Praying Disruptive Prayers

The Good Book tells us “that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people – for kings and all those in authority” (1 Timothy 2:1-2). So how do we pray for an administration with a chip on its shoulder? A shaking fist and a beat-red face accompany policies birthed in fantasy and stirred in fury.

Skip past the unseemly Gold Star family spat, where egg smears all faces in a bipartisan spirit, and sample the headlines involving the world’s ecological health: Blazes swept northern California, destroying thousands of businesses and homes and ratcheting the highest weekly wildfire death toll in state history; the US House passed a $36.5 billion spending package for hurricane and wildfire relief while President Donald Trump fired hostile tweets at beleaguered Puerto Rico; and families in southern Asia still reeled from August’s monsoons, which took some 1,200 lives.

We stand in the foyer of Climate Change’s Brave New World. Scientists predicted this.

Yet the administration seems grounded in an eerie, alt-fact universe defiant of the popular will (most Americans embrace human-induced climate change and activist mitigation policies). EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt dismissed former President Obama’s Clean Power Plan as a “war on coal” while Trump nominated US Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Oklahoma) to administer NASA. Bridenstine, whose resume displays no formal science or engineering training, doubts human-induced climate change. The Union of Concern Scientists warns he’ll strip NASA of “all Earth Science related work.” Then there’s Kathleen Hartnett White, nominated to lead the Council on Environmental Quality. The former Texas environmental regulator trumpeted CO2 as the “gas of life.” And it is – plants need it and we need plants – but she misses the point:. Too much of anything kills and destroys. Water, the indisputable “fluid of life,” obliterates buildings in storm surges.

The appointees flow, pending approval: Michael Dourson, who endorsed menacing compounds as an industry consultant, would head the EPA’s review of chemicals in agricultural and commercial products; coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler would be the agency’s deputy administrator.

Yesteryear’s alleged federal environmental villains were more indifferent than angry. They slept too late and left work early. Not now. This group arises at the crack of dawn on the wrong side of the bed, furious at our flora and fauna. It’s as if they gulp pots of coffee before driving to work so they can scheme up anti-nature plots. No deer and antelope will play in their backyard and those evil skies will remain cloudy all day. Anyone craving sunshine must be closet Obama lovers – and, remember, we’re getting back at him because of his unforgivable crime: He skewered Trump at that 2011 press club dinner.

Such rage. Such fury. Such vengefulness. Trump nurtures anger like a gardener waters tulips. Can he even begin to understand Philippians 4:11 (“… I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances …”)? Or Proverbs 19:11 (“A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense”)? Or Ephesians 4:31-32 (Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”)? To Trump, forgiveness is a weakness. Resentment is a strength. No wonder why reports circulate of a dour president screaming, “I hate everyone in the White House!.” Cabinet members and staffers reportedly see themselves as the nation’s buffers against a volatile chief executive.

So, again, how do I pray? The author of 1 Timothy implicitly bans curses (we pray “for all people – for kings and all those in authority”). Besides, hostile prayers boomerang. We become what we pray.

But neither can I file acquiescent appeals in which I ask God to bless unholy actions based on lies and nurtured in hysteria, nor can I pray meaningless generalities (“God, smile upon your servant and our president today. Amen.”). Hostile, unholy, and compliant prayers violate the nature of prayer itself.

Perhaps Karl Barth offers a path. The monumental twentieth century theologian wrote, “To clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world.” Jesus himself called for this uprising when he told us to pray, “Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.” Prayer is the agency through which the ways of Heaven usurp Earthly norms. Truth conquers falsehood; love overcomes hate; peace reigns over hostility; forgiveness liberates us of resentment. Genuine prayer spurs subversive healing.

Bearing that in mind, I’ll pray for Heaven’s constructive uprising in this administration. I’ll pray that Trump and his appointees seek the truth, since truth beats at God’s heart (John 14:6: “I am the way and the truth and the life” … John 4:24: “God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in the Spirit and in truth” … Psalm 34:13: “Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from telling lies”). I’ll pray they’ll anchor themselves in love, which lies at God’s essence (1 John 4:8: “God is love”). Forgiveness wells from love, immunizes us against resentment, and frees us to pursue shalom (Psalm 34:14), which is translated as “peace” but conveys much more than the mere absence of conflict.

Even as I pray for the administration, I notice that 1 Timothy 2:1-2 is actually a two-pronged command: We pray for all people as well as our leaders. That’s especially apropos now. A substantial minority voted for Trump despite a campaign rife with misogyny, race-baiting, and obvious lies. Some respond: There were slim pickings in 2016. Perhaps, but the fact remains that throngs still feed off his spite-filled tweets. They buy the fantasy and relish the beat-red face, with supposedly evangelical Christians his most stalwart supporters. Fact is, Trump’s very presidency holds a mirror up to us. We’ve become a nation with a chip on our shoulder, pervaded by a shaking fist and a beat-red face. Just look at all the rage on Facebook and Twitter.

A subversive prayer for national healing can do no harm, so I’ll pray for Heaven’s eruption not only in Washington but in the United States as a whole.

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