Saturday, May 31, 2014

How to Pray When You're Pissed at God Part 4 of 4

4.  Or worse, maybe we've remembered that story.

Hope and anger
It is true that we do not grieve like those who have no hope. Neither do we rage like those who have no justice, suffer like those who find no healing, or wander like those who have no path. But it's my opinion that we need to rediscover the holy disciplines of angry prayer during life's dark seasons. Our souls cry for it. Our anger is not the opposite of hope; it actually enables it.

Punnett's brief book prompts me to connect my prayer to how I feel, without losing sight of the true nature of the Christian story.

Every April, on my brother's death-day, I feel a little twist of the now familiar wrongness of death and suffering. Every time I read the news or sit with a friend experiencing the fallout of the Fall, I remember the phrase that theologian T.F. Torrance repeated from the early Fathers, "the unassumed is the unhealed." In taking on our entire humanity, from our deepest joys to our most heinous crimes, Christ redeemed it. He called it his own, and brought it into his kingdom. Redeemed it all—the sorrow, the hurt, and the pissed-ness. That is a beautiful mystery that I do not understand. But I sure believe it.

And I also believe that embracing that difficult doctrine inevitably means that we will echo Jesus—"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"—as we hang on the crosses we have taken up to follow him.

The Resurrection can redeem that. But it cannot make it easier.

Paul Pastor is the online editor for Leadership Journal.

Friday, May 30, 2014

How to Pray When You're Pissed at God Part 3 of 4

3. Punnett is an Episcopal deacon with a M.Div. and extensive experience as a hospital chaplain. That experience of dealing with the harsh questions of suffering comes through. How to Pray is an honest, sensitive, and surprisingly reverent book. It's big-hearted and gritty. It manages to capture a bit of the deep resignation and quiet closeness to God that I've felt in my own experiences of loss and anger. Punnett writes for those pulled to prayer even when the only words that seem to come are expletives, and he does it well.

He accompanies his own stories of suffering and tough pastoral ministry with a liturgy of (mostly) righteous anger. By turns, it's funny, biting, and profound. For all his surface irreverence,he manages to pull off a book that's deeply holy, genuinely pastoral, and ok with not having all the answers to the ancient question of what the hell was that, God? That's not an easy feat.

His written prayers range from the humorous ("An Angry Prayer for Those Who Are Cut Off in Traffic") to the quietly sensitive, ("An Angry Prayer for Someone Suffering From Depression During the Holidays"), to the furious and even heart-wrenching ("An Angry Prayer for the Abusers of Children"). Punnett uses Psalm-like language to cut deep to the heart of multiple agonies: the cold anger, the hot rage, the seething bitterness, the apathetic, unfeeling numbness of grief and hurt and wounding that we seem to receive from the hand of God.

Hope is here, too, but it is mostly the hope of the suffering Psalms, a hope tenuously tied to a God currently conspicuous only in his absence. Yet, in tying the specifics of modern suffering to their biblical counterparts, a sacred light is cast on familiar injustices and inconveniences in unexpected, refreshing ways.

This is a book on suffering, prayer, hope, despair, and the difficulties of lived Christianity. Punnett does what only a talk radio host and a liturgical deacon could—offer a litany of prayer that heals even as it presses on our bruises, with a witty, in-your-face aside and a sardonic, gracious smile.

And in doing so, he's given a rare gift to the church and to our culture.
Why do we struggle to express the dark feelings of lived faith? I really can't say. Books like Punnett's—honest and insightful, reverent, and raging at the same time—are rare. It would be hard to imagine this book (a Random House title) coming from the catalog of a mainstream Christian publishing house. Yet that's exactly where it should be.

Maybe we are so slow to rage at God because we fear that our faith cannot sustain anger towards its object. Maybe we're afraid that when the pinch comes, we won't be able to reconcile our mourning with Christianity's deep joy. Are we scared to utter the words "I think that God did this to me?" Are we scared to tell him that? To vent feelings of accusation? Maybe we've forgotten the dark mystery of Job, who, after suffering, angry and without divine explanation, receives no more than a "who are you?" in response.

