Prayer, Plain and Simple

General Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. commander and strategist of the Afghan war, is at this moment headed to the White House, resignation at hand to meet with President Barack Obama. McChrystal recently mocked and disparaged the President and his national security team in a Rolling Stone interview. He has apologized and today he’s expected to offer his resignation.

Whether Obama accepts it, or simply scolds him and sends him back to work is something we’ll learn before noon today. What remains is the dire situation in Afghanistan – the war is not going well for the Americans. The Afghan government with U.S. support is waging a major and at the moment tenuous military operation against Taliban strongholds in the south of the nation. Analysts are predicting that the U.S. will lose more troops this month than they have in any month of the long war. Afghan officials said Wednesday that firing Gen. Stanley McChrystal would disrupt progress in the war and urged the White House to keep him in his role.

Stupid judgments, pride and wounded egos aside, the ongoing crisis in Afghanistan is a challenge of unfathomable proportion. In fact, it’s a mess beyond the bounds of human resolution. The nation at war needs a miracle. Let’s pray for that…

“God, bless Afghanistan. Bring an end to this horrible war. We thank you for all those who have fought to bring freedom to this torn nation. We pray today for U.S. and Afghan soldiers battling today in the south of the country. We boldly ask that you would work with and through them defeat the brutal and oppressive Taliban. We know that you take sides for justice and truth and against wickedness and terror. Give our leaders from the highest levels down to the rank and file wisdom today to make wise and productive decisions. Resolve this conflict between the President and his general, and do so without jeopardizing the outcome of the battle and the war. This is a mess beyond our capacity. We humbly ask you to lift your hand of strength and act on behalf of goodness. In Jesus name…”

Today, June 21, 2010 is summer solstice, the first day of summer, the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, and of course then, the shortest night. From this day forward until December 23rd, the winter solstice, the days will get shorter and the nights longer.

Pagans (now neo-pagans) have always given this day a special significance. Their religion is rooted in the cycles of nature. Things come and things go; they rise and fall; ebb and flow. Today neo-pagan nature/earth worshippers gather in various “sacred” spaces on the planet to celebrate their reverence for nature. Solstice is both the peak and the tipping point of vibrant life in nature. At the ultimate moment of life and warmth, we’re reminded that nature will now take its turn and move us back toward death and darkness. That’s the “truth” of nature that pagans celebrate…

As a Christian I understand the pagan focus. I respect nature, but I do not worship her. While I admit the cycles of life – hey, I live in Minnesota and summer and winter, spring and autumn are a big deal for us – I cannot revere them. I am part of nature, yet at the same time I stand above it.

Christian faith admits nature’s power but then faces down this real world and the cycles of life, death, and rebirth, by breaking the pattern in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. We’re audacious enough to defy the cycles with faith in the final and permanent rebirth of a real human being, also God himself. Pagans have always found our faith distasteful, and accused us of denying reality. Fantasy, some have called it. But as Christians we reply that our faith is not too good to be true, it’s too good not to be true. We do not concede to nature; we rise above it, eternally, into a realm of life above and beyond the bounds of the laws of this universe. We go there with Jesus, our Lord, who historically, actually, finally defeated death in a real time and place and this earth. Then he gives us access to his triumph not because we are better than anyone but because Jesus himself is better, and generous to include us in his own virtue.  

I’ll enjoy the long day today. I’m relish the warmth and sunlight. I’ll feel good, even as the inevitable decline back toward winter begins. But I will not concede that this is all in all. I will look forward in my faith in Jesus to pattern-breaking life forever with and in Him! It begins even now in me, the seed of eternity starts to grow here and now, one day to be completed and finally realized. Summer Solstice, well and good; but it’s not sacred to me because it’s not final, it’s not sovereign, it’s not the last word. The last word is JESUS, who is making a world where light will never fail or fade!

“Jesus, thank you for Summer. Thank you for light and warmth. Thank you for the sun. Thank you too that while we can appreciate the gifts of nature, we are not subject to living our lives within the limits of cycles and seasons. We can rise above and beyond all natural limits by faith in you. Today, give us that grace again, to see you as the Creator of creation and the One who lifts us up to be with you forever, even now. In Jesus!”

It’s Father’s Day. Bittersweet. My father died a little over two years ago. I miss him. I miss him today. But his absence has given me more appreciation for the gifts he gave me. My father was a great man. Dennis Prager says, “The famous are rarely significant; the significant are rarely famous.” So true of my father.

My father gave me many things: my love for baseball, my love of homemade ice cream, my love of nature, my curiosity about people. But his greatest gift to me was a desire for and a deeply embedded trust in God. My father taught me to pray. Here’s a story from my book, “The Karma of Jesus” relaying one way that connecting to my father helped connect me to my Father-God.

How does trust in God come? How had I learned that a Personal God did not have to terrify me?

The dense smell of fresh blood filled my memory. I was almost four years-old, the age I started shaving with my father and I stood in a garage watching my father and his friends butcher and wrap the fresh venison they had just harvested. I remember it like yesterday.

Ten days before my father had gone deer hunting in Utah. All week the weather had been hot and the hunting poor. After six days not one member of the hunting party had even seen a deer.  The last day my father traveled to town and phoned my mother to tell her he would be starting home the following afternoon. She then informed him that I had prayed that he would come home with two bucks. He chuckled, and told her to prepare me for disappointment.

But the next morning a cold front blew down from the Cascade Mountains to the west. While shivering atop a ridge covered with sage and juniper my father spotted a large buck. He pulled up his 30-06 and shot. 30 seconds later a second bounded through the brush… Two more shots. Two bucks felled.

As a child I accepted the connection: I prayed; something happened. God heard. God changed things. I mattered.

Too good to be true? Too simple? Not if everything is personal, not if the Person behind the Personal keeps his word. Today the antlers of those two deer hang in the office where I am writing the words of this chapter on them hang the basis of my entire life.

A line of fast-moving storms hit Chicago today with hurricane force winds. The system, which yesterday produced dozens of tornados in Minnesota – and three known fatalities – blew into the Windy City with equal torrential force.  The line of storms, organized as a ‘bow echo’ on radar, blasted Chicago Land with a wide swath of 55 miles per hour gusts.

“God, we pray for all those in the path and the wake of these powerful storms in the Upper Midwest. Comfort those in Minnesota who suffered from this blast of violent weather yesterday. Particularly bless those in the town of Wadena, where much of the city was damaged or destroyed. As the storm moves Eastward, give individuals prudence and wisdom to keep themselves and their loved ones safe. Give officials sound judgment. And, yes, we go so far as to pray, as Jesus has before us, ‘Peace, storm, be still!’ We pray this all in Jesus’ own name…”