479: Praying for cities with an interfaith activist—begins with humility and hope

This is a special 2-part interview with a nationally known urban pastor and interfaith activist: the Rev. Kenneth Flowers. (In PART 1: Ken tells how prayer with
people from many religious and cultural backgrounds holds the potential
to heal our communities.)

Ken explains the biblical basis of his approach to prayer.

    DAVID: In the first part of our conversation, we talked about the enormous challenges faced by the people of Los Angels in the 1990s from the 1992 uprising to the 1994 earthquake. Now you’re one of the leading pastors in another major city facing dire challenges: Detroit.
    You’re in a good position to answer this question: What have you learned about praying for our cities? How should people approach this challenge?
    KEN: I turn to Scriptures. For me 2nd Chronicles 7:14 is a major guide. It says: If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face—and turn from their wicked ways and pray—then will I hear from heaven. I will forgive their sins and I will heal the land.
    From the perspective of this verse, I believe we’re talking about whoever belongs to God—whoever is a person of God. That’s what it means when we read the words, “my people who are called by my name.” This passage is from the Hebrew Scriptures, so Jews would say they are called by God’s name and Muslims would look to this, too, and they would say they are called by God’s name. And of course Christians also are part of the Abrahamic faith and, as Christians, we also feel we are called by God’s name.
    We’re talking about the vast majority of people in this country.
    DAVID: You’re arguing that this passage sets up a pretty big tent as it calls people of faith to prayer.
    KEN: Yes. Then, second, we’re talking here about humility. That’s an important ingredient of prayer. We have to look toward God, humble ourselves and that means putting all of this high, arrogant, pompous stuff aside. We have to put our egos on the shelf. We have to stop hating on people.
    DAVID: “Hating on” people?
    KEN: (laughs) Yes, we have to stop hating on people. In the black church tradition, we have these people we call “haters.” A hater is one who we say “hates on” you—who is jealous or envious. We’ll say that somebody is causing problems because he’s just “hating on me.” If these haters—these people who are so full of themselves—are looking out only for themselves—then we’ve got a real problem.
    We’ve all got to humble ourselves, even the haters among us.
    Then, third, we’ve got to seek God’s face. God says seek my face, which means seeking God’s will in our lives. We’re going to try to be more like God, to do what his holy, righteous and just.
    We also have to turn from our wicked ways—from our sins, from our shortcomings, from our waywardness. None of us is perfect. We must turn away from all of our animosities: from our racism, our anti-Semitism, our anti-Muslim bigotry, our sexism—all the negativity that seeks to destroy the human spirit. We must turn away from hating on people.
    That’s what must take place, as God says here, when I hear from heaven. That’s when Yahweh, Allah, Jesus or however you call upon the name of God—that’s when God will heal our sins and God will heal the land. God will cast our sins away. God will forgive us. God will give us another chance.

    DAVID: We certainly all could use another chance.
    KEN: You know, sometimes people call God: “the God of the Second Chance.” I say that’s not right! God gave us our “second chance” a long time ago and we blew that—and we blew our third and fourth and fifth chances.
    God is bigger even than that—the God of Another Chance, the God always ready with help and healing.
    DAVID: You’re saying that there is hope—if we truly and sincerely join in this whole process of prayer?
    KEN: There is always hope. It’s right there in Scriptures. God will heal our cities. God can turn our cities into communities that prosper. God can help us stop the violence—all the violence—black on black crime, white on white crime, youth killings, the corruption in our cities, the exploitation, the racism, the sexism, the intolerance.
    I think nationwide and worldwide, God wants to heal the land from hunger, from poverty, from disease, from HIV, from classism, sexism, racism—heal the land.
    But we have a part to play. We must humble ourselves, seek God’s face and stand ready to do what is right.

    DAVID: Wherever people live around the world, they’re wrestling with this question: We want to pray. It’s an almost universal practice. But, when the problems pile up around us so high—how do we begin to pray for our communities? That’s what you’re talking about so eloquently here.
    We just featured an in-depth interview with John Bell, the great hymn writer from Scotland, and part of the message Bell preaches is: We’ve forgotten how to be community.
    KEN: Yes, that’s what I am saying!
    DAVID: Bell said he makes that commitment in all the work he does. For example, he never writes a new hymn and simply presents it as a finished product. He writes a new hymn to respond to a new need in the community—then he tests and revises the hymn based on the real experiences of people singing it in a lot of different congregations. He works with the community—it’s the only way this makes sense.
    KEN: Yes! Yes!
    DAVID: He argues that we’ve made faith far too individualistic these days. We’re actually isolating people and breaking up communities.
    KEN: Yes! Yes! Yes! If the Lord would call me home today, if I were to close my eyes in death, my prayer is that folk would remember Kenneth James Flowers as someone who valued humanity, someone who was a bridge builder, someone who was not afraid to cross boundaries and reach out to others who seem to be so different.
    That is how God has shaped my heart. That’s why I look to a man like Dr. King as a model for living.
    I am a Christian and yet all my life I have reached out to the Jewish community; I reach out to the Muslim community, to other faiths as well. This is how we need to learn to live—reaching out to those around us who are black, white, Latino, straight, gay, poor, rich, young, old.
    Our challenge in life is creating what Dr. King called the beloved community—that community in which we as a human family get together and learn how to live with each other through peace, justice, tolerance and understanding as our guiding principles.
    I’m amazed at how God has carried me across this country and around the world with this message. In February, I spoke at the global peace conference in Rome. Delegates from more than 60 countries were there. I talked about nonviolence as Dr. King described it.
    I was most impressed by the people who came to me after I spoke—people from all over the world: India, Sri Lanka, Brazil, Scotland and so many other places. They told me: We need this message where we live. Folk are crying out for this message.
    It’s humbling. It’s not me. It’s the spirit of God calling us together, toward healing. Tears come to my eyes when I see the world’s need for this.


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