Paul Pastor is the online editor for Leadership Journal.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

How to Pray When You're Pissed at God Part 2 of 4


Why are we so uncomfortable with hurting, angry prayers?
Paul Pastor

No one escapes pain, and loss is inevitable.

I first discovered this personally when I watched my baby brother die from a genetic defect that was "incompatible with life." Though whole on the outside, his inner workings were irreparably different from what people need to survive. I was 8 years old, wide-eyed, and confused. I hope that his 3-day-old suffering was small. But I know that our family's was great. The helplessness, resignation, and wrongness of that loss hurt.

Afterwards, I saw from my second-grade perspective the various responses of our church to my family's difficult time. We were new to the faith. I watched my parents mourn and receive comfort from people that we worshipped with on Sundays. Some of them were wonderful, silent. They suffered with us. Others had no clue what to do, other than share awkward platitudes or even trying to change the subject to something other than the little bundle lying just out of sight.

Since then, I've been around plenty of premature funerals, at plenty of hospital beds where the morphine wasn't cutting it, or was cutting it too well. Across plenty of coffee tables from close friends one Americano away from breaking down. I've seen and heard the myriad Christian responses for when life hurts. Many were wonderful. But many others were totally inadequate to plumb the depths with people in the valleys of shadow.

Lost language

Sometimes I wonder if our Christian subculture has lost the ability to reckon with suffering. You'd be hard pressed to find any indication in most Christian media that we suffer at all. The few resources dedicated to the topic of suffering or anger towards God are either for a crowd that already knows the word "theodicy," or else so sugar-coated with sweet nuggets of how to get over your grief and on with your life that the pain and richness of suffering all but disappears. Where is the anger? The deep grief? The sense of having gazed into the abyss without any indication that God even cared about what was bumping around down there? We seem to want to excuse God even at the moments when our every instinct is to blame him.
It's polite, but hollow.

The Christian story is unflinching in its treatment of suffering. It looks the full horrors of the human experience in the eye—and refuses to turn away. It finds life and joy in the middle of it all. Our doctrine is rich with holy contradictions of blood and bandages, deaths and resurrections, and a hundred inexplicable moments of hope right when all seems lost. We have holy, angry, righteous indignation against the world's systems of abuse and oppression. And, of course, our spiritual ancestors often railed against God.

So when did we forget our rich, raging heritage?

Raging and reverent

AM talk radio is a bit like Nazareth. Can anything good come out of it? Yes, if How to Pray when You're Pissed at God (Random House, 2013) is any indication.

Ian Punnett isn't your stereotypical prayer guru. His day job is as a talk radio host/ rock station DJ, including on the (in)famous and bizarre Coast to Coast AM show, which I freely admit to listening to, anytime I have to drive creepy, isolated roads at night. When I saw his bio I expected a book that was short on prayer and long on pissed. I was wrong.


Copyright © 2014 Christianity Today International. Used by permission.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

How to Pray When You're Pissed at God Introduction Part 1 of 4

When things really go wrong, what do you do with the feeling that God is to blame? A popular Coast to Coast radio host (and Episcopal clergy) provides some answers. In a first of its kind book, Ian Punnett provides a spiritual path for expressing your rawest emotions through prayer and how to rebuild a relationship with one's higher power--or anybody else in your life.

In this important and practical book, Ian Punnett provides insight on   feeling anger and resentment toward God and offers advice on how to deal with the pain and blame that accompanies these emotions. In a book that is edgy, timely, funny and compassionate, Punnett presents real help in everyday language for transforming the negativity of anger into a positive and useful force that will ultimately help us pray more effectively, bring us closer to God, enhance our spiritual relationship, and change the way we live and love others.

