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Nate Kerr on Haiti: Prayer, Solidarity, and Revolt

Nate Kerr has a new article up at The Other Journal responding to the issue in Haiti, and particularly underscoring the theological importance of prayer and solidarity in relation to such events of radical suffering. Its definitely worth reading. Here’s just one quote:

At the heart of all Christian prayer is the cry “Thy kingdom come!” It is with this cry that we move out into the action that speaks to God by waiting upon the free coming of God. It is with this cry that we speak to and for the coming again of Christ—that decisive action of God by which the powers and principalities of this world are to be subverted and creation is to be opened anew to its revolutionary transformation into new life. In prayer, we come to participate in this revolutionary transformation. Thus, Barth says, the action to which Christians are called by Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit is a specific kind of revolt. Specifically, the Christian prays in “revolt against all the oppression and suppression of humans by the lordship of the lordless powers,” against those powers that have gained their lordship by virtue of their refusal of humanity’s and creation’s relationship to God. At the same time, the Christian prayer of revolt is rooted in an equally specific kind of hope. The Christian acts against the lordship of the lordless powers not so as to win her own freedom from their rule (as if by some equally autonomous power), but rather in the recognition that she has been implicated in a struggle that refuses their rule as false and illusory, in recognition that she has already been liberated from their rule in the original revolution of Christ’s cross and resurrection. For Christians to cry, “Thy kingdom come!” in revolt against the lordless powers is to act “in the sphere of freedom” from the powers which “is already given to them here and now on this side of the fulfillment of the prayer.” Prayer, Barth is saying, should make revolutionaries of us all. Indeed, what kind of an invocation of God’s kingdom would it be if it did not testify through specific ways of working and living and loving to the path through and out from under the lordless powers—cosmic, political, and religious alike—that enslave the powerless poor by presuming to deny the resurrection of the crucified?


  1. Brad A. wrote:

    Good stuff!

    Thursday, February 18, 2010 at 8:53 am | Permalink
  2. dbarber wrote:

    And let’s not forget J Carter’s piece, which i quote:

    “At a minimum, coming to grips with this tragedy [...] will require hating—and changing!—the social factors that make for uneven development in the “shattering of living souls.” Moreover, it will require that we reckon with the spatial dimensions of the shattering of souls through uneven development. It will require investigating why this shattering tends to run along a North–South and an East–West divide. For the geo-spatial division is nothing less than division within the human. It is a split, as theorist Paul Gilroy has put it in his book Against Race, between the human and the infra-human.7 Christian leaders first drew these lines of spatial division and thus hierarchically divided up the human.”

    Emphasizing that last sentence, it’s worth asking whether Carter’s piece complements or contradicts Kerr’s piece, particularly the claim: “the Christian prays in “revolt against all the oppression and suppression of humans by the lordship of the lordless powers,” against those powers that have gained their lordship by virtue of their refusal of humanity’s and creation’s relationship to God” It’s not clear to me how the politics of such prayer resists the Christian politics that defined the space described by Carter.

    Thursday, February 18, 2010 at 12:22 pm | Permalink
  3. Halden wrote:

    Dan, the paragraph immediately following the one I quoted from Nate fundamentally agrees, to my reading, with Carter’s vital point:

    “And yet, we must be clear: such prayer, such living and working and loving, is born out of, not apart from, the crucible of lived solidarity with those victims who have been rendered powerless by these lordless powers. Whatever else we might say about the geological causes and the religious significance of the January 12 earthquake, surely we must resist any interpretation of this event—either as mere cosmic chance or as the outworking of some inscrutable divine will—that refuses ways of living and working with the Haitian that affirm again the goodness of creation. It may be groaning in enslavement to powers hostile to God, but creation is nevertheless there to be received anew as gift and sign of God’s coming new creation. Whatever else we might say about the impoverished working conditions, crippled health-care system, and gross economic oppression of the Haitian people that this tragic event has made all the more apparent, surely we must resist any benevolent posturing that presumes to offer economic and medical aid while leaving these exploitative structures in place. Whatever else we might say about the covert political alliances that have suppressed Haitian democracy, limited Haitian immigration to the United States, and curtailed Haitian economic “growth” for the sake of the increased wealth of the Western international superpowers, surely we must resist any sloganeering cries for equal rights and economic development that leave unchallenged the hegemonic politics of the West whose ideology creates the very space for such sloganeering.”

    As far as I can see the “politics of prayer” that Nate advocates is one that is born precisely out of an embodied life of solidarity and resistance against exactly the dynamic that Carter so rightly describes.

    Thursday, February 18, 2010 at 1:51 pm | Permalink
  4. dbarber wrote:

    Yes, no doubt. I had in mind the perhaps more minute point that the Carter piece makes explicit that it was Christian theological discourse that produced the colonial spaces which caused such suffering in Haiti. This, at least from my perspecitve, is absolutely central to any sort of “theological” account of this situation.

    Thursday, February 18, 2010 at 6:03 pm | Permalink
  5. Nate Kerr wrote:


    I cannot even imagine arguing with this point at all. Carter’s piece is theologically incisive and penetrating in its analysis of the social and religious history in ways that my piece is not and was not necessarily meant to be. And it speaks a word into this tragic situation that we must indeed be given ears to hear. If there is to be anything at all of my little reflection on praying with the Haitians, then the Christian colonial discourse that Carter so explicity identifies and adeptly analyzes must certainly be counted first amond those “religious” and “political” lordless powers that constitute the “hegemonic politics of the West” of which I am meaning to speak against (and which I hear the Haitian victims crying out against). And what I say about “Christian prayer,” if there is anything to that at all, must be something of a way of entering into that “Christian social imagination committed to and lodged within the incarnation of God in the flesh” of which Carter so eloquently speaks. That is to say, I would hope I’d be the first to say that my piece is to be disavowed if it is to be denied that Carter’s piece is necessarily complementary to it, or even furthere, that his “Christologically flipped” script, in which the Haitians “become missionaries to us,” is not itself the very script that determines the shape of the prayer of which I am struggling to speak — so that genuine Chrisitian prayer in this case only arises out of that lived solidarity with the Haitians by which we are converted from that Christian colonial discourse in a manner that works with the Haitians in revolt against it.

    Thursday, February 18, 2010 at 10:50 pm | Permalink
  6. myles wrote:

    Excellent reflections. Thanks.

    Saturday, February 20, 2010 at 5:06 am | Permalink

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