That Little Splinter
December 11, 2010

I’ve posted several short videos of my time in Haiti, with all of them simply showing some of the things I experienced. Like helping paint a school. Visiting a jungle market. “Suffering” on one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen. Visiting a nursing home. A sampling of lovely Haitian singing. But until now I just haven’t wanted to wade through my Port au Prince footage.

You’re probably tired of hearing of my trip to Haiti, but this one little part has been holding me back from really continuing with other non-related posts. It just seemed so trite to post my thoughts on what I feel is wrong or right with religion, or what’s hard in my life, when issues of survival plague much of the rest of the world.

And especially since beautiful, precious people just a short flight away are gasping for life amidst a sea of destruction, poverty, and preventable disease. It’s just hard to continue life as usual with my petty philosophical complaints. At least I have a relatively safe, comfortable home in which to ponder such things, and basic resources that make it possible for me to spend time on things other than survival, and technology that keeps me in touch with the rest of the world.

But anyway, I’ve finally managed to put something together that sort of communicates the frustration I still feel with the whole Haitian situation. The sadness, confusion, and anger I felt when returning back to the states. And this video says it far more concisely than I could in text. Enjoy…  (You’ll have to click “Watch on YouTube” because of copyright issues, but it’ll play.)

One of the reasons this issue has held me back in recent months is because my footage from Port au Prince was quite different than the other footage. Port was our welcome sign to Haiti. It was the very first punch in the gut that sent my soul spinning, and it’s been spinning until now.

You see, my time in the remote jungle was in some barely perceptible way (and I say this carefully) cushioned by certain things. Even though the people of the remote parts of Haiti have even less materially in many ways than those in the big city of Port au Prince — at least Port has electricity, for instance, and stores and such, while the villages have absolutely none of that — I experienced an element of friendship that I developed with the locals and the wonderful missionary couple who care so deeply for the people. I was able to share in the joys of language-inhibited conversation, when universal nonverbal messages, like smiles, are perfectly understood. So there was that social element that helped me sink into the life there instead of just reflecting on it.

And then there was the scenery of the jungle. Even though nearly all wildlife is extinct in Haiti, at least there were pretty trees and green mountains to appreciate. They helped soften the hardness of the life there. Seeing people hand-plow a meadow surrounded by banana trees , flanked by a river and guarded by mountains, gave me some sort of relative peace.

But there are no trees in Port au Prince. Not many anyway. There are no emerald mountains or plantations. Almost all have been raped and everything is brown. Or gray. Mostly gray because of the cement everywhere. Crumbled cement. Dust. And smoke from burning trash. Diesel smoke from trucks and bulldozers with their near-futile attempts at cleaning up debris. Gray with spots of blue and white all over the place. The tents. And except for the neon colors of brightly painted walls (the ones that are still standing), which reflect the still-vibrant spirit of indestructible Haitian culture, everything else is gray or brown.

And so it has taken me months to gain the distance I needed to approach my scant Port au Prince footage with some semblance of objectivity. I believe my emotions still come across in the video I created, but believe me, what’s there is FAR more tame than the thoughts I would have expressed earlier.

With that in mind, I hope you’ll forgive me for posting yet another reflection on my time in Haiti. I just had to detour once more from my usual postings to address what has been a splinter under my existential fingernail. I’ve just not had the emotional or intellectual capacity to post on other things, so that’s one reason why my posts have been sparse in recent months. Thank you for understanding.

And if you would, please take a brief pause to send positive vibes toward our brothers and sisters in Haiti. They could use it right now.

Three Lives, Part 3: Oral Roberts (really?)
January 9, 2010

Oral with Elvis

It had been more than a decade since I last laid foot on the Oral Roberts University campus. I drove to Tulsa to visit some old friends, and while I was there I’d stop by the ORU library to return some *slightly* overdue books — 13 years overdue to be exact. As soon as I got into town I went straight to the library, dropped the books in the return slot in one stealth move and quickly shuffled off to wander around campus.  I made my way to Christ Chapel, where odd things like this frequently occurred (quite interesting from 3:45-5:00) —

And I was in Christ Chapel when other thing like this messed with me:

It was in Christ Chapel that I experienced a variety of moments that totally confused me, caused me to lose faith and feel spiritually inadequate, and even some moments of peace, so to say the place caused great tension in my life is an understatement. Christ Chapel at ORU was the birthplace of my doubt.

So as I sauntered up to the back doors of the chapel, I felt the tension coming back. I had grown and changed a lot since I was last there, but still the confused feelings from my college days flooded my mind. I paused at the 15-feet-tall doors and accepted the fact that they would probably be locked because it was summer and the campus was nearly empty. But something compelled me to grab the massive handle and tug on one door. It was unlocked. I pulled the door open just a crack and….

