Prayer as an Act of Resistance
by Derek Minno Bloom
As a teenager, I was politicized around issues of poverty, oppression, racism, etc. I felt the church I was involved in focused too much on prayer and not enough on action. Some Christians talked a lot about hope, but not much about making those hopes a reality; they launched many campaigns based on charity, but few based on solidarity.
I attended the Anarchy and Christianity Conference in Champaign-Urbana in 2006, where issues of race and anarcho-primitivism were the main topics. Towards the end of the gathering I asked if people wanted to pray as an act of resistance. We prayed for God's hand of justice to fall upon the world. I believed that others as well as ourselves could be liberated from the chains of patriarchy, racism, and war because of our prayers.
But over the years, while my political activism has not replaced my spirituality or my relationship with God, it has made me significantly more critical of the church and wary of spirituality and prayer. As I have felt increasingly disenfranchised from the evangelical church—due mostly to its implicit or explicit support of white supremacy, patriarchy, US imperialism, capitalism, and discrimination against sexual minorities—I have become more about doing activism than about praying within my activism.
Today I find my community mostly among non-Christians. In radical and queer communities I experience more love, understanding, and space for complexity than I do in the church. And yet, in some ways I have held onto my faith, though thanks to the Spirit I hold it in a beautiful and sometimes confusing tension.
Six years ago I joined Black Mesa Indigenous Support, a collective that is in solidarity with Dineh elders and community members who have refused for over 40 years to leave their ancestral homeland. As I began working with Dineh elders and community members resisting settler colonialism in the form of forced relocation and resource extraction by the US government and Peabody Energy in Black Mesa ("Arizona"), I saw the horrors of mostly Christian-based colonization (forced assimilation and stealing of resources in the form of Manifest Destiny).
Connecting with the Dineh people in their struggle and in our shared desire to deconstruct settler colonialism has taught me a great deal. Two years back, I attended a meeting during No Thanks No Giving (aka "Thanksgiving") where more than 30 elders and many more community members gathered. The community was in favor of taking an action against the coal mine, but one elder said, "Action and protest are good. We have done that before here. I am not sure if it will make things go away, but I know we must have ceremony as an act of resistance as well. Prayer must be used as a form of resistance and healing for us."
I was struck by how dualistic I had become and how I had allowed politics and science to colonize my mind and spirit.
Hearing this reminded me of the untold numbers of prayers and ceremonies performed on this land by its residents for the last four decades as they seek to block mine expansion in an effort to protect Big Mountain, a sacred female mountain. The Dineh never disconnect prayer from action; in fact, it is impossible for them to do so. I was struck by how dualistic I had become and how I had allowed politics and science to colonize my mind and spirit. This helped me begin to believe in the power of my own tradition again. Dineh ideas about prayer have led me back to a more well-balanced and healthy Christianity.
I have recently found a radically loving church family at Trinity Asbury Park, New Jersey. Tension is still a big part of my faith, but I feel more free to believe that revolutionary spiritual practices like prayer and healing are not exclusive to conservative or evangelical expressions of faith but part of an almost 8,000-year Judeo-Christian tradition that connects people to each other, to the land, and to our Creator. Because of the anti-colonial resistance on Black Mesa, I have remembered that action and prayer are in deep relationship with each other and that both are absolutely necessary for the collective liberation of this earth and all beings.
I'll end this essay with a prayer of resistance, for as Jacques Ellul affirmed, "Prayer holds together the shattered fragments of creation. It makes history possible."
Creator, have mercy on me, a sinner. Free me from my chains as you free others from their chains. Teach me how to live and love and thank you for my life and all your creation. In a world of darkness and light I ask that your power of liberation and love be with your followers. Give us the wisdom to heal from the violence of the nation-state, the love and patience to deconstruct racism and colonialism in our communities, the knowledge to work through conflict, the freedom to empower people to love who they will, and the power to take down the Prison Industrial Complex and US Imperialism/capitalism. Amen!
Derek Minno Bloom was born on occupied Lenni Lenape land north of Philadelphia and is of German, Polish and Italian decent. Now residing in Asbury Park, NJ, as Trinity Church's food justice director, he has been a Black Mesa Indigenous Support collective member since 2008. He has worked as a radical history teacher/activist in Brooklyn and Harlem, NY, has been involved in counter-military recruiting and the anti-war /anti-globalization movement, has been working on housing justice issues as a social worker, and has been involved with (Un)Occupy ABQ and ABQ Copwatch. You can read his essay on decolonizing Christianity at the Jesus Radicals website.