A Blessed Interruption

It had been a long day today. It was dinner time, and I still had a sermon for Sunday to begin work on, prep work for a Bible study tomorrow evening, and some details to iron out for the screening of At the End of Slavery. So, I walked down to Pizza Amier, ordered dinner, and headed over to the Upper Room office. As I ate my dinner, I started to ‘set up shop’ to begin working with the Hebrew text of Jonah 3 (my text for this Sunday). Then came an interruption.

Two Upper Room folks came through the door. It was time for the prayer meeting. I had forgotten about that. My plans for a quiet, productive evening in my office were thwarted… by prayer. Soon, there were five of us sitting in a circle sharing life together. Since this group was the initiative of others in Upper Room, I intentionally tried to remain quiet. As the five of us prayed together though, I began to realize that this was one of the most spiritually intimate experiences I’ve had since starting work on the Upper Room.

I felt blessed by this interruption. Not only because it slowed me down in the midst of a busy day. But also because it made me realize that the Upper Room is growing beyond me and beyond Chris. This group is meeting to pray on their own initiative, whether Chris or I are there or not. It’s a blessing to know that even if I stop, the community at the Upper Room will continue to develop. A great end to a long day.

Haiti, Pat Robertson, and Our Need to Lament

I’ve been hesitant to write and post this, partly because I’ve been busy with other projects, and mostly because I didn’t want to take peoples thoughts and energies on Haiti away from the still-much-needed relief work. (See my earlier post for opportunities to give if you haven’t already.) That being said, I’ve been mulling a lot over the way people generally responded to Pat Robertson’s comments.

I first learned about Robertson’s comments about Haiti when signing on to Twitter and realizing that his name was a “trending topic.” (If you don’t speak Twitter, a ‘trending topic’ is a name, word or phrase that a lot of people are mentioning in their tweets at that moment.) When I first saw Robertson’s name on the list, my first thought was, “He must have died.” It’s not typical that televangelists “trend” in the world of Twitter. Then I started reading what people were ‘tweeting’ about him. To sum up the comments in one word, they were *angry.* It didn’t take long for me to realize he had said something about the earthquake in Haiti comparable to comments he and other fundamentalist Christians have made about the Sept. 11 attacks or Hurricane Katrina. I began to panic a bit inside, knowing how detrimental comments like these are for Christian witness.

Wanting to see things for myself, I went to YouTube and watched the video of Robertson’s comments. After watching it, my panic turned to confusion. I couldn’t understand why people were reacting as they were. Here are some of my thoughts about Robertson’s comments, and the response of the media and general public.

I think it’s interesting that as some people summarized his comments, they accused him of attributing the earthquake to God, who was supposedly responding wrathfully against devil-worshipping Haitians. If you listen carefully to Robertson’s comments, that’s not what he said. He explained this story about the Haitian deal with the devil during the slave rebellion, and said that since then Haiti has been a country marked by poverty and suffering. He never said that suffering was the work of God. As I heard him say this, I assumed he was implying that the devil was the cause of these things.

Regardless of whether or not the “pact with the devil” is historical, Robertson didn’t make the story up himself. I know a number of people who have served as missionaries in Haiti, and I’ve heard them tell some form of this story  on more than one occasion. The story circulates among a lot of Christian groups in Haiti. However, Robertson left out a detail of the story, and this omission is what I found most offensive about his comments. As the story goes, the Haitians made a deal with the devil because the devil was the enemy of the European Christians who were enslaving them and of their God. If there’s any accuracy to Robertson’s opinion, if it’s true that Haitians today are suffering because of a sin committed by their ancestors, then Robertson should have made the comments in a spirit of confession, because Haitians made this “pact” in response to the sinful acts of oppression made against them by Robertson’s, and our, ancestors.

I’m also fascinated by the fact that so many people responded toward Robertson with anger and not dismissiveness. Most people thought that his comments were stupid, laughable, and historically inaccurate. Why not just say, “O, silly Pat Robertson.” and move on? I couldn’t help but wonder if people, albeit subconsciously, wanted to be angry. Perhaps some of us even fear that Robertson was partly right, that God did cause the earthquake. I don’t think God did, but I also know that human suffering almost always leads to theodicy questions and fears in peoples hearts. I wonder if Pat’s comments verbalized what some people were fearing, but afraid to say.

