Saturday, January 7, 2017

Words of Light In Dark Times: An Interview with Dr. Soong-Chan Rah

I have a special treat for readers this week.  I am privileged to be able to present to you an audio interview which I conducted with Dr. Soong-Chan Rah, a Christian, theologian, and seminary professor who has applied systems thinking to the issues facing America and other First World societies, and to the response of the Christian Church to these present challenges. 

To access the interview, click here.  Then click on the speaker icon.

I have mentioned Dr. Rah in several previous posts.  Dr. Rah is the author of four published books: The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing The Church from Western Cultural Captivity, Many Colors: Cultural Intelligence for a Changing Church, Prophetic Lament: A Call for Justice In Troubled Times., and Return to Justice: Six Movements That Reignited Our Contemporary Evangelical Conscience.  He also has an additional book which is about to go to press, which he mentions toward the end of the interview.

In the interview we briefly cover the reality of the hard ecological and economic limits now being faced by the industrialized world.  Then we begin to ask how the United States and the Global North in general have responded to these limits, focusing particularly on the response of the mainstream American church to an age of limits.  We discuss the pathology that arises in people who have enjoyed unjust privileges for a long time, and how that pathology is triggered when those privileges begin to run out.  I also ask Dr. Rah what Scripture passages he has been referring to in order to understand these days.

From there we discuss how real Christians should pray in these days, and how to avoid being sidetracked by searching for easy, yet false answers in our prayers.

Lastly, we ask what real Christians should do in these days.  And we briefly discuss the role of nonviolent struggle in our response.

About the audio: you will also get to witness (or more accurately, hear) my rather thumb-fingered approach to audio technology.  So you will hear that the audio actually begins in the middle of my introduction to Dr. Rah, and the presentation of my first question to him.  I tried fixing this by recording a new introduction, then I tried downloading some free and open source audio editing software to splice the new intro onto the main body of the interview.  After a rather long bit of frustration, I became convinced that I did well to avoid a career in TV or radio!  However, I can type (most of the time).  So I will give you the text of my first question, so that you may have a more complete picture of the interview.  Here is the text:

"These days are a time of confusion and distress for many people who had hoped that by the end of 2016, the people running things in our world might have moved in a more equitable direction than that which they have taken.  Many of us might be struggling to correctly understand these days, and may need help in our understanding, so that we can plot a right course of action.  In order to help us in our understanding, I am interviewing Dr. Rah, and will be asking him several questions under three general categories:
  • How to Look At These Days
  • How to Pray In These Days
  • What To Do In These Days
"My first question is as follows: on an economic and ecological level, the industrialized world has begun to run into hard limits, as the resources needed to expand or even to maintain the global industrial economy have begun to dry up.  Individuals and societies can respond to this reality in many ways and on many levels.  How would you characterize the response of the United States so far?"


CZBZ said...

Thanks for sharing your conversation with Dr. Rah. He made several significant points worth thinking about (I am unfamiliar with his work and do not subscribe to a particular creed anymore, although raised in a Christian church). The story of Jesus continues to influence my life and I always appreciate a Christian perspective, especially one that emphasizes non-violence and submission. Two challenging notions in a changing society seeking control and domination as solutions to our discomfort, uncertainty and unease.

One point that was particularly lovely to hear was Dr. Rah's reference to immigration as the "work of God". We are challenging our fear and prejudices when we go against the grain (which appears to be a growing prejudice/hatred of immigrants). I believe spiritual work requires discomfort on some level and if I'm not being challenged in some way, it's ego or self-delusion, not spiritual work. My heart has sunk to new levels of low in our recent election as people I admired as "good Christians" were vehemently against immigration---choosing a scapegoat for their fears rather than confronting themselves. The idea that immigration is the work of God might be (if I may inject my interpretation), an opportunity for self-awareness, a method of self-correction when our fears and prejudices are allowed to rise to the surface of consciousness. This "work of God" might be a method for discerning self-deception/lies if we insist we are Christians while scapegoating others. It's tempting to lie to ourselves by insisting we're following Jesus. It boggles the mind how easily we lie to ourselves, unwilling to question our contradictory behavior and beliefs!

Another comment in your conversation struck a chord---that Patriotism must be secondary/subservient to the Christian identity. When we love our country and we love God, it's easy to get this relationship backwards. Extreme patriotism (such as media propaganda promotes) leads to a seductive belief in "american exceptionalism"; in other words, self-grandiosity.

And finally, one word about God-As-Vending-Machine: ha! I have felt for several years that asking God for what "we want" is narcissistic. 12-step groups make this same point by suggesting we tell God "our plan." I would never have asked for the obstacles in my life, nor the losses and miseries and yet, those are the moments offering liberation from narcissism (control and power). So I think I understand what Dr. Rah is suggesting, but it is, to me, a more mature approach than kneeling in prayer with our childish wishlist.

Pray for strength to endure, for wisdom to accept, for courage to stand; and leave the specifics to God 'cuz we don't really know what we need.

Those are a few of my thoughts anyway. I don't pretend to be well-educated in Christian theology but I know what motivates my heart and has guided me throughout my life.

Thank you! I really appreciated listening to this conversation today.


TH in SoC said...

Thanks very much for your readership, CZ! I am glad that you enjoyed that interview. I am trying to line up more interviews over the next month or so. (It's so easy to let other people do the talking sometimes ;) )