Thursday, May 31, 2007

Amnesty on Haitians in the Bahamas

Amnesty International has recently issued its 2007 Report on the state of the world's human rights. Concerns regarding the death penalty, police brutality, corporal punishment, and ill-treatment of Haitian immigrants were all cited in the section on the Bahamas.

Here are the specific concerns raised about Haitian immigrants residing in the Bahamas:

Immigrants, the vast majority from Haiti, continued to be deported in large numbers. Some were reportedly ill-treated. On 8 April, 187 Haitians, including children, on the island of Eleuthera were rounded up and detained. It was later found that 166 of them had legal documents and 27 also had permanent residence.

Although these are very serious problems that must be dealt with, they seem relatively insignificant compared to the scope of the human rights violations that plague some of the Bahamas' nearest neighbors.


Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Is Liberation Theology Dead?

The feminist theologian Rosemary Radford Ruether attempts to answer precisely this question in an article that she wrote two years ago for the National Catholic Reporter.

She begins by noting the declining interest in Latin American liberation theologies on the part of U.S. graduate theological schools:
Five years ago I offered a course in Latin American liberation theology at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, Calif. We studied this theology in the context of the history of church and society in Latin America from the time of the Spanish conquest, focusing on the developments of the 1960s and new stages of Latin American liberation theology in the 1990s to 2000. I was astonished to be told by several students that Latin American liberation theology had been declared to be "dead" or "over with" by some professors at the school. Since that time I have heard several such announcements of the death of liberation theology from students and faculty. It is also evident that few North American theological seminaries are offering courses on Latin American liberation theology today. What is going on?
Contrary to the prevailing opinion amongst many American theologians, Ruether explains that the situation on the ground in Latin America and the Caribbean is actually much different, noting that liberation theology has been most recently characterized by diversification rather than decline.
What has happened to Latin American liberation theology in the last 15 years is not that it has dried up, but rather that it has greatly diversified. It was rightly criticized for being too narrowly focused on class and economic hierarchies and neglecting other dimensions of social relations, such as race, ethnicity and gender. In the last two decades this has been rectified by a great flowering of Latin American feminist theology, all of which sees itself as rooted in liberation theology but expanding through the new recognition of gender hierarchies. Likewise there has been since 1992 a flowering of indigenous theologies, or teologia india, with many encuentros (meetings) across Latin America, especially in the Andean region.

African Caribbean and African Brazilian people are also developing distinct articulations of liberation and feminist theologies in these cultural contexts. There is a burgeoning interest in dialogue between Christianity and indigenous and African-Latino religions: Clara Luz Ajo in Cuba is among those pursuing this kind of reflection in relation to Africa Cuban religions, such as Santeria. Issues of ecology have also attracted theological interest both from theologians such as Leonardo Boff and those who take ecofeminism as their method of theological reflection such as Ivone Gebara in Brazil and the Conspirando network in Chile.
That being said, Ruether goes on to suggest that proclamations that liberation theology is "dead" are premature and reflect the increasing insularity of American culture and academics.
Far from being over with, liberation theology lives in the faith of that sector of Latin American ecumenical Christianity, in Catholics and Protestants who work together both in seminaries and at the grass roots from the perspective of hope for greater justice. The pronouncements that Latin American liberation theology is dead are not only premature, but I think are another indication of the growing parochialism and insularity of the U.S. North American consciousness in the face of a world that is increasingly critical of our way of life.
Ruether's assessment of the state of liberation theology probably comes as no surprise to many of us residing in the Caribbean and Latin America. More importantly, it serves as a reminder to persevere in the task of creatively articulating a theology that is both faithful to scripture as well as the sociocultural context within which we live, worship, and seek to minister.

Click here to read the entire article.


