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Prayer requests

We take 'em at my church. It's the usual stuff: a speedy recovery from surgery, employment, traveling mercies, world peace.

But on Sunday someone made a truly jaw-dropping prayer request. This person is being fired; her employer is outsourcing her job to India. It's a depressingly familiar story. But here's the kicker. Her last official duty is to train the very Indian workers who are inheriting her job. The company is flying them in from halfway around the world just for this.

It's not quite as bad as having to dig your own grave before the firing squad lines you up in front of it, but it's the same idea, No?

It gets better. The company has counseled her and her fellow grave diggers not to consume beef or pork in the break room lest they give offense to their Indian trainees. I'm sure everyone feels better that they're being canned by a company with an ironclad commitment to cultural diversity.

No, this is not a Dilbert cartoon. This is real. But it could be a Dilbert cartoon. Life imitates art.

At this point I'm tempted to jump off into politics and decry the excesses of capitalism, the weakness of the labor movement and/or the corrosive effects of free trade, but I'm not going there. Since I was made aware of this travesty in worship, I'm wondering, What would be an appropriate liturgical response to this situation?

I think situations like this remind us of the continuing relevance of some of those Bible passages the lectionary protects us from: the cursing psalms. Particularly relevant for this situation is the phenomenon of the evil-doer getting caught in his own trap, which the psalmist either prays would  happen, or gloats over once it does happen. "Lord God, may the manager who brought together his new staff with his soon-to-be former staff in this embarrassing, humiliating situation one day be put in a like situation."

In churches that use set, written prayers, there's the Great Prayer of Thanksgiving, which the minister and congregation pray before Holy Communion. Maybe there needs to be a Great Prayer of Cursing in which the minister and congregation ask that justice, and not just any justice, but poetic justice, be served to evil-doers.

For we must not forget that companies, nations, trading partners and the like are ultimately made up of individuals and can do nothing apart from them. The awareness that there is such a thing as structural sin ought not obscure the fact that somebody--not a legal fiction like a corporation--came up with this idea, and somebody signed off on it. And if there's nothing we can do about it because the system protects them, then we who belong to another system called the Church can at least call these individuals to account before God.

I'm partial to the "God has no hands but our hands" prayer, so I don't think that prayer replaces but rather compliments work for social justice. But we're talking about the Church after all, not a labor union or a political party or a lobbying firm, so let's begin with prayer.

Of course a Great Prayer of Cursing could be abused or trivialized, but what can't be in the hands of sinful human beings? And someone might object that it's not a nice prayer to pray and Christians ought to be nicer than that, but you know what? We don't live in a nice world. Maybe the world needs to be put on notice that Christians are at war with it--with the weapons of the Spirit. Put differently, "I got a psalter and I'm not afraid to use it."

Originally posted at Avdat.

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Great writing, Marvin, and

Great writing, Marvin, and great liturgics, too. I think I hear echoes of the Brueggemeister!

Divine retribution

This prayer could be named "the Prayer of St. Michael the Archangel."

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