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Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Taking in a hurricane.

Reading the newspaper this morning, and more thoroughly again at lunch, and then reading online news accounts throughout the day brought me a sense of increasing astonishment at Hurricane Katrina's scale. Abandoning a city of half a million people is mind-boggling in itself; the mayor's comment that thousands may have died in the flooding is horrible to ponder.

Unitarian Universalists will want to take a look at's first round of news coverage, which went up tonight. The Community Church in New Orleans is in the submerged West End, where the 17th Street Canal levee failed and water from Lake Pontchartrain rushed into the city; the church building may have been destroyed. Members of the Baton Rouge church — and, it appears, from other churches in the district — are taking in refugees from the three New Orleans-area churches. The Southwestern UU Conference has put up a Web page to help connect willing hosts with displaced families.

Meanwhile, the UUA has launched a fundraising effort to help the congregations and individual UUs in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama recover from the damage; please give generously to the Gulf Coast Relief Fund.

I find it impossible to imagine what so many residents of the Gulf Coast are going through. What a disaster.

("Three New Orleans Congregations Devastated; UUs Open Homes to Refugees," Donald E. Skinner, 8.31.05)

Update 9.2.05: The second story is up: "First Church Minister Will Hold 'Virtual Service' for Scattered Congregation" (Donald E. Skinner 9.2.05)

Copyright © 2005 by Philocrites | Posted 31 August 2005 at 11:11 PM

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Logan England:

September 1, 2005 09:22 AM | Permalink for this comment

The UU church of Baton Rouge is very anxious to here from UUs who have been displaced by the Hurricane who may have taken shelter in Baton Rouge or the surrounding areas. Please call the UU church of Baton Rouge and let Rev. Crump know where you are and what assistance you need at this time. Members of the congregation have volunteered to work in the office so that someone is there to answer the phone from 8am to 7pm.

Ron Robinson:

September 2, 2005 01:47 PM | Permalink for this comment

Chris, here is the reflection on the disaster I just sent out to my own church email list. I share it here on your broader forum not to instruct others, especially of other faiths, but because I look forward to hearing the deeper reflections of others, yet again, on these ancient/all-too-current/future events and issues. Thanks for providing the links not only for immediate connections, but the space for immediate but deeper thought.

"...How long shall the land mourn?" Hurricane Katrina and the Soul of Life
Rev. Ron Robinson

At times like these when disaster comes to people so close to us, especially so close through the video screens of our contemporary life, and yet we seem so far away, cut off ourselves from being able to physically help those whose plight of being cut off from others is painfully brought home, I do these things---

1. ---I pray that I not turn away but turn toward the suffering. That doesn't mean I don't turn off the television, or turn the channel. I do. Voyueristic immersion in the 24-hour cable news world is, in fact, just another way of turning away from the suffering, and instead making it into a video game or apocalyptic Hollywood blockbuster. But I pray that I not let the demands of everyday life act as a teflon force field from Life itself. That I do what I can, from where I can, and when I begin to feel ashamed that I cannot or haven't done more, that I remember who I am, and Whose I am, and take a deep breath.

2. ---I pray that those in harm's way (especially those who are not on the TV screen but struggling in ways and places we do not yet know, and may never, sadly, know) I pray that they know they are never alone. And I pray that those who are involved in hands-on helping, and especially those in charge of hands-on helping, will know they are not alone either, and that they be guided and strengthened by the highest virtues of humanity made in the image of God, and that they remember the moral imperative to make "the last first."

3. ---I turn to the stories, the ancient wisdom, of people who have been moved to set down for all time their own "been there, done that moments" of devastation, exile, oppression, and yet hope. I particularly go to the words attributed to the prophet Jeremiah, "the man of constant sorrows," who lived during the destruction and slavery of Israel 2500 years ago. Jeremiah's sayings were later set off and called Chapters, and some of those chapters were even set off later with sections with their own titles. This causes the contemporary reader to encounter a kind of false order to the words, to meet them already interpreted for you. If you do that, you miss connecting with the deeper message of Life then and now. Reading Jeremiah and ignoring these modern traits of the text is more like becoming immersed in a stream of consciousness, a blending of voices and stories, until you can no longer tell when it is Jeremiah crying out, when it is the nation of Israel crying out, when it is God crying out. And the range of emotions---anger, frustration, helplessness, pain, grief, shock, hope, false hope, betrayal, doubt, questioning, more hope, determination, loneliness, fear, faith--all seem to come from all, and are all blessed in their own way as most human and most divine. After a while it is not the specific words and phrases that have the ultimate meaning, but the way all the words and feelings form a community of the suffering and out of the suffering. It reminds me of the report on NPR which broadcast the stream of consciousness from one 12-year-old girl who was trying to leave New Orleans, mixing in her personal family story with observations on what was going on around her--with fear and matter-of-factness, confusion and confidence all jumbled together.

This is particularly the case with Jeremiah in chapter 12 from which the title of this reflection comes. It begins with Jeremiah accusing God. I watch CNN and I hear echoes of the dialogue of Jeremiah and God until it is hard to tell who is blaming who, who is at fault, until finally fault matters less than that there is a forum to hold the flood of emotions. Why is there such a nature in Nature, and in human nature? Why do bad people seem to prosper at a time when good people suffer? Who is in charge here? When will we learn? Will we be able to return, and to what? Should we? What makes a home a home? In what is our ultimate trust? Was it our hubris, our greed that tipped the scales? How have our leaders let us down? Is there anything anyone could have done, really? The laments of Jeremiah/Israel/God are again filling up our airwaves, our chatrooms, our blogs, our call-in shows. Strangely, at this time, this brings me comfort. I can turn to another ancient biblical source, Ecclesiastes, for reminders that there will be a time for everything under the sun, and so a time for other choices and conversations. Right now it is okay, and good, for me to sit in silence with the many voices around me, and add mine to the mix if and when and where and how I choose, how I am called to respond.

From Jeremiah chapter 12"...How long will the land mourn, and the grass of every field wither?... I have forsaken mine house. I have left mine heritage; I have given the dearly beloved of my soul into the hand of her enemies...Many shepherds have destroyed my vineyard, they have trampled down my portion, they have made my pleasant portion a desolate wilderness; they have made it a desolation: desolate, it mourns to me, The whole land is made desolate, but no one lays it to heart. Upon all the bare heights the spoilers have come. ...And after I have plucked them up, I will again have compassion on them, and I will bring them again to their heritage and to their land, everyone of them."

4. I return to community--church, friends, family. Or I am spurred on to find a new community. Because in the storms of our lives, those faraway, those closeby, those in the depths of our own struggling souls, through God's spirit we shelter together and offer our shelter to others.

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