After a divorce, a broken friendship, the death of a loved one, the loss of a job or even the accumulation of all the tiny cracks in our spirit from life's disappointments, it’s easy to feel pissed at God. When anger is left unchecked, it is harmful to  our minds, bodies and souls.

 “How to Pray When You’re Pissed at God is not “the last word” on angry prayer,” Punnett writes, “but it might be the first words you have ever heard on the topic. By the end of the book, it is my hope that you’ll understand the role of anger in our lives, the benefit of honest prayer, and the need for honest, angry prayer in the lives of the faithful and faithless.”

IAN PUNNETT is one of the hosts of Coast to Coast AM, a legendary radio show syndicated on almost 600 stations across North America and a deacon in The Episcopal Church who received his Masters of Divinity degree from Columbia Theological Seminary in Atlanta.


Monday, May 26, 2014

When Should an Overseas Missionary Pay a Bribe? Part 4 of 4


Official corruption has existed for generations in rich and poor countries alike. But in the developing world, there is so little prosecution of official corruption that is normalized. By the nature of their ministry, missionaries are more at risk of bribery since they are so often at checkpoints and border crossings in times of crisis. Godly discernment is essential.

Biblical social ethics are about community flourishing and the priorities and teachings that guide our thoughts and actions. Real-life situations involving potential bribery require us to wrestle with tough questions, and we need great sensitivity to the Holy Spirit's leading. One concern must be to affirm the inestimable value of human life. Each person is created in the divine image (Gen. 1:26–27).

When Jesus confronts two biblical teachings in conflict, his priority is often to uphold the one that supports and promotes life (Luke 6:1–11). Rabbis later developed the principle of pikuach nefesh, "saving a life," as one of the highest teachings of Judaism.

How do our decisions promote the great commandment: love for God and for our neighbor and his welfare (Lev. 19:13–18; Mark 12:28–34)? Do we seek justice and mercy as we weigh inaction against the potential benefits of acting, often struggling to find the lesser evil or to affirm the greater good (Deut. 16:20)? In the end, if we opt for "bribe" money, it may only prove, at best, a quick fix.

How might God's redemptive power to transform the hearts of people and their ethics bring greater justice and permanent change within this fallen world? In this hopeful vein, two centuries before Jesus, Jewish sage Ben Sira longed for the day when "all bribery and injustice will be blotted out" (Sirach 40:12, NRSV).

MARVIN WILSON, author of Our Father Abraham: Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith, is professor of Bible and theology at Gordon College.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

When Should an Overseas Missionary Pay a Bribe? Part 3 of 4


Rarely, If Ever
Marvin Wilson

The Bible does not specify a particular penalty for bribery, but it clearly warns against it. Bribes may lead to partiality and a distortion of justice (1 Sam. 8:3). Judges are to be especially wary of such gifts, for they may easily "blind the eyes" (Deut. 16:19).
The decision to refuse bribes may show godly, ethical character (1 Sam. 12:3; Job 6:22). 

Conversely, an act of bribery may lead to bloodshed (Ezek. 22:12), sexual looseness (Ezek. 16:33), or neglect of widows and orphans (Isa. 1:23).

Bribes sometimes bring temporary relief, yet in the end may prove to be deceptive security. Such is the lesson Judah twice discovers as she bribes foreign kings to come to her rescue (1 Kings 15:16–24; 2 Kings 16:5–9). Bribes are often associated with lying, betrayal, and the promotion of selfishness and greed.

Yet today, as in the ancient world, it is not always easy to distinguish between gifts and bribes. The differences are often subtle. Indeed, as Proverbs observes, "A man's gift eases his way and gives him access to the great" (18:16, Jewish Publication Society, Tanakh). However, we may perceive giving gifts to effect an urgent and seemingly just cause as a gray area involving situational ethics. This conflict—especially for Christians serving abroad—may be brought to the fore when, after fasting and prayer, the only apparent means to effect results seems to be a gift of money. These Christians are conflicted. Their motivation should be love, not manipulating a situation with money.