Regardless of how accurate Robertson’s take on the earthquake in Haiti is, I think his comments do at least hint at something truthful that most of us have not talked about. I think that there is a spiritual reality behind the earthquake in Haiti, just as I think that there is a spiritual reality behind any human suffering, whether it be an earthquake in Haiti, genocide in Darfur, or a crucifixion on Golgotha 2000 years ago. However, having read the book of Job, I also know that this spiritual reality is a mystery that we can’t fully understand and certainly can’t reduce to pat answers (no pun intended).

I think this spiritual reality is the reason Scripture includes the Psalms of lament. The anger expressed toward Pat Robertson was appropriate anger, but I don’t think it was expressed in the right direction. The psalms of lament teach us that honest emotions – anger, fear, mourning, confusion – can be expressed toward God, and they provide words to articulate that. What if, rather than expressing anger toward another human being, it was taken to God through prayer, such as Psalm 60? The psalm begins:

O God, you have rejected us, broken our defenses; you have been angry; oh, restore us. You have made the land to quake; you have torn it open; repair its breaches, for it totters….

I think the Christian community needs to recover the use of Psalms such as this, especially in times of suffering. The psalms of lament don’t provide answers to the difficult questions that are inevitably in our minds when exposed to suffering, nor do they assuage the difficult emotions in our hearts. They do, however, give us a language to express these questions and emotions to our God, and it’s only in that context that we’ll find healing.

Opportunities for Giving to and Praying for Haiti

I want to take a moment to highlight two opportunities to participate in providing relief for those in Haiti:

First, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance is considered one of the finest, and most financially responsible, relief organizations in America. You can give directly to their relief efforts by clicking here.

Second, there are some great prayer resources available. InterVarsity’s sister movement in Haiti – Groupe Biblique de Ecoles et Universités d’Haïti (GBEUH) – is posting updates to their website regularly. To give financially to the student ministry in Haiti, click here. Also, World Vision’s ACT:S network has prayer vigil materials available here.

Two Urbana Videos You Should Watch

I finally figured out how to post videos from Urbana directly to my blog. (Yes, I’m a bit technologically challenge.)

I could easily post 20 Urbana videos that I thought were helpful, but that would just be overwhelming. You can check out all of the Urbana videos and talks here. Here are the two talks from Urbana that had the largest impact on me:

Oscar Muriu on Money and Power

Oscar Muriu is the pastor of Nairobi Chapel in Kenya. Oscar’s talk at Urbana was prophetic. To say I enjoyed this talk would be a lie. Being freshly convicted of ways in which I”m failing to be Christ-like is simply not enjoyable. I think ever every Christian in the West, especially pastors and missionaries, need to hear Oscar’s words. What I took from this talk was the conviction to think of the incarnation less in terms of similarity and more in terms of humility. Oscar points out that the significance of Christ’s incarnation is in the giving up of his status and privilege, and calls the Church to the same attitude.

Sunder Krisnan on Prayer

What I took from Sunder’s talk is that I pray like a wimp. The example’s he gives of praying out of time spent in Scripture is both inspiring and challenging.

Looking back: My Top 10 Posts of the Past Year

For those of you unfamiliar with WordPress, it has a feature for its users called “blog stats.” Basically, it just tells you how many hits your blog gets, and how people find your blog (links clicked and search terms). A part of the feature I like to look at a lot is the “Top Posts and Pages” section. It basically just tells you which of your blog posts are receiving the most traffic. Since it’s the start of a new year, I thought it would be fun to see which of my posts received the most hits in the past year. So, without any further adieu  here are my top 10 posts of 2009.

10: Reflections on Praying the Rosary (Kind Of…)

I wrote this post this past summer after spending a week praying the rosary daily… kind of. As I mentioned then, I substituted the “Hail Mary…”s for the Jesus Prayer. I’m really glad I wrote this post, because the experience of praying the rosary was one of the most significant spiritual experiences for me in 2009, and it’s good to be able to go back and read what I found helpful. I also just recently had a friend tell me that he had read this post and found it helpful too, so much so that he now uses prayer beads on a regular basis. Being told that served as a good reminder that our own spiritual practices can serve to bless others as well.

