Practicing Prayer and Piety in Public Places: Presenting Problems and Preparing Plans
By Joe Colletti | March 24, 2017 | Comments Off on Practicing Prayer and Piety in Public Places: Presenting Problems and Preparing Plans
Practicing Prayer and Piety in Public Places:
Presenting Problems and Preparing Plans
(Joe Colletti, PhD, Society of Urban Monks)
“Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister (I John 4.21).”
Prayer, piety, public problems, and public plans can be integrated when we obey the “first and greatest commandment” which is “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind (Matt. 22. 37)” and the second one that “is like it” which is “Love your neighbor as yourself. (v.39).”
Counties, cities, and communities, and various committees, commissions, and coalitions representing such jurisdictions, often present problems and prepare plans in order to solve social issues and ills that perplex people and provide possibilities for public policy and/or local social solutions. Problems include blight, congestion, crime, discrimination, homelessness, poverty, prejudice, sickness, trash, underemployment, and unemployment.
Plans to address such issues include civic planning in the form of General Plans, Specific Plans, and Master Plans. Plans also involve community plans that are often products of committees, commissions, and coalitions that describe social struggles and solutions to end them.
The spiritual aspect of piety is readily understood by many as an inner and intimate expression of love and loyalty towards God. The Christian scriptures teach that followers should “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind (Luke 10.27a).” Prayer is the highest demonstration of piety for many. Standing, kneeling, bowing, and prostration in prayer invokes piousness among those praying and among those who may be watching.
There is also a social aspect of piety that can be increasingly understood by those who want to fulfill the virtuous words of Christ. Piety is exemplified in the Christian scriptures as “Loving our neighbors as ourselves (Luke 10.27b).” The English word “piety” is derived from the Latin word “pietas” which is understood as an expression of love and loyalty towards God and an expression of love and loyalty towards one’s fellow human beings. Such strong feeling can be expressed by participating in civic and community planning to help solve social struggles.
As previously noted, social plans include civic planning such as General Plans, Specific Plans, and Master Plans. Plans also involve community plans that are often products of committees, commissions, and coalitions that describe social struggles and solutions to end them.
General plans are often a city’s overarching policy statement that stems from community decision-making concerning future residential, commercial, and recreational development. Housing, economic, parks and open space, transportation, safety, community design, and conservation of natural resources are included, which allows community participants to help shape solutions to problems such as affordable housing, unemployment/underemployment, lack of open space, traffic and pedestrian accidents, and neighborhood disinvestment.
Specific plans are similar to General Plans but focus on a specific area or neighborhood within a city. Community decision-making is often made by persons living within the specific area or neighborhood. This provides a special opportunity to love your neighbor as yourself because you can be involved in solutions to the problems that you share with your next door neighbor or those living on the same street. You can also have an opportunity to love your neighbor because a given problem may impact your neighbor and not yourself or impact others living on the same street and not you.
Master Plans can focus on an institution that you may or may not be involved with. I am adjunct faculty at Fuller Theological Seminary located in Pasadena, California. During the 1980s, the seminary wanted to clear its campus of several buildings to build more student housing. The city asked the seminary for a Master Plan and the seminary responded by asking what is a Master Plan? The city responded by saying that a Master Plan shapes the future development of the campus if the plan stems from community decision-making. Many of the existing and preserved buildings were not levelled and are used today as offices, conferences, and classrooms. Today, the seminary has a Master Plan as well as an expanded library and plans for what is termed as a worship center. Community decision-making continues.
Community plans are often products of committees, commissions, and coalitions that describe social struggles and solutions to end them. Committees, commissions, and coalitions are usually formed to facilitate decision-making among stakeholders.
During the 1990s, I was involved in many community plans that had to do with fair housing issues. I was the primary writer for more than twenty fair housing plans and reports for various cities in Los Angeles and neighboring counties. The plans were mandated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). In their initial planning guide, HUD acknowledged that
“communities were not involved in the decision-making process, and what started out as instruments of principle became rules of process that were to be minimized or even ignored. The result has been a failure by many communities to embrace their legal and moral obligation to ensure that persons are not denied housing opportunity in that community because of their race, ethnic origin, religion, disability, or the fact that they are a family with children.”
The plans that I helped shape for each of the cities pulled together data to show if there were any discriminatory practices in housing. The plans also noted what activities to undertake to correct the practices. For example, potential renters were denied housing because of their ethnic origin, disability, or because they had too many children. Recommendations included training and workshops to educate property managers and owners about fair housing practices, or in some cases law suits, when offenses were egregious. Another example, concerned land use. Cities would require conditional use permits (CUPs) if an apartment building was designated for formerly homeless persons but the same building was permitted by right if designated for others who had not experienced homelessness. In these instances, recommendations to ensure fair housing implementation included zoning code changes by cities to remove such practices.
During the last decade, I was involved in writing several community plans known as 10-year plans to end homelessness. At the beginning of the decade, homelessness in the United States had become deeply rooted and there were no signs that the problem was lessening, let alone ending. By the end of the decade, this seemingly intractable problem of homelessness was halted by unprecedented decreases in the number of persons experiencing homelessness as these plans were implemented. Leadership was provided at the national level through the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, which stimulated leadership at the local jurisdictional level. Evidence-based and best practices were introduced to a wide-range of local stakeholders who were encouraged to adapt and/or adopt the practices that still are actively promoted today. Most notably, homelessness among veterans has continued to decrease significantly.
Integrating the Spiritual and Social Aspects of Prayer and Piety
The Gospel of Matthew underscores the inter-relatedness of the spiritual and social aspects of prayer and piety. When asked “Teacher, which commandment is the greatest in the Law (22.36),” Christ did not disconnect the spiritual and social aspects of prayer and piety but connected them. He declared,
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind v.37). This is the first and greatest commandment (v.38). And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. (v.39). All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commandments (v.40).”
According to the nineteenth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus was approached by a man who said, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life? (19.16)” Jesus replied, If you want to enter life, keep the commandments (v.17b).” The man asked “Which ones? (v.18).” After listing several of them, Jesus ended the list with “love your neighbor as yourself.”
Thus, prayer, piety, public problems, and public plans are integrated when we obey the “first and greatest commandment” and the second one which is, “love your neighbor as yourself.” This integrated action nurtures an intimate, personal, and private relationship with God and cultivates and intimate, personal, and public relationship with God and our neighbors.
Maturing an intimate, personal, private and public relationship with God and others enhances our ability to seek and advance solutions to help solve social issues and injustices that negatively impact family, friends, co-workers, students, congregations, neighbors, organizations, community, groups, acquaintances, and others we barely know or do not know. As a result, we can help ensure that social struggles are not left unresolved in the communities in which we live, work, worship, recreate, socialize, and/or serve by living out the integrated commandments. The first epistle of John declares that Christ has given us a new commandment: “Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister (4.21).”