Raise your hand if you’re SO OVER online conferences. Yeah, me too. The internet has been a lifeline over these pandemic years: I discovered the joy of online RPGs (another hope post for another day), pastored people from across the state and across an ocean, and attended lectures and concerts with people I never dreamed I’d get to interact with so intimately. But so far as I can tell, the online *conference* dynamic is just one giant boondoggle. I’ve attended a dozen or so, and not a single one has been satisfying or well-done. The joy of conferences is the surprised hello in the hallway, the late-night drinks and new connections, the casual running-into and meeting-up with other people, and I’m convinced that there is no good way to recreate that over screens. I’ve seen a bunch of attempts, and have scrunched up my face at them all. A meeting, a class, a game, a worship service: sure. The internet can handle that, and we can get creative in how we build in interaction and attentiveness to one another. A conference, though? Let’s just draw the line right there.

BUT. I attended one (meh) conference this fall where I heard this song performed “live.” I mean, the artist was there, in the venue, and played it in real time as I watched from my tiny laptop hundreds of miles away. And even though it involved all those fiber optics and pixels and tinny digital decibels, the song stopped me in my tracks. And then, last week, the same song was a recommended hymn in my Advent worship resource. Here it is: Spencer LaJoye’s “Plowshare Prayer.”

You can learn more about LaJoye’s inspiration and process for the song here.

I’ve spent a significant portion of the last couple of years hearing stories from young people who have been deeply hurt – harmed, ostracized, abused, cast out, disbelieved, ignored – by the church. I’m pretty sure some of these folks will never darken the doorstep of a traditional “church” for the rest of their lives, and I think that is a very, very wise and healthy decision on their part. Nearly once a week, I decide to join them, then change my mind, then decide again.

Here’s the hopeful part: these people, at least the ones I’ve been listening do, do not believe that the church is right in their abuse. They have not decided to do what the church asked of them, which is almost always to sit down and shut up. Instead, they have raised their voices, sought out support, insisted on a hearing and then insisted on reparations. They have removed themselves from situations of harm, but they have not quit advocating for an end to the harm altogether.

I’m not sure what else to say, except that these young people have saved me. They have transformed my prayer life, and shifted the way I think about boundaries and belonging. I am in awe of them, chastened and emboldened, both. Their refusal gives me hope.

I pray if a prayer has been used as a sword against you and your heart, against you and your word, I pray that this prayer is a plowshare, of sorts

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