PROTEST and the other from PRIVATE to PUBLIC.
Invite people to use examples from the previous two Diagrams to populate this table. Discuss each example, and particularly make comparisons between. If there is an area that is sparsely populated, ask people to imagine what it might be. Private Protest is often hard for people to work out. Consider levels of anonymity of different actions, or direct action that creates an impact but is not traced to any individual, or even not identifiable as something that someone has done.
This diagram gets even more specific. Trying to find extremes and fill in the blank spaces of the graph is a helpful way of spurring conversation. What are totally private protests? What are totally public prayers?
I tell the story of how I was accused of ‘immanentizing the eschaton’ after the prayer vigil at the G20 Fence in Toronto 2010. The blogger commented critically on us and referenced Christ’s instructions to pray where no-one can see you. Once I figured out what immanentizing the eschaton meant, I decided to make my job on Facebook into ‘Eschatological Animator’ (and invite people to friend me on Facebook)
The third Diagram is the last part of the ‘broadening’ and by now people ought to have thought a lot about these issues. Now we narrow back down again. Go outside and sit in a circle and invite each person to share a short story of protest and prayer overlapping, or of a time when one of these was lacking. After each person speaks, collectively acknowledge their words with a group word of thanks.
Finish with the story of CPTers in Mexico carrying around candles all the time, so that they can have impromptu prayer vigils in the middle of the road. These would be respected enough by the Mexican soldiers (many Catholic) that they would wait for the vigil to end.
Explain that we are going to make CPT Emergency Prayer Vigil Kits with the time left.
The basic kit is a jar with a candle and a book of matches. You can add ritual objects, bandana/cloths, rocks, scriptures, prayers, chalk, holy water, anointing oil, or whatever else you might use. You can decorate the jar.