democratic national convention

How It All Happened

20120907-030614.jpg It's been a whirlwind.

I came home from work last Wednesday night, August 29th, flipped through the major network channels and was quickly disturbed by the bickering and bantering of the political campaigns, advertisements, and pundits. I felt an ache in my gut, a sadness in my heart for the way our country conducts itself through the election season, from both sides. I turned the tv off, trying to keep cynicism from creeping in.

So when I received a call the following day with an invitation to pray for our nation at the DNC, I almost laughed in disbelief. The person on the other end of the line was an acquaintance who used to work for the White House Office of Faith Based Initiatives. He was looking for a Christian who has done "good and admirable work in the world" and was familiar with Blood:Water Mission because he had heard me speak a couple of times. It was a big call full of questions- how can I pray honestly before an arena of politics and power? How do I, a nonprofit leader, transcend partisanship? Of course, I felt honored and excited, but I mostly felt humbled, like in the heavy, sobering kind of way.

To take on the task, I retreated for several hours on Saturday September 1st to my secret garden of Radnor Lake near Nashville and walked along the soft soil of its trail, lost in thought and reflection, wondering what I could possibly pray to the God of the universe in front of people from various backgrounds, convictions and walks of life.

As I meandered through the woods, I had this unrelenting sense that I ought to simply pray for the things I care most about: Justice. Mercy. Humility. The prayer of St. Francis came to me, as well as the Scripture in Micah that says that seeking justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with God are what the Lord requires of us.

I spent the rest of Saturday night in my not-so-secret garden of Starbucks where James met me, and gave me encouragement as I put the words to paper.

James and I spent a full weekend hosting his parents, driving to Louisville to celebrate an incredible young man whose life was taken by cancer and the 40th birthday of a dear friend of ours. In the midst of these deep moments with family and friends the prayer was brewing in me, percolating.

By Tuesday September 4th, I was in Charlotte with a prayer on my heart that was ready to be shared. Backstage that night, I sat with incredibly influential people - Rahm Emanuel, Kathleen Sebelius, Kal Penn, Craig Robinson, and Governor Deval Patrick. I watched these powerful people look as human as I was. I asked Governor Patrick if he ever gets nervous in situations like these. He smiled at me and replied, "Of course I do!" And then he kindly said, "You'll do great."

I sat on the side of the stage as the First Lady spoke with heart and elegance, and then when she finished, I walked up to the podium and felt the most amazing sense of peace and confidence in what I was supposed to pray. They were the honest words of a citizen, praying to God and hoping also to reach other citizens on their couches, who might be watching with the same sentiments I felt just five days earlier. I meant every word and have been encouraged by the thousands of you who prayed alongside of me. May justice and mercy trump partisanship in our lives these next 9 weeks.

Praying for the Nation

Below is the benediction I was honored to give at the close of the opening night of the 2012 Democratic National Convention.

As a young woman of faith and a leader, I am humbled to follow the First Lady, whom we all admire. So, thank you for inviting me here. As we close this day, let us quiet our hearts in prayer.

God, I stand before You and ask that the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing unto You.

I pray for our President, Barack Obama. May he know Your presence, oh God, as he continues to serve as a leader of this nation, as a husband to Michelle, and as father to his daughters. Help him to seek justice, love mercy and walk humbly with you.

I pray as well for Governor Mitt Romney. May he know Your presence, oh God, as he continues to serve as a leader, as a husband to Ann, and as a father to his sons and their families. Help him to seek justice, love mercy and walk humbly with you.

I pray for our country in the next nine weeks leading up to this election - for those of us meeting here and for our fellow citizens who met last week. May we make our children proud of how we conduct ourselves. We know our human tendencies toward finger-pointing and frivolousness. Our better selves want this race to be honest and edifying rather than fabricated and self-serving.

Give us, oh Lord, humility to listen to our sisters and brothers across the political spectrum, because your kingdom is not divided into Red States and Blue States. Equip us with moral imagination to have real discourse. Knit us, oh God, as one country even as we wrestle over the complexity of how we ought to live and govern. Give us gratitude for our right to dissent and disagree. For we know that we are bound up in one another and have been given the tremendous opportunity to extend humanity and grace when others voice their deeply held convictions even when they differ from our own.

And give us wisdom, God, to discover honest solutions for we know it will take all of us to care for the widow and the orphan, the sick and the lonely, the downtrodden and the unemployed, the prisoner and the homeless, the stranger and the enemy, the thirsty and the powerless. In rural Africa, I am witness to thousands of HIV positive mothers, fathers and children who are alive today because Democrats and Republicans put justice and mercy above partisanship. Help us keep that perspective even as we debate one another.

God, I thank you for the saving grace of Jesus and for the saints who have humbly gone before us. I thank you for the words of St. Francis of Assisi whose prayer I carry with me both in my home in East Nashville and in my work across rural Africa.

As we enter this election season, I pray St. Francis’ words for us all.

Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy.

Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.

p.s. This was me practicing my words in the car on the way to the convention center in Charlotte, NC. At that point, I couldn't imagine what it would feel like to pray in front of a 20 million live television audience...