Overcoming Racial Prejudice

Last week the Bahamas Human Rights Network (BHRN) hosted an information table at the United Evangelistic International Crusade sponsored by Nassau's Haitian churches. Dick Coulson, a BHRN member, has given me permission to post his comments on the experience here:

In that connection, I would like to say to all that my last night's visit to the Haitian conclave at the Church of God auditorium was, for me a white Bahamian, an extraordinary experience. I saw a religious-civic gathering of nearly 1,000 Haitians living in Nassau and got to talk to a few of them - some citizens, many with resident status and some still undocumented but having found work and by no means a drag on our society. Perhaps this group was not typical of our alleged 60,000 Haitians living here (who has ever verified that number even approximately?), but any Bahamian who has a lingering prejudice against Haitians in our midst should visit an event like this to see the well-dressed, orderly, polite, obviously hard-working men with their wives and children, enthusiastically singing the Creole hymns and listening to their Creole pastors.

If BHRN is to really make an impact on these people and discover their problems, we must have our promotional material translated, into Creole not French. While some men to whom I gave our literature did read English, it was a struggle for them, and only announcements in Creole will make a real impact. They are and will remain a distinct community, but can and already do contribute to Bahamian life. Probably many of them would tell us that they really have no great problems with local authorities, but it is our task to find out.
Dick's experience is an important reminder that racial and ethnic prejudices will only be overcome when we are willing to step out of our comfort zone and meet with others on their own turf and, to the extent possible, dialogue with them in their own language.

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Friday, May 25, 2007

The 11th Annual United Evangelistic Int'l Crusade

This is THE big event of the year for Haitian Protestant Churches in Nassau and it's taking place this week (May 21-27). Check it out! Services are held nightly at 7:30pm at the Church of God Auditorium on Joe Farrington Road.

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Saturday, May 19, 2007

Celebrating Haitian Heritage

Yesterday, May 18th, Haitian Flag Day was observed as a national holiday in Haiti and was also celebrated throughout much of the Haitian diaspora. In some school districts and municipalities in Southern Florida, the entire month of May has been designated as Haitian Heritage Month.

Here in Nassau, Haitian Flag Day festivities will be held today--May 19th--at Cable Beach. Hopefully, my wife and I will be able to participate in the Haitian Flag Day activities this evening. If so, I will provide an update to this post in the next day or so.

UPDATE (as of 5/25): Estela and I did go to this activity and it turned out to be pretty typical as far as outdoor festivities in the Bahamas go. Haitian Flag Day celebrations were held in the parking lot of Fidelity Bank at Cable Beach and there were several vendors' tables where Haitian food and souvenirs (e.g., Haitian flags and t-shirts) were sold as well as live entertainment provided by local Haitian artists.

What I found to be REALLY interesting about the event, though, was the demographic. There were probably at least three generations of folks present at the event, ranging from very small children to middle-aged adults who were all clearly born in or grew up here in the Bahamas. Most of the Haitians that we encounter through our work in the local churches are immigrants from Haiti. Their children are often born in the Bahamas but it is rare for many of them to stick around in the church after they become teenagers and I could easily count on one hand the number of Bahamian-born Haitians that I know who attend a Haitian church. So this event was a good opportunity to observe a whole segment of the Haitian community that we rarely come into contact with. More importantly, it is a poignant reminder of the challenge the Haitian churches face in finding more effective ways of ministering to their youth and building up a new generation of leaders rather than remaining dependent on the constant flow of immigrants from Haiti to grow their membership.

I was also inspired by the theme for the event, chaj pou youn, se chaj pou tout (or, loosely translated as "the burden for one is the burden for all." In a social context where the black crab complex (as defined by Bahamian author Patricia Glinton-Meicholas) seems to plague Haitians as much as Bahamians, the theme was a welcome reminder of the importance of working together and supporting one another for the good of the Haitian community rather than fostering rivalries and competition. In terms of community development, I would like to find ways to develop this theme by fostering greater collaboration between Haitian immigrants and Bahamians of Haitian descent. Too often, our churches themselves have simply reenforced negative patterns of individual competition and have done little to promote a sense of social responsibility.

