The following has been adapted, with permission, from the blog of Sigve Tonstad (originally posted October 7, 2012). Churches of all kinds across the nation are currently engaged in a month-long "journey of prayer" for America, and Dr. Tonstad has chosen to participate in this way. We will be sharing a handful of his prayer blog posts throughout the month of October.
Me: Dear God, please bless the people and the leaders of Georgia.
GOD: I love Georgia. It is full of wonderful memories.
Me: What memories?
GOD: John Wesley, for starters.
Me: What about John Wesley?
GOD: He came to Savannah in 1736, as best I can recall. His brother Charles went there, too. On the way to America John’s boat almost sank. He was very impressed with the Moravians coming over. They were calm while he was anxious. He tried hard to make an impact in Georgia but got discouraged. “I came to Georgia to convert the Indians,” he wrote in his diary, “but who is going to convert me?”
Me: I remember reading that somewhere.
GOD: I am glad you did. You should read more about John Wesley.
Me: I have read many of his diary entries, his forty-four sermons, and the Wesley anthology by Albert C. Outler. I treasure Outler’s book, and I love Charles Wesley’s hymns.
GOD: So do I. I mean Outler’s book about John and Charles’ hymns.
Me: Which one of Charles Wesley’s hymns do you like best?
GOD: I like many, but I like ‘Wrestling Jacob’ the best, all fourteen stanzas. It has the best theology of just about any hymn in existence. It is too bad people are not singing it any more. Many people who attend church year in and year out do not even know that it exists. Nowadays songs tend to be short, repetitive, and frankly quite boring.
Me: I like “Wrestling Jacob,” too. I used to know it by heart. I need to refresh it.
GOD: You can Google it. John Wesley was a great man. Some people say that he was the greatest after the Reformation. In my view, he was the greatest since the apostle Paul.
GOD: He was gifted, highly educated at Oxford, very devoted, tireless in his work, and he loved the poor. You can compare him to his contemporary, Voltaire. Voltaire was very clever, but he looked down on the uneducated and poor. He was really a snob. There is no snobbery in Wesley. England got Wesley, a revival among the poor, and social reform. France got Voltaire and the revolution.
Me: The footprint of Wesley is bigger in America than in England.
GOD: That’s right. Just imagine Emory University in Atlanta. It has Methodist roots and is one of the leading universities in the world.
Me: They also got a lot of money from the Candler family, the founder of the Coca-Cola Company.
GOD: That’s right. I have opinions about how people make money and will be happy to tell you about it later, but the Candlers did well to put money into Emory. Don’t hold that against them.
Me: Is there anything else you like about Georgia?
GOD: Jimmy Carter. I love Jimmy Carter. I love his Sunday school class. I can’t wait to tell him one day, “Well done, you good and faithful servant.” In Jimmy Carter, you get the real thing. He was not converted on the way to Des Moines, like so many politicians are today.
Me: Do you vote Democrat?
GOD: That’s none of your business. I am not registered to vote in America, and I am not talking party politics. I am talking about Jimmy Carter as a person. He is one of very few politicians in my memory who’s actually told the truth rather than served up wishful thinking. He understood the vulnerabilities of globalization and multi-lateralism in the world. I’d love to quote you a sentence or two from his much-reviled speech from July 15, 1979.
Me: I’d love to hear it.
GOD: He said, “In a nation that was proud of hard work, strong families, close-knit communities, and our faith in God, too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns.” Now is that true, or what? It was true then, and it is true now. It wasn’t good politics, I admit, but it was prophetic. Amos said the same thing in Old Testament times. It wasn’t good politics then either.
Me: It did not go over well.
GOD: Things like that never go over well. And Carter was punished unfairly because of a dramatic rise in oil prices at a time when America was importing almost 50% of its oil needs and for the hostage crisis in Iran. He was also punished because he sometimes came across as a bit sanctimonious and because he was wrong on one major point.
Me: Which point?
GOD: He also said this in that July 15 speech, “The people are looking for honest answers, not easy answers; clear leadership, not false claims and evasiveness and politics as usual.” I wish that were true, and I am sure Jimmy Carter wishes it were true, but he was wrong. People prefer false prophets and politicians who do not tell the truth. False prophets score much better in the polls, and false promises often win elections. A few years after Carter urged Americans to curb oil consumption, people were driving around in Hummers like there was no tomorrow.
Me: Aren’t you afraid of risking your reputation by speaking so positively about Carter?
GOD: I have to build my reputation on telling the truth and take a stand with those who do the same. Don’t think that my praise for Carter ends here.
Me: I must not be hearing you right. Did you not promise the land to the descendants of Abraham? Is not this a political dispute that can be settled by the Bible?
GOD: It can, but not in the way you are hinting. People who claim Abraham as their ancestor often fail to act like him. Abraham said to his nephew that if you go right, I'll go left. He understood the limitations of earthly territory. In the end, "he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose builder and maker is God." This gets me back to Charles Wesley and "Wrestling Jacob." "Israel" in the Bible is not primarily about land but about the discovery of the kind of person I am.
Me: Aren’t we getting off the subject? I am praying for Georgia.
GOD: And I am trying to put the record straight with regard to a great man from Plains, Georgia. Don’t think that my praise ends here even though I am not getting into his humanitarian work or the Nobel Peace Prize.
Me: But there is still more?
GOD: Yes, Carter left the Southern Baptist Convention over its drift to the right in politics and its treatment of women. He said that he was not leaving the church but that the church left him. He was right about that, and more right about it than many who are praying for America. When changes that big happen, it makes me think about Gone with the Wind.
Sigve Tonstad is Assistant Professor in the School of Medicine and Associate Professor in the School of Religion at Loma Linda University.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/4818