Dear Siblings in Christ:
Take a deep breath. Let it out slowly. Take another deep breath. Let that one out slowly, too.
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I can not change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And Wisdom to know the difference.”
This is one of those prayers I say almost every day. Some version of it was originally written by The Reverend Reinhold Niebuhr. He stood squarely in the middle of those he considered to be unrealistically dependent on a shallow and narrow interpretation of scripture and those he considered to be unrealistically hopeful about human nature.
Right in this middle place, around Niebuhr, grew a thought movement called Christian realism. Basically, Christian realism believed in the sinfulness of humanity; the freedom given to humanity as a sacred gift; and the centrality of The Great Commandment. For Niebuhr, this meant a deep commitment to democracy as a realistic, faithful, and ethical way to work things out among each other. In his book, The Children of Light and Darkness, he wrote this: “(Humanity’s) capacity for justice makes democracy possible; but (humanity’s) inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary.” The more you learn about Niebuhr and Christian realism, the more this prayer he wrote years before he wrote about democracy makes sense.
When I first learned Niebuhr’s prayer, it was as more of a personal prayer that was for dealing with personal history. It was a prayer for looking at one’s past missteps and recognizing that the past could not be undone; a prayer that pointed towards reconciliation; and a prayer for discerning what might be picked up and what might need to be let go. I still use it for this.
It’s also become a prayer of preparation. A prayer that helps me sort through not just what I have done but what I might do. It is part of an assessment of my power, influence, foibles, and weaknesses that helps me to offer up the whole-of-myself to God as raw materials for serving God and God’s people. Sometimes, it’s a personal prayer that’s very inwardly focused, and still other times I imagine a multitude of people saying this together as a mutual commitment.
A lot of us have put a lot of time, effort, and attention toward’s the weeks and months leading up to this particular day. Over the coming weeks, we’ll learn a lot about our country and each other. We will see some of the best of each other and some of the worst as pain, worry, anxiousness, sentimentality tussle a bit.
As we do, it will be important to settle into God’s serenity and responsiveness, and not be swept up in the waves of disquiet and reaction. It will be important to act faithfully courageous and with intention, and not let fear or passiveness be our guide. It will be important to seek out the long view held in God’s wisdom, and not be swept up in floods of grandiosity or supremacy.
Ultimately, this day that seems unlike every other day in this time that seems so unlike every other time is a day just like every other day in every other time. The reality we need to prepare for it is simply clearer.
Serenity. Courage. Wisdom.
Prepare. Prepare. Prepare.
Rev. Mike Denton: Conference Minister of The Pacific Northwest Conference of The United Church of Christ
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