Read more about this event here.

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Friday, May 18, 2007

Bahamas' New PM Promises Immigration Reform

This past couple of years have been especially tough for Haitian nationals residing in the Bahamas, characterized by--amongst other things--last year's race riots in Nassau Village and the former government's heavy handed approach to roundups and deportations.

A recent article in the Bahama Journal indicates that the newly elected prime minister Hubert Ingraham "vows to eliminate 'offensive' immigration practices." Some of the issues that the new PM hopes to address include timely processing of (1) citizenship applications by persons born in the Bahamas, (2) residency permits for spouses of Bahamian citizens, and (3) residency status for children of Bahamian women born outside of the Bahamas. Ingraham has indicated that "These are offensive and unacceptable things and we shall tackle them early." Likewise, the new immigration minister Tommy Turnquest has promised that these issues will be given "quick and speedy consideration."

Elsworth Johnson, acting president of the Bahamas Human Rights Network (BHRN), has indicated the group's support for these efforts but cautiously added that "I would not go on the limb to say that the FNM would be any different than the PLP, or that the PLP was bad. If you apply and the proper procedures are followed and you find that the person is entitled, then within a reasonable time, it should be granted." Johnson also stressed that BHRN has the exact same expectations for the new government as it did for the former government.

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Thursday, May 17, 2007

Bringing Peace to da Streets

Gang related violence has been an ongoing problem in Nassau's inner-city neighborhoods since at least the 1980s. Carlos Reid, a former gang member and author of Out of the Hood, has been ministering to Nassau's at-risk youth through his organization Youth Against Violence for well over a decade.

Amongst other things, Reid has been successful in training at-risk youth in conflict resolution skills, creating employment opportunities, as well as providing positive alternatives to violence through programs such as the Nelson Cooper "Peace on da Streets" Basketball Classic, which is held every July.

While I have not yet had the privilege of getting acquinted with Carlos, I have read his book and heard many good things about his work from other local pastors. His ministry is a good example of how the church can play a positive role in addressing some of Nassau's chronic social problems.

Click here to read more about Carlos Reid's ministry.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

More than Just God the Father: The Trinity as a Divine Model for Human Social Equality

Yesterday, I posted a quote by the African American theologian James Evans that challenges us to recognize how the very nature and character of God is often misrepresented theologically in order to justify racism, classism, sexism, neo-colonialism and many of the other –isms that plague our fallen world. With this in mind, it should be no surprise that theologians representing a variety of historically oppressed groups have attempted to construct theological alternatives to the prevailing racist, classist, sexist, and neo-colonialist images of God that have been propagated by the dominant culture.

The African-American theologian James Cone argues that, in the context of white racist America, “God is Black.” In a similar vein, Gustavo Gutiérrez, a theologian and parish priest from the slums of Lima, Peru, has made the claim that God exercises “a preferential option for the poor.” Numerous feminist theologians have argued that we should image God as both Mother and Father. And finally, the late Caribbean theologian Idris Hamid, in describing the legacy of colonialism and Christianity here in our own region of the world, notes that “we were trained to worship God through somebody else’s experience . . . God is really foreign to us.”

All of these observations lead me to raise the question: Is there an alternative approach to understanding God that allows us to get past images of God that are used to perpetuate sexism, racism, classism, colonialism, and any other –ism that plagues our sinful world? The short answer to that question is “yes” and the alternative that I wish to consider is the ancient doctrine of the Trinity.

Let me explain:

Most Christians are all familiar with the idea that there is one God and only one God as is evidenced in scripture verses such as Deuteronomy 6:4 which declares, “The LORD our God is one LORD” (italics mine). Yet, at the same time we are also familiar with the notion that God is really three distinct persons as evidenced by the use of Trinitarian formulae such as Matthew 28:19-20 where we are taught to baptize new believers “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

For this reason, Christian theology teaches us that we believe in one God in three persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Not surprisingly, the seeming contradiction between God’s oneness and threeness has been the source of lively theological debate throughout much of Christian history. For purposes of this discussion, however, I am not going to attempt to offer a theological explanation of the mystery of the Trinity. Instead, I will take the position of the Tanzanian Roman Catholic bishop Christopher Mwoleka who once argued that the Trinity is not a puzzle to be solved but, rather, an example to be imitated.

