When I was a student in seminary, one of the requirements for graduation was that we take part in a cross-cultural experience of some sort. There were rural immersion experiences for “city kids,” urban plunges for those who grew up on farms, and opportunities to visit many places in the world.
I chose to spend two weeks in Mexico, not in the gated resort communities where people go to spend their vacations, but in the neighborhoods where the poor lived and worked and improvised in order to get from morning to night every day, where they supported one another in prayer and in action, where they knew that their only hope was in Christ, because all other hope had been snatched away.
On one of our first days in Mexico, our group traveled to the historic central area of Mexico City. One of our stops was Temple Mayor, an archaeological site of an ancient Aztec temple that had been destroyed by the conquering Spanish forces in order to build their own cathedral on top of the ruins. One of the shrines at Temple Mayor was to Tlaloc, the rain god. Worship of this god involved sacrifice of children, in order to persuade the god to allow rain to fall. Dozens of children were sacrificed, many of them sold by their own parents. On the way to the top of the pyramid where the killing would take place, the children were threatened and physically hurt so that they would cry and scream, the louder the better. It seems that children’s tears, in addition to their lives, were demanded by the rain god.
What was your reaction as you read that last paragraph? Did you have the same reactions I did, that this was horrific, brutal, barbaric. What kind of parents would allow their own children to be subject to such inhuman practices! Who would allow their children to live in fear and to be killed because of the fears of their parents? How much progress we have made!
Progress indeed. We have progressed to the point that our children’s cries and screams are heard at country music concerts. We have progressed to the point that our children fear going to school because there might be someone with a gun. We have progressed to the point that we sell our own children into fear and even death because we are afraid to stand up to the tyrannical rain god known as the NRA. Just as we know that Tlaloc didn’t really need the death of children in order to send rain, we know in our hearts – in those parts of our hearts that know the truth, beyond the reach of all the propaganda – that the NRA’s predictions of calamity will not result from common-sense measures like background checks and limits on magazine size. And still, we knowingly send our children into the line of fire, into the heart of danger, in order to convince ourselves that the NRA-god will smile on us.
Progress indeed. We have progressed to the point that our children’s cries and screams are heard on city streets as they are shot to death. We have progressed to the point that our children of color fear going to the store, driving their cars, or walking home at night because there might be a police officer with a gun who is afraid. We have progressed to the point that we as a nation sell our children of color into fear and death because we are afraid to insist that their lives matter. Just as we know that Tlaloc didn’t really need the death of children in order to send rain, we know in our hearts – in our hearts as parents and friends and coworkers – that the danger the police claim to fear from young men of color is not real. And still, we knowingly send our young men into the line of their fire, into the heart of danger, in order to convince ourselves that we will somehow be safer if their lives do not matter.
Progress indeed. We have progressed to the point that our children’s cries and screams are heard as they are forced to deny their gender identity an orientation. We have progressed to the point that our children fear going to school, naming who they are, or loving whom they love because we won’t try to understand any experience but our own. We have progressed to the point that we sell our children into fear and death because we are afraid to stand up to those who would tell them that they are beyond the bounds of God’s love. Just as we know that Tlaloc didn’t really need the death of children in order to send rain, we know in our hearts – in our hearts as parents and siblings and friends – that these children are every bit as precious to God as we are. And still, we knowingly send our children into a world that would hurt, shame, and even kill them, in order to convince ourselves that we are worthy of God’s love.
Progress indeed. In so many ways, we are no different than the parents who sold their children to be tormented and killed to ensure their own comfort and prosperity. When we fail to defend our children from gun violence and hatred and abuse, we look in the mirror and see the brutal, barbaric, and inhuman parts of our souls.
We no longer worship the got Tlaloc. We have replaced him with an array of gods that try to demand bullets as the price of peace and conformity as the price of safety. Perhaps it is time to consign those gods to the history books as well. Perhaps it is time to remember that rain comes from a loving God who wants all children to thrive.ray
This is the prayer I wrote for our final worship on that Mexico trip. Much of it could still be prayed today.
We have been called to this place to see clearly, to think deeply, and to act boldly. Let us join our hearts in prayer for the church, the world, and all those in need.
Two-thirds of the people in Mexico try to earn a living in the informal economy, including a third of children under ten years old. Children sell Chiclets on the street and men lie on broken glass in the subway.
For those who must struggle each day to earn enough money to feed their families, that they might receive daily bread… Lord, in your mercy… hear our prayer.
We have about 50% of the world’s wealth, but only 6.3% of its population… Our real task is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity. [George Kennan, for the U.S. State Department, 1948]
For those whose self-interest blinds them to seeing the needs of others, that they might be awakened to their place in the family of creation… Lord, in your mercy… hear our prayer.
Solo: Eternal Spirit of the Living Christ, v. 1
Each year, over 4,000 people die attempting to cross the border from Mexico to the United States. Each of these people has a name, a home, a family.
For those who have died, for those who mourn, and for those who wait for news that will never come, that they might be comforted… Lord, in your mercy… hear our prayer.
As a condition for making loans, the World Bank imposes Structural Adjustment Programs that lead to reduction or elimination of social services.
For those with power and influence, that they might be guided to use their authority in ways that build up the body of Christ… Lord, in your mercy… hear our prayer.
Solo: Eternal Spirit of the Living Christ, v. 2
I would like to make a special appeal to the members of the Army… In the name of God, in the name of your tormented people whose cries rise up… I beseech you, I beg you, I command you: Stop the repression! [Bishop Oscar Romero, the day before he was assassinated while leading a worship service in 1980]
For those who take a stand in support of the poor and in opposition to ruthless power, that their voices might be heard and heeded… Lord, in your mercy… hear our prayer.
Across the country, base Christian communities gather to pray, to study the scripture, and to take action to accompany those who are struggling.
For those who care for others in your name, that they might be strengthened through their service… Lord, in your mercy… hear our prayer.
Solo: Eternal Spirit of the Living Christ, v. 3
We have experienced the radical hospitality of home visit hosts, who give up even their own beds so that we might have a place to sleep.
For those who, in the midst of their poverty, evangelize us, that both we and they would grow in our sense of community with one another… Lord, in your mercy… hear our prayer.
My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant… He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.
For those who wait upon the promise of your favor, that their souls might continue to magnify your name… Lord, in your mercy… hear our prayer.
In the silence of this moment, send your Holy Spirit into our hearts to stir up faith in us and to pray for us those prayers that, right now, we cannot pray for ourselves… For all that you see your children need, we pray, in the name of your Son our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.