On the door of the designated “Prayer Room” of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary is a map of the world (a map of Voice of the Martyrs an organization founded by Richard Wurmbrand) and a sombrero, with a price tag dangling from the edge which clearly states this sombrero was Made in Mexico. From later summer, when this grouping appeared on the door until now, I’ve pondered both the purpose and meaning intended. Prayer as a primary practice for those of Christian faith I do understand. Mission in the general sense I understand, though I am bothered by this particular coupling for it communicates a message of the designated other and a particular notion of martyrdom. Without critical thinking the message seems to be that those with sombreros, outside the North American context need prayer. The sombrero covers up the northern half of the world. Who wears these hats anyhow: I mean the ones easily purchased in a large discount chain store: Beach-goers; kids; those in costume; interior decorators looking for something to hang on a wall, Mexican restaurants, and Taco Bell? Wikipedia, the fastest form of quick research offers the history of the head-gear as both a cultural and national symbol originating in Spain and Mexico. As such, both color and intricate and lovely designs and styles through time have made it much more than a poor man’s practical hat shielding one from the hot sun. I do not know who placed this symbol on the door and the map.
Perhaps it might be better to rotate a series of head gear and maps for that matter, many are conveniently found at the local giant-sized Target down the street. I noticed on the news about China last evening, one distinct hat in the gathering to mark the end of one leader and the beginning of another—a lovely round shaped, animal skin, black stitching and design—not an urban-centered delegate it would seem. Hats serve as religious symbols for many—both women and men. The newly appointed Bishop of Canterbury is given an extraordinary hat. Presidents don’t seem to wear hats much. Military leaders, police, pilots wear hats—I suppose to designate both status and recognizability. Perhaps the hats of field workers, farmers, cowboys and girls, baseball players, football teams (helmets) serve a very real purpose: shielding the eyes from sun, protecting the head. British royalty, well, it seems to be a contest of balance and eye-catching surprise.
The world of mission is no longer about hats hung on prayer room doors. This is my view. We are not divided up by what we wear or what we eat or where we live—there is no other. Other: that term, which designated someone else and not me. Such a term scholars use over and over again to discuss the mystery or the puzzle or that which is not known. Scholars might argue all is unknown on some level. This makes humans by and large uncomfortable. We find it necessary to place boundaries, hats, maps and religious views to assuage our discomfort. It has serious consequences (thus the martyrs).
And yet: we are not divided up at all—even by a map of martyrs. We human beings have made these boundaries, created the distinctions of time, place, event, and circumstance. Mission and prayer and maps and hats represent the creative force in the world—one that brings us to a common and shifting center. The simplicity calls us to this reality. It is too simple, too real, it dazzles and blinds us—this grounded, deep rooted community of the world in our hearts and minds and bodies. And this then is the place and the space and the complete inclusive room
(with no map for that) of and for prayer—all the hats of the world from every time and every place are there—always have been and always will be.