So what precisely is it about the Trinity that we should be imitating anyway?

Since the eight century, Eastern Orthodox Christians have understood the Trinity in terms of the Greek word perichoresis (per-ee-kor-eesus), which means “being in one another” and from which the verb form literally translates as “to dance around.” The feminist theologian Anne Clifford suggests that if these two meanings are combined, then “we can imagine the Trinity as three persons engaged in a circular dance, circling and encircling one another with unending energy.” By using such a metaphor to explain the Trinity, we are able to image God as three distinct persons that exist in perfect unity and harmony.

The neo-orthodox theologian Daniel Migloire approaches this concept somewhat differently by suggesting that the Trinity is essentially a koinonia—that is a fellowship or community—of three persons in love. He notes that the persons of the Trinity are not isolated and independent selves but have their personal identity in relationship with each other. This is in contrast to sinful human attitudes and practices that rest on fear or hatred of the other and seek to remove or conquer the other. Instead, the Trinity generates and includes otherness in the inner dynamism of the divine life. Such a Trinitarian concept of God, argues Migloire, can provide a new depth and direction to our understanding of the interdependence of human life and renew our commitment to the struggles for justice and freedom for all people.

And finally, Bishop Mwoleka (as quoted by Justo González) explains that, “The three Divine Persons share everything in such a way that there are not three gods but only one God. And in the same way that the three persons of the Godhead are one, Christ’s wish is: ‘That they (his followers) may be one as we are one. With me in them and you in me, may they be completely one . . .’”

As these theologians have so eloquently suggested, the essence of the Trinity is a life of unity and harmony, a life of fellowship and community, and a life of sharing. Therefore, those of us who profess belief in this Triune God must seek to follow his example.

On one level, this means that we need to work to achieve equality for all people in both our churches as well as society at large by breaking down the barriers of prejudice and discrimination against women, people of other races and nationalities, persons of low social status, and anyone else who finds themselves to be disadvantaged in our society. On another level, this means that within the context of our own churches we need to foster Christian unity and give up the backstabbing, rumor mongering, petty arguments, and personal rivalries that plague so many of our congregations.

But is it really possible for us as human beings to follow the example of our Triune God and live in perfect unity and harmony. The book of Revelation (verse 7:9) teaches us that one day we will stand before the throne of our Triune God and worship him together alongside a countless multitude of others representing every nation, tribe, people, and language. But the book of Revelation doesn’t just give us a glimpse of the future; it also gives us a vision of what the body of Christ can be here on earth right now. For this reason, Jesus himself prayed to the Father (in John 17:23) that we—his followers—would be brought to complete unity to let the world know that God sent his only Son to die for our sins and that he loves us in the same way that he loves his only begotten son.

I believe that we as human beings can find unity and harmony amongst ourselves because our God is more than just God the Father. Our God is . . .

Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty!
God in Three Persons, blessed Trinity!

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Quote of the Week

"Militarism, a debased view of human sexuality, blind consumerism, ideas of racial supremacy, and xenophobia disguised as patriotism are among the contemporary idols that have asserted an indisputable divine mandate."

James H. Evans, Jr., author of We Have Been Believers and Robert K. Davies Professor of Systematic Theology at Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School

For what it's worth, Evans' words remind me of the old Bob Dylan song "With God on Our Side."

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Saturday, May 12, 2007

Rebuilding New Orleans

Mike Broadway over at Earth as it is in Heaven has posted a couple of helpful items showing how churches in New Orleans are using the principles of Christian community development to rebuild the communities that were destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. Mike and some of his students from Shaw University Divinity School were in New Orleans this past week as part of the Churches Supporting Churches project which seeks to assist African American churches located in the areas of the city that were most severely stricken by Hurricane Katrina.