This is a weird piece to write because my thoughts are so conflicted. Let’s get back to Oral for a second. (If you’re not familiar with him, this 2-minute vid summarizes his controversial life and you can read how he’s relevant to my blog in my Definitions page under “Charismatic.”) It’s well-known that Oral was no stranger to controversy, and it’s no stretch to say he was narcissistic. It seems to me his ministry started out with sincere and loving intentions and a passion for helping people, but as he grew in popularity I think yes-men surrounded him, his ego swelled, and although his ministry impacted the world (for good or bad) his own world apparently included few more than himself. One notorious 1988 occasion had him locking himself in his Prayer Tower, which was sort of the epicenter of the campus and his ministry, and telling the world that God would kill him unless he raised millions of dollars (which he did).

Oral was one of if not the original televangelist, one of the first “faith-healers,” one of the fathers of the “prosperity gospel,” and the first person to effectively bring Pentecostalism beyond the realm of toothless Appalachian snake-handlers and into mainstream consciousness. He hosted people like Elvis, multiple presidents including JFK, and other mainstream celebrities on his show and on campus, and he garnered respect from thousands for his devotion to his God. From my experience, while he was definitely in his own wacky world, he apparently cared deeply about people and genuinely wanted to make the world a better place than what he found it. He wanted people to get relief from the poverty and sickness that he experienced growing up.

And he was determined as a jackass. How else could one man believe so deeply that he heard God tell him to build a university to educate men and women to positively impact the world…and then actually build it. (By the way, ORU is not just a seminary or place for training preachers; it’s a full university and Oral wanted desperately to see its medical school and cancer research center succeed.)

So when I was walking the halls of campus last summer, when I looked around and saw all those Jetsons-looking buildings, it was obvious that this empire of sorts was built by a visionary. And then I re-read the vision statement that was inscribed all over the place: “Build Me a university. Build it on My authority and on the Holy Spirit. Raise up your students to hear My voice, to go where My light is seen dim, My voice is heard small, and My healing power is not known, even to the uttermost bounds of the earth. Their work will exceed yours, and in this I am well pleased.” — That was what Oral believed he had heard straight from God’s mouth. I don’t know if he actually heard from God or whether he was a fraud, maybe a bit of both, but it’s apparent that he had good intentions and otherworldly motivation. He wanted to help the world. To be sure, he messed up some people, but he also helped some too.

So to see videos and posts throughout the web with people saying how terrible a person he was and such, while I don’t disagree with all of them, it makes me wonder what makes us think that we’re any better than him. We’re all fucked up. We all have our narcissistic days (whether we admit it or not). True, all of us don’t have the hearts and minds of thousands hanging onto our every word, but if I did, I bet I’d go a little crazy too. Regardless, even if he was a little off, he drove his ministry like a man who had, in fact, been somehow in touch with something beyond us, boldly making actions he knew no one would understand. This is why to some he is a prophet and to others he is a devil. To me? I have no idea what to say because all my experiences with him, his ministry, his family, and his university are filled with tension. Which brings me back to that summer day as I was about to open the doors to Christ Chapel:

Those memories came flooding back as I pulled the handle. Memories of some of the most confusing times in my life, the feelings of spiritual inadequacy because I couldn’t hear from God like others; I couldn’t feel God’s presence like others; I couldn’t believe what the Bible said, and I didn’t know how to pray. So I hated this place. Oral Roberts and his university were a scam. …And I felt the tension coming back….I pulled the door open just a crack and out came an incredibly peaceful sound. A welcoming sound of a single person calmly playing the piano in an empty chapel, and the sound of a vacuum cleaner. I opened the door wide and stepped inside. I felt welcomed by a special presence. I was surprised by how peaceful I felt. This did not sit well because it did not justify my angst. I felt like the place was just there, like a blank canvas waiting for whomever to do whatever they felt they needed to do to find peace. It had no judgments against me. And so I realized that maybe I was the one carrying the judgments, choosing to hold onto the confusion and restlessness. It wasn’t all Oral’s fault.

There is more to this story and it’s a long one. So I’ll end it here for now. I just have to say that I think Oral Roberts was one jacked-up mofo, and so is his son and his university. But he was also a human who tried to do good the best he knew how. He made it possible for me to get a degree because his university was the only type of school my parents would pay for. His ministry gave me insight into a segment of our society that is still often misunderstood, but a segment that nonetheless believes in something. Even though I cannot believe the same things Oral Roberts and the subculture he created believe in, you’ve got to give kudos to the guy at least for being true to what he thought was the direction he should go, at least he tried to do something positive with his life, which is more than many of us can say. And for that I can say, without any ill feelings, rest in peace, Oral Roberts.