Sunday, January 31, 2010

Meeting with Mark Scandrette and others in Arlington

Getting ready to head to the metro. Folks from Common Table are meeting with Mark Scandrette, author of SOUL GRAFFITTI, and innovative church practitioner at ReIMAGINE in San Francisco. We’ll be meeting at Ireland’s Four Courts at 7PM near the Arlington Courthouse metro stop. It's going to be a blast.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

What are the Man-Made Contributors to the Haitian "Natural Disaster?"

If we are to truly come to terms with nature of the Haitian “natural disaster” we have to understand what role humans played in creating it. The earthquake toll was in part caused by long festering man-made problems—political corruption inside the country, long-term neglect from neighboring countries. The Haitian earthquake was one part natural disaster and several parts human disaster. Mark Danner makes the following point in a recent New York Times Op-Ed piece:

Haiti is everybody’s cherished tragedy…And yet there is nothing mystical in Haiti’s pain, no inescapable curse that haunts the land. From independence and before, Haiti’s harms have been caused by men, not demons. Act of nature that it was, the earthquake last week was able to kill so many because of the corruption and weakness of the Haitian state, a state built for predation and plunder. Recovery can come only with vital, even heroic, outside help; but such help, no matter how inspiring the generosity it embodies, will do little to restore Haiti unless it addresses, as countless prior interventions built on transports of sympathy have not, the man-made causes that lie beneath the Haitian malady.

Danner goes on to list all the man-made contributors to Haiti’s misery, including how the US forced the new republic of Haiti between 1804 and 1860 to pay reparations to France for all its lost slaves. Now there's something I never knew before!?!?!

It’s important to understand these man-made contributors to disasters when we react to them. When we see the role of people’s choices in creating the disaster we can make different choices in responding to it.

(to be con't)

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Jesus and the Haiti Rescue Teams

The Dallas News reported yesterday that “two doctors, a nurse and a load of medical supplies flew out of Addison Airport on Monday in one of the first Haitian relief trips arranged by a network of Texas Baptist organizations.” This is just one of many examples of faith groups sending medical teams to Haiti. This outpouring of generosity represents a significant commitment of people to live out, not just talk about, their faith.

As I argued in my last post, the significance of God entering the world in the form of Jesus challenges our first questions about disaster. Instead of first asking “Why did God allow this?,” people of faith should be asking “Where is God in the disaster?” (Although everyone wrestles with God in a different way). The life of Jesus shows us that God wants to embrace us in love and in our painful circumstances. He sifts through the shards of a broken world to find us. Rescuing people is what the life of Christ is all about. Christ suffered horribly and unjustly, and he is with us when we suffer like that too. But the message of Jesus is not just about God being with us in suffering, his message is also us being sent out as his disciples to heal the world holistically (spiritually and physically). Jesus was always healing and helping people, and sending out his disciples to do the same. More and more followers of Christ are taking this aspect of his message seriously.

God invites us to join with him in saving and redeeming a broken world. And many are doing just that, joining with God to help those who suffer. And sometimes even the Dallas News takes note.

(to be con’t)

Monday, January 25, 2010

Asking the WHY? question after the Haitian Earthquake

When asked by reporters to respond to the earthquake, the Archbishop of York John Sentamu said he had “nothing to say to make sense of this horror.” It’s good advice on one level—why spend time debating the role of God when we could be helping the survivors—but many of us cannot help but immediately jump to the Why? question: “why would God allow such suffering, especially of an already ravaged nation?” Even atheists can’t help but jump into the debate. The discussion is of pressing interest to both believers and skeptics, even though they come to radically different conclusions.

Pat Robertson brought up the Why? question up in the most awkward way possible. The televangelist made some truly callous remarks on his network when he suggested that God was punishing Haiti for some supposed “deal with the devil” to win freedom from slavery 200 years ago. You would think from Robertson’s odd remark that God was against justice and for slavery.

But I wasn’t satisfied with how the Why? question was framed and answered by the media either. The BBC online magazine featured philosopher David Bain who put it this way: why would a good God allow natural disasters? Bain then listed the different philosophical responses to disasters and suffering that believers and skeptics have given over the years. But having faith is not the same as holding a philosophical position so I always feel dissatisfied by these kinds of discussions. They just don’t capture what it means to have faith, or to lose it for that matter. Perhaps that’s what Archbishop Sentamu is getting at in his remarks.

Perhaps we need to distinguish between how people wrestle philosophically with disaster as opposed to wrestling with disaster through their faith. As a Christian, I ask “Where is God in the disaster?,” not “Why did God allow it?” Because of the Fall, humanity and nature are in rebellion against God’s good intentions making disasters and death our constant companions. As I understand the Christian faith, the Fall explains why there is so much suffering in the world. Others of course, take a different position. Some hold that the world is the way it should be and if you are suffering you must be under some kind of divine punishment. Still others expect that if God is the great watchmaker who created a perfect world, there should be no suffering. But from my perspective, a belief in the Fall means severe problems already exist in the world but such problems are not created by God. Suffering is my starting point, but it is not my ending point. God did not originally create a world of disaster, but actually is moving through us and history to heal us from disaster. That’s why I find Pat Robertson’s remarks so disturbing, they imply that God actually crushes the world and people.

No, God is in the rescue business. He is in the middle of our suffering. And when we help others who are suffering we are doing his will.

(To be con’t)

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Earthquake shook Haiti, then it shook our Faith

The Haitian government is now saying that the confirmed death toll in their country has reached 70,000. No doubt it will keep rising.

If we are honest with ourselves, suffering on this scale forces us to reexamine our most basic assumptions about life no matter what position we take on God. In the email exchanges that people send to me I can tell that we are all shocked and jolted by the suffering we see in Haiti, even if we only experience the pain as distant observers. Just like the Haitians themselves, some of us turn to God for spiritual power to make sense of the disaster while others of us turn away from God in doubt. Most of us go back and forth between the two positions.

The Bible is full of people who wrestle with God. Even Jesus cries out on the cross “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

There’s nothing wrong in crying out to God when disaster hits. And it’s understandable that our faith gets shaken in disasters. When we choose to wrestle with God we join a long list of average, ordinary people in the Bible who did the very same thing. In fact, I would have questions about people of faith who don’t have their faith shaken by such suffering. If Jesus cries out to his Father, how can we not do the same?

To have faith doesn’t mean we quit asking questions or we cease to having doubts. Rather, to have faith means we have hope, hope that God is right beside us even when we can’t see him, even in the midst of disaster.

(To be con’t)