Churches Supporting Churches operates on the belief that "the Katrina catastrophe exposed again the triple evils of poverty, racial injustice and militarism in this region of the US identified by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. nearly four decades ago. This Kingian Legacy is the context we need to address the moral and practical challenges to address these conditions." Consequently, their objective is to go beyond simply providing food, clothing, and shelter to Katrina victims but to actively support churches in the task of rebuilding their communities and, most importantly, preserving the integrity of those communities for the original residents rather than allowing them to be bought up and redeveloped by land speculators.

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Monday, May 07, 2007

The Bahamas in the News

Having survived the turbulent transition period between semesters, I will briefly summarize some of the major issues and events that have taken place in the Bahamas that I've not had time to blog on during the past several weeks.

First and foremost in the news has been last week's elections. This years election was notable for a number of reasons including: (1) the ruling PLP party was defeated after only one term in office, making it the first political party in Bahamian history to NOT be reelected for at least one additional term of office. (2) The newly elected prime minister Hubert Ingraham previously served in that position from 1992-2002, making him the first Bahamian to serve non-consecutive terms as PM. (3) This is the first election in which the winning party achieved victory by a narrow margin rather than a landslide. Click here and here to read what Bahamian commentators are saying about the this year's elections.

One of the criticisms in the run-up to the elections was that there was too much negative campaigning and no substantive discussion of the issues of the day. Nevertheless, at least some groups of private citizens attempted to introduce discussion of key issues into the public debate. The Bahamas Human Rights Network, for example, ran a full-page ad in all three of Nassau's major dailies, exhorting voters to ask their candidates where they stood on a variety of human rights issues. Another group, the Coalition of Pastors for Transparency, attempted to conduct a survey of each candidate's position on a variety of moral issues and then publish the results in the local newspapers as a resource for voters.

Over Easter weekend, the newly formed Bahamas Human Rights Network held a candlelight vigil to remember the lives of Haitian migrants who drowned off of Exuma in March and Eight Mile Rock in early April. Amongst other things, the vigil generated some positive publicity for the group's efforts as well drawing criticism from a Bahamian government official for calling on the international community to cancel Haiti's debt instead of seeking international assistance for Bahamian efforts to repatriate undocumented Haitian immigrants.

A large Haitian squatter settlement near Marsh Harbour, Abaco was ravaged by a major fire in late March. The government's Urban Renewal program, the Red Cross, and other humanitarian organizations have been attempting to provide assistance to the Haitians who lost their homes and belongings in the fire.

Last week, in two separate incidents, unarmed civilians were shot by police. One was a man who was accused of stealing a small amount of candy and money from a vendor on Arawak Cay. He was shot in the back while trying to escape from the police. The second was a Haitian immigrant who was shot by a Defense Force officer during a routine apprehension of undocumented immigrants. The Bahamas Human Rights Network, the Grand Bahama Human Rights Association, and Amnesty International have spoken out against these incidents and raised questions about the lack of transparency and failure to rely on independent review boards when investigating such incidents of police misconduct.

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Friday, May 04, 2007

ACME Hair Grower

Ever wonder if a product like this actually works?

ACME Hair Grower is guaranteed make short hair long in a flash.

Let's give it a try . . .

The instructions say we must begin by applying the entire bottle to a dry, clean scalp.

Then we wait for five minutes and . . .

By golly, it works! It really works!

For more information about this or other ACME products, click here.

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Thursday, May 03, 2007

On Preaching the Word

As Christians, our preaching needs to look more like this:

And less like this:

In other words, good preaching is first and foremost about LIVING the word by putting it into practice. Perhaps that's why St. Francis of Assisi once said, "Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary."

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Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Election Fever

[Updated as of May 3rd; see item #6 below.]