9: Prayer: How Specific Should Our Prayers Be?

This was a post I wrote in September as a part of a series of posts on prayer. I wrote it in a time when I was convicted that I needed to pray to God with more specific requests. What I find most interesting about rereading this post now is that this conviction was God beginning a work in me that he’s continued through the year. Most recently at Urbana in hear the talk by Sunder Krishnan.

8: An Optimistic Skepticism: My Take On the Manhattan Declaration

This post was written late in 2009 – in December. But it got a ton of hits when I first posted it, mostly from friends/followers on Facebook and Twitter clicking the link in my status update. It hasn’t been long since I wrote this post, but I’m still skeptical about this document and have not signed it, and have less and less desire to do so. Frankly, signing a declaration like this just seems wimpy. The writers of the document begin by claiming a great heritage of faithful saints who acted radically and counter-culturally in the past. Ironically, they chose not to mention in that heritage Christians who met in councils and drafted and signed documents…

7: The Witness of Tipping

I wrote this post back in November, but I can’t remember clearly what motivated me to write it. I think I just had a random conversation with someone about the subject. At any rate, this post didn’t receive to many hits at first, but then about a month later a food service blog that gets a lot of traffic published a post on tipping, and mine was listed as a “related post.” The most significant thing about this post is that a comment from my friend Lindsay made on it inspired me to write another post that just happens to be #6 on the list…

6: The Gospel According to the Joneses: Christianity and the Middle Class

This post has the distinction of also be the post the generated the most comments on my blog this year, especially if you include the comments posted on the feed in my Facebook profile. I’m also personally proud of the title of this post. I personally think it would make a great book title, and the topic is certainly provocative enough to generate a book on the subject. At any rate, the comments that the post generated made me realize that I probably wrote this way too quickly, as the comments pointed out some stuff I hadn’t thought of. But that’s the beauty of the blogosphere.

5: Lifting Hands in Worship

I posted this back in October while reading from Patrick Henry Reardon’s, Christ in the Psalms. It actually has no original content; it’s just a quote from Reardon that I found helpful. It keeps getting a lot of hits, though, through search engines. Apparently a lot of people want to know why Christians lift their hands!

4: How Presbyterian Should Presbyterian Campus Ministry Be?

I wrote this post as a part of Presbyterian “Bloggers Unite” day that our Moderator, Bruce Reyes-Chow put together, which is probably why it received so many hits. The assigned topic for the day was Presbyterian College Ministry, a somewhat difficult topic for me because I’ve never participated in such a ministry in college, and don’t think that denominational-emphasis is helpful in college ministry.

3: The Homosexuality Debate: Are We Completely Missing the Point?

I wrote this post over a year and a half ago in June of 2008, but it continues to get a lot of hits, mainly through search engines. I wrote it around the time of the PC(USA)’s General Assembly, and still firmly believe what I wrote then. Our denomination won’t come to any united conclusions about homosexuality (or abortion, or any other controversial issue) until we first come to united conclusions on biblical authority and theological method.

2: Worship Styles: What Dance is the Church Teaching?

I wrote this back in June after having two great worship experiences in two settings I’m not used to: a conservative Reformed church that sings only Psalms acapella, and a Roman Catholic church. This post also generated a lot of comments, but I think it also disappoints a lot of people who read it. The reason it’s gotten so many hits is because search engines list it as a result when people search for things like “dancing in worship.” Unfortunately, this post has nothing to say about that, and only uses dance as an analogy.

1: The Lord is a Warrior

I wrote this post back in the summer of 2008, but it still received more hits in 2009 than anything that I actually posted this year. In fact, in 2009 alone it received nearly 4,000 hits, which is huge for my measly blog that probably averages no more that 25 hits a day. The post is just a brief reflection I had while reading the story of Samson in Judges, but that has nothing to do with why it’s received so many hits. The only reason this post is so popular is that I included a picture of the WWF wrestler The Ultimate Warrior. And now if you do an image search for The Ultimate Warrior, my this blog post is one of the first results you’ll find. You’d be surprised how many people look for pictures of him.