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By Nathan Bierma


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THE THEOLOGY OF HURRICANE AVOIDANCE

Is it theologically sound to ask God to divert a hurricane? The question was understandably on the mind of syndicated religion columnist Terry Mattingly in West Palm Beach as he packed up in preparation for Hurricane Frances ("I saved stacks of class outlines and left textbooks. … I saved my guitar and an oil painting of the great lion Aslan from the Chronicles of Narnia," he writes). After you pack, "you are supposed to pray," Mattingly says. But for what? "Should believers pull a Pat Robertson and try to steer the storm toward some other target more worthy of God's wrath? Is it realistic to pray that every storm will veer into the open Atlantic? Many simply pray for God's will to be done—period."

After vacating the area, Mattingly e-mailed some religious leaders with these questions. "I don't think you can hold that God never sends the storm—the witness of scripture seems to forbid that," replied Father Joseph Wilson from Whitestone, New York. "In classical Christian theology it is not necessarily the active will of God, which sends the storm, although it may be. But the permissive will of God is involved, since He is permitting it."

Mattingly surveys various pre-storm religious rituals. One of Roman Catholicism's "Masses for Various Needs" is a "Procession for Averting Tempest," including a prayer that begins, "Almighty and ever living God, spare us in our anxiety and take pity on us in our abasement, so that after the lightning in the skies and the force of the storm have calmed, even the very threat of tempest may be an occasion for us to offer You praise."

Protestant pre-storm rituals are rarer; one Evangelical Lutheran Church in America liturgy includes a litany that intones, "In the face of mighty winds, thunderous sounds, strong rains, and surging waves, let us pray. … In the face of complete uncertainty, as well as concern for our loved ones, here or elsewhere, let us pray. … In the face of our own vulnerable mortality, let us pray to the Lord."

One priest and author of meditations on the Psalms, whose son's family was in Frances' path, advises to "pray simply for deliverance, for yourself and for others," adding that "during storms … I am particularly drawn toward Psalms 18 and 29, because both of them describe the experience of a storm, with all the wind, thunder (the 'Voice of the Lord'), lightning and so forth." The prayers of the Psalmist "range from stark fear to exuberant praise," Mattingly says. "In them, storms are common—a normal challenge of life in biblical lands."

Related:
Post-hurricane needs suspend pre-hurricane sense of self-reliance, from ByFaithOnline.com
Predicting the path of hurricanes,* from the New York Times

PLACES & CULTURE

From the New York Times :

NGOGO, South Africa* — The corn on Casparus Joubert's farm is as high as an elephant's eye, or would be, were any elephants around. There aren't—yet. But it is not out of the realm of possibility. … Mr. Joubert and his brother Thys control more than 12,000 acres in KwaZulu/Natal Province, acquired over the last decade, some of the finest farmland in South Africa. These days, however, the richest harvest here is not corn but foreigners who thirst for the African wildlife experience and do not mind paying to get it. So the Jouberts plan to give up on farming altogether, and stake their savings to transform their stand into an upscale game reserve. … The Jouberts are part of what seems an unstoppable trend, spurred by South Africa's emergence from apartheid into an acceptable, even desirable stop for wealthy tourists

From the Christian Science Monitor:

WASHINGTON — When Salvadoran immigrant Vilma Norberta needs a pound of ground beef, she drops by her local Giant supermarket in northern Virginia. But when she wants some tamarind fruit to make a refreshing beverage on a summer evening, Ms. Norberta heads to a local bodega, one of the hundreds of small Latino markets that dot the suburbs of Washington. … But Norberta's shopping options for her favorite native products could soon expand. Increasingly, large supermarket chains are pushing aside the apples and bananas to make room for exotic products such as tomatillos (compact green tomatolike vegetables in papery husks) and jicama (large brownish tubers covered with spiky hair) as they aim to attract the growing Hispanic middle class.

WEEKLY DIGEST

  • It may not be a matter of doctrine, exactly, but this Dutch Calvinist was raised with a faith in savings—an affinity for deals or discounts on consumer goods as a matter of thrift as well as stewardship. But a reflection at ByFaithOnline.com (the Presbyterian Church in America's online magazine) challenges the credo that "the lowest price always represents the best purchase." After a lengthy preamble about the necessity of discerning questions of social justice, Denis Haack challenges Christians to examine the economic practices of Wal-Mart, which "has a clear policy for suppliers: On basic products that don't change, the price Wal-Mart will pay, and will charge shoppers, must drop year after year." This, he says, causes "makers of everything from bras to bicycles to blue jeans have had to lay off employees and close U.S. plants in favor of outsourcing products from overseas." And it raises the question for conscientious Christians: "is it possible for low prices to come at too high a cost in social justice?" Article
    Related:Small towns and free trade, from Comment
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