“A Booklet of uncommon prayer: Collects for the #BlackLivesMatter Movement – and Beyond” by Kenji Kuramitsu is a collection of prayers that belongs right next to your poster board and permanent marker collection. It is a gripping collection of prayers that come from Kuramitsu’s own activism and a welcome addition to your self-care rituals, community gatherings, and protest prayers.
Prayer For an End to Violence at the Hands of the State
Mother God,who has longed to gather all her childrenunder her mighty wings,you are our good Parent and Caregiver.Rupture, O Giver of Truth,the status quo of racialized violence that infects your land,and teach us through your divine Wordto reject the false promises of state peacein favor of the presence of the dangerous justice of Christ.Amen.
Kuramitsu is a writer and seminary student, and an activist and supporter of the movement for black lives. He serves on the board of directors of the Reformation Project (we are an LGBTQ Christian advocacy organization), and the Japanese American Citizens League – the oldest and largest AAPI civil rights group in the US.
Below is Kuramitsu’s interview with The Salt Collective’s Nathan Roberts
Your parents are police officers and this is a book of prayer centered around a movement that has been very critical of the police. How do your parents feel about this book?
They haven’t read it yet, but I suspect they will approach it with dual movements of beaming pride and visceral suspicion. My parents are the portals to my ancestors, and their faithfulness and love helped form me into who I am today. At the same time, we have painfully different visions of what God’s just reign in this world looks like. I dedicated this work to them, in part, because I wanted to draw them into these conversations, just as they have drawn me in to the life of God since I was a child.
Every time my parents taught me how to pray at night, each Bible story they read to me, every blessing over a warm meal or before I left on a long trip, it has fed into this prayer book. I think being a child of two police officers does give an interesting lens to my work. I try to be clear with my parents that the call to defund the police and abolish prisons, as well as hold those in blue accountable for violent and criminal actions, is an eschatological goal that is motivated by love, respect for my parents as people, and hope. I hope these pages might help us start to bridge our different worlds, even if they wouldn’t necessarily feel comfortable buying a copy for their friends or pastor!
What was the initial reaction of your Black friends and colleagues in the BLM moment when you proposed this project?
Since its inception, I’ve been careful to offer this project as one potential resource, with no expectations for laudation or reception. I have appreciated the sharpening and support of several friends and colleagues working in black liberation movements, many of whom are also interested in exploring the practical connections between liberative Christian faith and the justice calls put forth by the movement for black lives.
Recognizing my own social location has been important. While the Japanese American community has often, responding to the trauma of our wartime incarceration, lumbered faithfully towards whiteness and capitalism, I have also received life from the excavation of alternative, anti-assimilationist histories of Nikkei and black solidarity and activism. I hope to honor and further those legacies with this book.
What outward power to change outward things (beyond the prayers own heart and mind) does prayer have in your mind?
I have seen prayer used as both anesthesia and adrenaline, either propelling action or subduing lament. Besides the spiritual, emotional, and neurological benefits of prayer, one of the external manifestations of prayer as activism is the way it can mark off the sacred in order to ward off violence. Civil rights organizers tell stories about how they could employ public prayer to keep police violence at bay, sacralizing and tilting the power dynamics in protest spaces. I have heard the systematic theologian and labor organizer Joerg Rieger describe how unionizing workers at WalMart gathered in a public prayer huddle at a demonstration which, for a few crucial minutes, actually drew store management and security into their protest action!
As an Episcopalian, I also wanted to offer something of my own tradition to this conversation. If there is a life-energy in our church’s book of common prayer, it is in its nature as a thin glue, which lets us get close enough to each other to be in community.
You refer to Satanic forces in your prayers. How do you conceptualize satanic forces and structures? Is Satan an ancient metaphor for evil or the more historical understanding of the personified evil agent?
The demonic is absolutely historical, political, economic, and intimate. I think James Cone was not far from the truth when he identified whiteness in general (and the white church in particular!) as, literally, Satan. The economies of exploitation that whiteness rests upon, by which violent death is made known to our communities, are certainly the tools of the devil. Satan prowls about this world, seeking to devour us – crouching at our door, guns and raid papers in hand. Satan is at least the foul inheritance that whiteness has bequeathed us: patriarchy, heterosexism, transphobia, anti-blackness, settler colonialism and war.
We know that the hellish dwells within our own homes and hearts, and is in need of careful exorcisms. Communities of color intimately understand the sinister, preternatural essence of these forces. We have often had devilish language applied to us: Darren Wilson described Mike Brown as a hulking “demon” monster; Israeli occupiers cast Palestinians as frenzied devils; Tamir Rice is translated by well-trained white eyes into an inhuman threat. None of these actions represent the healing spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ, which opposes all the devil’s works.
You use the term “dangerous justice” several times. How do you talk about the difference between the false promises of state peace and the dangerous justice of Christ? How is it dangerous?
The state promises a false peace, in much the same way the Roman empire did in Jesus’ time: accept our hierarchy, and our ways, and we will provide for your daily bread. Ignore how we pierce your lands, and bodies, tearing them apart for our glory.
For those of us living in empires today, justice is dangerous because it calls us to faithfully betray and put to death those parts of ourselves which bring suffering into the world, all the sinful behavior we’ve internalized, all the fruits of pride, selfishness, hatred, and white supremacy.
Justice is also dangerous because our ordinary lives are entangled with global concerns. God’s justice calls us to stop occupying native land, start divesting from Israel, give reparations for black enslavement and economic predation, end neoliberal economic policy, and provide universal health care. (These are, of course, all calls that black liberation and indigenous collectives have been putting forth for decades!)
This is only a taste of what Jesus is drawing us into, and it is anything but safe.
One of my favorite things in this collection is the names you give Jesus: Name of our Drum Major Jesus Christ, Jesus the Gardener, Name of our Sibling Jesus … where do these titles come from?
We must be able to see something of ourselves when we look to the face of the divine. I drew names from the plethora of ways that I have come to understand Jesus. Even in scripture, we see that God has so many faces and names: Mother, Father, Teacher, Rock, Fortress, Friend, Fire, Smoke, Light, Fruit, Water. We should similarly plumb the richness and depths of our lives for metaphors for God. The term drum major, for instance, I pulled from my experience in marching band in high school!
Throughout this book you lean heavily on the Christian lexicon and the modern Progressive lexicon. Words like patriarch, priesthood, and respectability are dense and much ink has spilled on defining and re-defining words. As a writer how do you navigate the myriad of changing definitions of these words?
I’m not yet exhausted by the changing meanings of words. Definitions shift because we are complicated beings. I try to pay attention to who is spilling the ink, and the suffering that they are experiencing. As our society continues to deploy euphemism, dishonor folks’ pronouns and self-definitions, and otherwise elide honest talk, we must maintain that language matters. Words become flesh and live among us, animating and haunting our homes, our worship, our minds and our hearts.
I tried to be conscious of writing accessibly as I compiled this book, and made sure to add footnotes where helpful. Although you will be able to appreciate the goals of these uncommon prayers much more if you approach them with some familiarity with Christian, anti-racist, black liberation, and decolonial lenses, I hope this work is still accessible, challenging, and edifying for readers who are new to some of these ideas.