February 11, 2017 § 2 Comments
Since the start of Syria’s civil war, 12.5 million Syrians have been displaced, including 4.8 million living as refugees in other countries, with the rest forced out of their homes but still living in Syria. According to the Pew Research Center, this total number represents 60% of the country’s population of 2011, before the conflict began. The center calls the situation of Syrian displacement “unprecedented in recent history for a single country,” part of a global crisis that has nearly 1 out of 100 people worldwide forcibly displaced—the highest percentage since UNHCR began collecting those numbers in 1951.
In the face of this, a survey from World Vision and Ipsos Public Affairs shows that currently only 14% of Americans “pray for refugees and the conflict in Syria.” This is down from 22% in 2015. Of those surveyed who self-identify as “committed Christians,” 41% say that they are willing to pray, but only 19% actually do so. These numbers, too, are lower than a year ago, when 51% said they were willing to pray, with 30% praying.
If I had been contacted for the survey when it was held in September of last year, I would have described myself as a committed Christian. I also would have told them that I don’t pray for the Syrians. Here’s why:
- I’m pretty busy, and it’s hard to find time to pray at all, even for my family and for personal issues.
- I don’t understand what’s going on in Syria well enough to know how to pray intelligently. Who are the good guys? Who are the bad guys? The situation seems so complex—politically, culturally, and religiously—and it seems to change constantly.
- Whatever outcome that we can hope for will be a very long time coming. It’s taken so many years to get to this place, and there are no quick solutions. I can’t commit to praying indefinitely.
- It seems as if one tragedy after another is happening in our world today, and I’ve stopped trying to keep up. Which one should I pray for? Which one is the most tragic? It’s all so numbing. And the news outlets jump around so much in their coverage. They’re easily distracted and so am I.
- I don’t personally know any Syrians, so theirs is not a problem that I can relate to.
- Since I’m not giving money or taking any other action, it would be hypocritical for me only to pray.
To me it’s about knowing, understanding, caring, and acting—and back in September, concerning the Syrian crisis, I was lacking in all these areas. But since I started writing this post, things have been changing. I now know more, I understand more, I care more . . . and I’ve started praying.
If the surveyors called me today, I’m still not sure I could say, “I pray for refugees and the conflict in Syria.” I have prayed. And I plan to pray. But I’ve got a ways to go before I can say with confidence I do pray.
How about you?
To better understand the situation, you can read “Syria: The Story of the Conflict,” from BBC News, or watch this video:
If you need help caring, if you need faces and stories to go with the numbers . . .
If you don’t know how to pray, then you can go to World Vision’s prayer guide, and listen to this prayer from a Syrian Christian:
And if you’d like to help financially, here are two options for giving funds to help alleviate this great need:
I have started praying, and I hope that in the future, if I get a call for a survey, I’ll be able to say I’m praying still.
(Philip Connor and Jens Manuel Krogstad, “About Six-in-Ten Syrians Are Now Displaced,” Fact Tank, Pew Research Center, June 13, 2016; Connor and Krogstad, “Key Facts about the World’s Refugees,” Fact Tank, Pew Research Center, October 5, 2016; “Survey: While Aleppo and Mosul Burn, American Christians Less Likely to Pray for, Help Refugees than a Year Ago,” World Vision)
March 18, 2015 § Leave a comment
Is rain a good or bad thing? It depends, you’d probably say, on what you’re doing at the time.
But when we hear “The rain falls on the just and the unjust,” we usually interpret it as “Bad things happen to good and bad people.”
I don’t think that’s what Jesus meant when he said, in the Sermon on the Mount,
You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (Matthew 5:43-45 NIV)
In context, Jesus is talking about how we should give something good (love) to bad people, in the same way God gives the sunshine and rain to them. There certainly are places in the Bible that talk about bad things happening to good people, but I don’t think this is one of them.
E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien, in Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes, point out that we often miss the meaning of Bible passages when we don’t see from the point of view of the authors and audiences of Bible times. (I’ve written about that here.) This seems to be one of those passages.
In our modern American culture, we often pray for nice, sunny days. We want good weather for an outdoor wedding, for a trip to the lake, or for a long drive. And by good weather, we usually mean the absence of rain—and warm, but not too warm, temperatures are great, too.
If all of our prayers were answered, we’d probably have the longest drought in history. Of course, then our attitude would change and we’d think of rain as a blessing. That’s the way farmers most often see it. Of course, an ill-timed rain can keep them out of the fields, and over saturation and flooding can ruin a harvest. But it’s the lack of rain that causes the most problems.
Last year, the UN reported that the majority of the world’s population, 54%, now live in urban areas. According to the World Health Organization, 55 years ago, the urban population accounted for just 34% of the total. Two thousand years ago, that percentage was much less.
In Jesus’ day, the people had a direct tie to the land and the goods that it produced. Think of all the agricultural metaphors Jesus used to get his message across. But today, living and working in air-conditioned buildings with drinkable water only a faucet handle away, much of my thinking about rain centers around my walk to and from the car.