Ever since I first began living abroad, I have always made it a habit to remain neutral on questions of local politics and elections. Today's election here in the Bahamas is no exception. With that in mind, the photos below have been included for illustrative purposes only and appear in alphabetical order. The photo of the FNM or opposition party is placed first and the photo of the PLP or ruling party is underneath. Readers who are interested in news, updates, and political commentary on this year's elections are encouraged to check here, here, here, and here.

As an outsider looking in at the world of Bahamian politics, I would like to share some of my non-partisan observations on what I believe to be the POSITIVE aspects of the elections.

1. Short Campaign Cycle -- On April 4th--exactly four weeks ago today--parliament was dissolved and the election was called for May 2nd. Obviously, everyone knew before that there was going to be an election this year and even as early as last summer campaign literature was left on our door and we were receiving door-to-door visits from prospective candidates. But overall, this feels short and much less intense compared to the permanent, year-round U.S. campaign cycle where candidacies for upcoming elections are sometimes declared as early as the day after the previous election. My guess is that, on a per capita basis, Bahamian elections are a whole lot cheaper too. Another plus is that most of the campaigning has taken place during the past four weeks and NOT while parliament was in session, so the incumbents are not forced to neglect their official duties while they're out on the campaign trail.

2. High voter turnout -- I have been told that elections in the Bahamas typically have 95% or better turnout of all eligible voters. Regardless of whatever other criticisms might be made of the elections, this is commendable. In the U.S., we barely manage to get a 50% voter turnout for presidential elections and, much less, for mid-term and local elections.

3. Quick Results -- Unlike many of the Bahamas' neighboring countries (including, on occasion, the United States), we don't have to wait for months following election day to find out who the winners are.

4. Short Lame Duck Period -- During the week of the 2002 elections, my wife and I were in the States for a wedding. When we came back, much to our surprise, the new government had already been installed! Given the sheer size of the United States, I doubt we'll ever see a new president taking office during the same week as the election. The lame duck period--at least in the States--is necessary in order for the president-elect to assemble a new cabinet (which is made up of presidential appointees and not elected members of parliament) and make the transition from one administration to another. So the short lame duck period is something that we can clearly chalk up as one of the perks of living in a small country and, to a certain extent, the nature of parliamentary government.

5. Potential for Inclusiveness -- In theory, the parliamentary system is more flexible when it comes to accommodating multiple parties. Though some tiny third-party and independent candidates are represented in this year's election, Bahamian politics is basically dominated by two major parties as is the case in the U.S. Nevertheless, in at least one instance in Bahamian political history, a third-party has been known to make a difference in the outcome of the election. In 1967, Randol Fawkes--the lone Labour Party candidate to get elected--chose to join the PLP in forming a coalition government which led to the ouster of the UBP and the white ruling class that it represented, thus ushering in a new era of Black Majority Rule. Conceivably, if a third-party were to ever gain traction in the future, it could alter the outcome of an election and challenge the "business as usual" monopoly of the two major parties. In the United States, our political system is less inclusive of third-parties and so it is much more difficult for them to ever have a real impact on American politics.

6. The Results are Not Predicted by Pre-Election Polls -- In the U.S., pre-election polling eliminates the element of surprise in all but the closest races. Not so here in the Bahamas where one can never really be sure who the next ruling party will be until all of the votes have been counted.


Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Prayer and Personal Responsibility

We are often taught that if we pray hard enough and exercise enough faith that God will deliver us from all sorts of trials and tribulations in our lives--ill health, financial pressures, and even natural disasters. Undoubtedly, the "name it and claim it" ethos of prosperity theology that pervades so many of our churches helps to exaggerate our tendency towards this belief.

