Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Faith Works 9-10-05
Jeff Gill

A Stitch in Time

Louis Armstrong Airport, the gateway from above for New Orleans. I once did a number of clergy spiritual life retreats down in those parts, and remember an airy, well-lit, but cramped terminal with plenty of the usual terrazzo and tile, but not enough room to maneuver when just two planes came in at the same time.
Now the airport is a giant triage ward, the staging area for amazing numbers of helicopters and outbound planes evacuating people who just minutes before had been clinging to chimneys, staring down into dark waters. Some, many of them said they hadn’t been on a plane before. Now they were above the flood, but heading into the surge of uncertainty: where they are going, and when (or if) they will return.
That kind of social and personal dislocation, more than the material losses, is what church groups of all faiths and denominations are well situated to handle. Granted, most congregations are, like the local and state governments it turns out, better at fires and bankruptcies and narrower swaths of loss.
But the very thing that a new job or a new set of clothes or even a new house can’t deal with is what faith communities know they have to be to talk about. What just happened to me? Am I going to be OK? Where is my future heading? Does anyone care about my kids, my grandkids?
Plenty of religious leaders have already taken on the sheer fact of Katrina, the killer hurricane itself; we talk about why God would allow such evil, natural or out of human hearts as we saw in the storm’s wake, and what kind of cosmos we’re living in, anyhow. Our answers may not be entirely satisfying, but we establish early on, along with our fellow sufferer Job, that it is absolutely all right to ask "Why?"
For the shock of dislocation (break that word down, and think about it the next time you use it), a sense of place is re-established when worshipers gather on a scoured concrete pad, marked by one lone altar rail, and re-invoke sacred space. It also is established when people arrive somewhere for the first time, and see religious symbols or hear familiar words of hope, and against all expectations start to feel at home.
And then we add the sacks of crisp, clean shirts, bins full of shoes, and most miraculously of all, a hand reaching out with a duplicate set of house keys, saying "Welcome to our home."
We send our money, and a fortunate few represent us in truck cabs or behind chain saws down in the heart of former darkness. Our contributions do make a difference, not so much on a tote board to reach a fiscal goal, but as parts of a rewoven social fabric that got blown into shreds. The southern border of our national quilt got torn, but none of us is so far away as to not be able to hold fast, balance the frame, while hands closer to the task tack the edges back together.
There will be plenty of finishing work as we go along.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; send your tales of relief and recovery to disciple@voyager.net.

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Notes From My Knapsack 9-11-05
Jeff Gill

9-11, Again

A national disaster, catching us all unawares, but looking almost obvious in retrospect.
There will be plenty (plenty!) of time for recriminations in the interminable hearings and investigations to come. I hope the necessary autopsy work doesn’t too quickly overshadow the absolutely amazing job the United States Coast Guard, US Navy, and Marine Corps has done all along the Gulf Coast and into the heart of New Orleans.
Something like 10,000 people were picked off of rooftops and out of trees by helicopter by those folks, with over 6,000 flight operations starting when Hurricane Katrina’s winds dropped to 45 mph. 45 mph? I don’t want to be on a 747 in 45 mph winds, let alone a helo hovering over snaggled tree limbs and (mostly) dead electrical wires.
So we know someone was set and ready to go, and many lives in danger were saved. More could and should have been, and we’ll all get to talk about that.
We should also not forget to tell each other the tales of relief and restoration that our own citizens will be involved in; I know some made it down to Memphis and Jackson MS in the last weekend, and their stories and our opportunities for being involved in the long struggle ahead shouldn’t be forgotten. I promise to have some of those bits and pieces of good news out of the heart of darkness very soon; but . . .
Call me Little Mary Sunshine, but I want to take our central Ohio attention into the eye of that storm again, or rather, our own storm to come.
Yep, tornadoes pass through here from time to time. And I recall helping heave sodden furniture out of homes in Marne not all that long ago (OK, 15 years, but still). But does anyone remember 1811?
The New Madrid, Missouri earthquakes took place over three months, ending only in February of 1812, and shook buildings as far away as Washington DC where it is said to have broken windows in the White House. The Mississippi River actually flowed backwards for a time. Hundred were killed, and thousands were left homeless in the dead of winter.
Geoscientists say we’re overdue for another quake across the center of the US.
So while this is all fresh on our mind, can we ask ourselves: if we were to a new New Madrid disaster like Jackson MS is to this one, how would we handle it? Are we ready?
Or tighten the focus knob down a little more, while this is a topic of conversation. Does your church, your activity group, wherever you hang out with numbers of others, have a plan for what to do and who does it when there’s a medical emergency? If someone grabs their chest and slumps to the floor, are there some folks who know what to do in that particular place?
And to click down to the smallest level: when you go into a public place, do you look around for where the exits are? At home, does your family have an escape plan if the steps are on fire; a meeting place outside to count heads? How are your flashlight batteries these days? Got spares? Do they work in the radio; you know, the emergency radio you keep handy for a major power outage? Next to the first aid kit, right?
The end of year ice storm helped many in Licking County realize that even in our tidy pocket of the Midwest, where tornadoes are relatively infrequent, hurricanes are downgraded hundreds of miles before they rain on us, and most nasty flooding is closer to the Ohio River – disaster that lasts days and weeks can hit us here, too.
But have we translated that closer awareness into a plan, a preparedness for action? Let’s not wait to blame some higher authority for not doing our part. Make sure that you, your home, your organizations have their disaster plan in place; when we do that, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to put together our response plan for housing half of St. Louis one of these days.
There, you feel better now, don’tcha?

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; send your tales of relief and recovery to disciple@voyager.net.