I try to pray less about the weather than I used to. Rather, I want to pray that I will be able to make the best of my day regardless of whether it rains or not. I realize that God is not going to tailor every weather pattern to my scheduled activities, in part because my wishes for that day may be just the opposite of what others want or need. As C. S. Lewis puts it, my downhill could be someone else’s uphill:
Yet again, if the fixed nature of matter prevents it from being always, and in all it’s dispositions, equally agreeable even to a single soul, much less is it possible for the matter of the universe at any moment to be distributed so that it is equally convenient and pleasurable to each member of a society. If a man travelling in one direction is having a journey down hill, a man going in the opposite direction must be going up hill. If even a pebble lies where I want it to lie, it cannot, except by a coincidence, be where you want it to lie. And this is very far from being an evil: on the contrary, it furnishes occasion for all those acts of courtesy, respect, and unselfishness by which love and good humour and modesty express themselves.
Yes, I pray fervently when tornados touch down or typhoons threaten or droughts bring about famine. But I pray less for weather variations simply to enhance my day. Actually, let me restate that first part: I pray fervently when severe weather threatens me, but my sporadic prayers are less than fervent when it comes to famine or flooding half a world away.
We all need to pray less for our corners of the world and more for the huge swaths of people who face disastrous weather each day. We need to pray that those of us with much will help those with little who are at the mercy of the elements. We need to pray that our down-hill walk does not cause someone else a more difficult journey. We need to pray less for our will and more for God’s will to be done, “on earth as it is in heaven.”
(“World’s Population Increasingly Urban with More than Half Living in Urban Areas,” United Nations, July 10, 2014; “Global Health Observatory (GHO) Data: Urban Population Growth,” World Health Organization; C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, Centenary Press, 1940)
[photo: “Face à Face,” by D. Julien, used under a Creative Commons license]
October 5, 2014 § Leave a comment
Sometimes our words take the low side of reality:
A missionary asks for 2-3 minutes to address the congregation.
At the end of a visit at a friend’s house, the parents tell their children that they’ll leave in 5 minutes.
A daughter texts her mom, “I’ll be out in a second.”
The progress bar on the software download reads, “2 minutes remaining.”
A husband says that fixing the faucet will take “half an hour, tops.”
Of course, it goes in the other direction, as well:
A friend reports, “When I said it, his jaw dropped and he just stared at me . . . for probably 10 minutes.”
A patient tells the doctor, “I exercise at least a half our every day.”
A worship leader announces, “Let’s take 10-12 minutes to pray silently.”
And a teacher is sure he’s waiting a good three minutes after every question he asks in front of the class.
Can you hear the economics teacher in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off?
In 1930, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, in an effort to alleviate the effects of the . . . Anyone? Anyone? . . . the Great Depression, passed the . . . Anyone? Anyone? The tariff bill? The Hawley-Smoot Tariff Act? Which . . . Anyone? Raised or lowered? . . . raised tariffs, in an effort to collect more revenue for the federal government. Did it work? Anyone? Anyone know the effects? It did not work, and the United States sank deeper into the Great Depression. (courtesy of IMDB.com)
When we’re asking questions, it’s so easy to answer ourselves rather than let others’ thoughts coalesce in the silence. When we’re listening, it’s so easy to rush others to get to the point rather than allow them to get to the heart of what they’re feeling.
Christian author Philip Yancey, somewhat more eloquent than the Ben Stein character, knows a thing or two about listening—to God and to other people. In Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference? he writes:
Listening is an art, and I must learn to listen to God just as I have had to learn to listen as a journalist. When I interview people, I ask a question and they give an answer. Early on, especially when the interview subjects were nervous and halting, I would jump in and finish their sentences. I learned, though, that if I don’t interrupt or move quickly to a follow-up question, if I sit in silence for a while, they may speak again, filling in details. Counselors know this too.
We can learn a quite a bit from good, experienced teachers, theologians, journalists, and counselors. There are a lot of people who need to be heard. All we need to do is . . . Anyone? Anyone?
January 17, 2013 § 2 Comments
With one plane ride the whole world as TCKs have known it can die. Every important place they’ve been, every tree climbed, pet owned, and virtually every close friend they’ve made are gone with the closing of the airplane door.
—David Pollock and Ruth Van Reken, Third Culture Kids
This closing door doesn’t just happen to Third Culture Kids. It’s also the experience of immigrants who leave behind many what-could-have-beens in their old country. Cross-cultural workers feel the door close when they leave their work and return “home.” (What other job requires you to leave the country once you’re no longer on the payroll?) International students close the door with the hopes that new opportunities will open many more. And refugees often see the door slammed and locked by soldiers carrying guns.
But while the door is closed, the mind is still open to thoughts about what was left behind. Some thoughts are joyous and life giving. Some are hurtful and life stealing. And often they come intricately, painfully intertwined, called up by a scent, a word, a sound, a flavor, a feeling or a dream. Bittersweet.
For those who find themselves on the other side of a closed door, I offer this prayer, inspired by Reinhold Niebuhr’s “Serenity Prayer.”
God, grant me the confidence to let go of the regrets that I should not hold on to,
The ability to hold on to the memories I should not let go of,
And the wisdom to separate the one from the other. Amen.
(David C. Pollock and Ruth E. Van Reken, Third Culture Kids: Growing Up among Worlds, Boston: Nicholas Brealey, 2009)
[illustrations: (upper) “Joined” and (lower) “Cupped“) by Pete Hobden, used under a Creative Commons license]