Yet what happens when the very trials from which we seek God's deliverance have been brought upon ourselves as the result of our own bad decisions. Perhaps, for example, I am praying to God to restore my health because I'm suffering from chronic heart disease. But for most of my life I have neglected to eat properly or exercise regularly. Likewise, I might be praying to God for financial deliverance while--at the same time--ignoring the fact that I routinely buy things I don't need, only rarely bother to balance my checkbook, and never attempt to pay off more than the monthly minimum on my credit cards. In such instances, can we really truly expect God's unconditional deliverance?

In response to Australian prime minister John Howard's recent call to prayer for the drought-stricken regions of that country, Kristine Morrison--an Australian Baptist--raises similar questions:

They point out that in the past decade of prosperity the government has not seriously addressed water management issues. John Howard is accused of failing to listen to scientific advice about water management and being without an alternative water management plan. His plea for prayer is reckoned by one correspondent to be reasonable only in comparison to being asked to slaughter a chicken.

Though secularists, these writers have proved alert to some of the dilemmas facing those who pray. Is it reasonable to pray to avoid the consequences of something that those who pray may have contributed to? Our squandering of water and our failure to be active in prompting our government to take water management practices seriously does compromise our approach to God. (Italics mine)
In other words, Morrison suggests that we really have no business praying to God for deliverance from the calamities in our lives if we are simply seeking to avoid the consequences of problems that we have contributed to. Furthermore, she goes on to point out that--at least in some instances--the so-called blessings of God on one group of people may, in fact, directly lead to more adversity for others.

The knowledge of the cyclic nature of rain patterns presents another difficulty for those who pray for rain. We know that higher rainfall in one part of Australia (or the world) usually means less rain in some other part of the continent (or the world). Is it right for us to pray for more natural abundance in our part of the world when other places, already suffering resource depletion, may receive less rain as a result?
So what, then, is the praying Christian to do?

First of all, we must remember that God is the creator of the entire world and the Lord of all who live in it. Therefore, we must exercise caution lest we inadvertently find ourselves praying for things that might be given to us at the expense of others. Secondly, and much more profoundly, Morrison suggests an approach that can be summed up in a simple word that is rarely, if ever, heard in the sermons of most prosperity preachers: REPENTANCE.
One writer to the Herald, clearly not a secularist, made a compelling link between the need for repentance and effective prayer. He advocated a day of repentance where the nation could acknowledge both God as the giver of rain and our dependence on the generosity of God to provide for all our needs to accompany our requests for rain. Many of us have prayed to escape the consequences of our actions. However, we can only do this when we express contrition and repentance for such actions. This important and significant aspect of prayer was omitted in our prime minister's call to prayer.
Wow! What a thought! If I want God to deliver me from my chronic health problems, perhaps I need to first repent of the poor lifestyle choices that contributed to those problems in the first place. Or if I am seeking financial deliverance, then I first need to repent of the poor money-management decisions that put me into debt.

Here it is helpful to remember that repentance, in the biblical sense, is not just about apologizing to God (or others) for our mistakes. It's about leaving old sinful habits behind and embracing new Christ-honoring habits. In other words, true repentance is like making a U-turn, a full 180 degree change in the direction of our lives. It is about walking away from the old and towards the new; dispensing of old eating and exercise habits and embracing new ones; and renouncing our old spending habits and making an effort to learn new ones. Or in the case of Australia's prime minister John Howard, repentance means beginning to heed the advice of environmental scientists and leading his government in developing more ecologically sound water-management practices.

A final caveat: While repentance is good and, indeed, required if we claim to be followers of Jesus Christ, we should not make the mistake of thinking it is akin to some sort of magic formula or ritual that will guarantee God's favorable response to all of our prayers. God is NOT like a celestial ATM machine that will answer all of our prayers on demand. Nor should we forget that scripture teaches us that as believers we can expect trial, temptations and, yes, even suffering to be a part of the Christian life. That doesn't mean that we should stop praying or depending on God, nor that we should stop taking responsibility for our own actions--both personal and corporate. It just means that hardships--often for reasons unbeknownst to us--are a reality of our fallen human condition. And, as the Jesus himself once said, God "causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous."

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