16 April 2020

Prayer and politics, part two

NASA/YouTube screenshot

On my second screen as I write: the Soyuz spacecraft carrying three human beings -- NASA astronauts Drew Morgan and Jessica Meir and cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka of Roscosmos -- has just completed the rocket burn that irrevocably begins its descent back to earth. As I've said before, I experience coverage of space-related events as "reality television" at its best. When a human crew is involved, and the flight segment is one of the highest-risk elements of a space journey, it's an invitation to pray without ceasing.

It is easy to pray without ceasing (or "pray continually") when my heart is caught up in an exciting and risky moment, maybe less easy in times of apparent routine. However, these are not routine times. I'm training myself to keep the lines of prayer open as I observe the empty streets of our neighborhood and notice that most of the vehicles traveling on our street are delivery vehicles, whose drivers are helping the rest of us participate in commerce with minimal risk on our part. It requires more discipline from me to maintain the same attentiveness as I read news articles and bulletins concerning the pandemic and politicians' efforts on behalf of public safety, or on behalf of goals of their own.

Prayer does not have to be an explicit repetition of words. (You don't need me to tell you that!) I love the Jesus prayer, but much of the time I am simply following the advice of Thomas R. Kelly in A Testament of Devotion:
There is a way of ordering our mental life on more than one level at once. On one level we may be thinking, discussing, seeing, calculating, meeting all the demands of external affairs. But deep within, behind the scenes, at a profounder level, we may also be in prayer and adoration, song and worship and a gentle receptiveness to divine breathings.

I spend much of my time paying attention to "external affairs" via the Internet. I listen critically, comparing (for example) the pronouncements of a politician with my own understanding of good stewardship of the "general welfare." The more time I spend immersed in this analysis, the more important it is that I not slip out of the habits of prayer. The more shocking the comparison, the more important it is for me NOT to "regard everyone involved" from a strictly worldly point of view.

(Meanwhile, in Kazakhstan, the latest from NASA: "Ground teams [are] reporting that the vehicle is in sight." The parachutes look good!)

Two days ago, U.S. House of Representatives speaker Nancy Pelosi wrote a "dear colleague" letter that resulted from her prayer and reflection during the Easter weekend. For herself and her colleagues, she proposes a specific linkage between spiritual discipline and political calculation: truth.
We will overcome this moment, but success requires one fundamental from which all actions will follow: we need the truth. To succeed in this crisis, we must insist on the truth, and we must act upon it!
(NASA: "We have confirmed landing of the crew....")

Pelosi's letter goes on to list some "truths" that are severely critical of the U.S. president (who has, as you probably know, called her "crazy," "not operating with a full deck," and "totally incompetent"). If we care as much about the truth as she claims to, we will make our own comparisons between her criticisms and the reality we ourselves have observed, but (speaking for myself) I must also pray my way toward another assessment: Is Nancy Pelosi trustworthy? Does she employ these powerful rhetorical references ("Easter," "prayer," "truth") manipulatively, or in the service of trustworthy leadership in this dangerous moment?

It's a serious question. A manipulative motivation on her part would cheapen these important words, and open her to the charge of "bearing false witness." Taking her words at face value, however, leads to sobering consequences for the way we exercise our own political discipleship. In Pelosi's words, "We must recognize the truth, we must speak the truth, we must insist on the truth and we must and will act upon it."

One of the reasons I tend to trust Pelosi is that I don't detect any sign that she's building herself up as a hero. The defense of truth that she urges upon us is, at its heart, our own spiritual and prayer-driven task, always open to public dispute and verification. It's a task that demands the discernment of every person, not just designated heroes flogging designated villains.

Jesus, help me to recognize, speak, defend, and act on truth, while resisting the constant pressure to exalt or insult everyone involved. Help me see them through your loving eyes, and not "from a worldly point of view."

Everyone is safely out of the spacecraft.

Roskosmos/NASA/YouTube screenshot

Prayer and politics, part one.

Nancy Thomas on Paul's letters from prison: Choosing life is hard.

Register by April 24 for a free online course on the book of Revelation, taught by Wess Daniels, based on his book Resisting Empire: The Book of Revelation as Resistance.

Roger E. Olson: Where is God in this pandemic? -- And Lijie Xie: Patience in the pandemic.

Micah Bales on celebrating Easter in the shadow of death.

David R. Swartz writes about Kyung-Chik Han, "World Vision's forgotten founder."
In a TED talk titled “The Danger of a Single Story,” Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Adichie describes how a dominant narrative can stereotype and ultimately disempower other actors. Many American Christians, understandably eager to enshrine the piety and progress of one of their own heroes, have done exactly this. [In this case -- the history of World Vision] [t]he result has been a single, definitive story that emphasizes a strong, benevolent America and a needy, desperate Korea. [TED link added by me. - Johan]
William Yoder surveys Russian Protestantism today. (While you're there, browse through the rest of his informative and sometimes provocative site.)

Helen Ibe is home alone.

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