Sometimes I work after hours at the church because the interruptions are fewer; sometimes because I’ve been talking so much during the day I don’t get all my work done; sometimes because my thinking and reflecting time takes longer than I planned so the actual writing part is delayed; and sometimes because I want to play solitaire on my computer and think about life. So, I was working later last evening and I started getting text messages from a couple of folks who drove by, saw my car, and didn’t I wonder why the sirens were going off and didn’t I know we were in a tornado warning and was I listening to any weather stations. No, no, and no. I didn’t think it looked that bad, we western Kansans tend to watch tornadoes as opposed to sheltering from them – don’t do that!!! Anyway, I headed home and decided the four-leggeds needed to be in the basement. My new dog Max was a peach, anywhere I go, he goes and he went to his kennel quite easily. Then . . . there are the cats. I grabbed Ringo first, he’s the more difficult one. He’s the hunter and gatherer of snakes, mice, birds, and other unsuspecting wildlife on his predatory chain in the animal kingdom. He’s still not pleased about Max sharing his home, and does NOT like to be carried ANYWHERE he has not himself decided to go. His claws were digging into my shoulder and a low growl was beginning to emit from the depths of his soul when I heard Brian Busby say that Olathe was NOT in the bullseye and that the storm was heading northeast fast enough that we would not likely be in any danger. I stopped mid-staircase, turned around and took Ringo back to his perch where he proceeded to lecture me for the next 30 minutes about my lack of sensitivity, my lack of meteorologic knowledge, and my insistence on taking him where he does not want to go more times than he can count on one paw. I responded with how much I loved him and that he must be the sweetest cat God ever created – I swear he rolled his eyes.
And then we watched the mile-wide tornado cut a path through portions of Lawrence, hit Linwood square on, and devastate farms and homes along a two-hour path as it continued to hug the ground for longer than anyone would have expected. We see the pictures, we hear the interviews, we assimilate the facts of the devastation, and then we try and listen how best to respond. We know enough that collecting used clothes and furniture to immediately leave at someone’s emergency shelter is NOT THE BEST NOR RIGHT DECISION. The question of emergency aide is never about what is best for us, or what we decide would be best for those who have been devastated; rather it’s about listening first, responding to exactly what is asked by those who have been trained in responding to unique situations of need, and offering our help in a spirit of humility and respect that allows for the grief, and stress, and post-trauma feels to belong to those who are actually living in and through the emergency. All of that is often difficult in a world that invites us to be most focused on ourselves which is why the foundation of the faithful who follow a Jesus who served is so very needed as a way of life in response.
Acute disasters tend to bring all of our best and worst human traits into stark clarity, but I think we don’t need to wait for those acute disasters to take stock of how we can respond from our best selves in non-acute, daily situations as well.
The Great Plains Annual Conference Clergy and Laity will be gathering in Topeka beginning this afternoon for our yearly meeting of reports, setting budgets, reports, voting for delegates to General Conference in 2020, reports, accepting a slate of nominations for Conference leadership, reports, worship and communion, reports, and setting appointments for where clergy are serving in Kansas and Nebraska for the next year, oh, and did I mention reports? It’s probably not the most exciting meeting that this group of gathered folks will ever attend, yet it does set the foundation of who we are and how we are going to do the work and business of ministry in this particular region for the next year.
An underlying question moving into our meetings this year is how we will behave and treat one another both officially on the floor, and unofficially at lunches and coffee breaks and walking to our cars in the parking lots. We have a choice. Human beings ALWAYS have a choice. Will our theological and biblical interpretation differences cause us/be an excuse for behaving badly? Will our need to be right turn into a need to win at all costs? And if it does – does anyone really win? Will we think about Jesus much? That’s an odd question since we’re going to a church meeting . . . or maybe not so odd given the current climate and undercurrent in society. I would tell you that we WILL think about Jesus much if that is our daily way of being, and if it is not, we probably won’t. Do I mean that there are good church folk, both clergy and laity, that don’t think about Jesus all that much? Ummmm, I sorta think so when I listen and look and hear and see the way we talk, treat, and behave toward one another, mostly when we don’t think anyone else is looking.
Will we remember that we can disagree with respect and without denigrating the integrity of those with whom we disagree? Will we remember that we are, each one, created in the image of God and given breath of life to be stewards of all creation, not just the parts that we like? Will we decide intentionally, that perhaps we need to listen to the needs of those who are living in the acute moments of destruction and devastation that comes from folk telling them in subtle and less than subtle ways that they are not created by God to be the way they are, that they are “incompatible with Christian teaching” (Book of Discipline), and only of sacred worth if they deny the ground of their being and fit in silently so the rest of the community won’t be uncomfortable?
It’s difficult to listen first to those on the front line of destructive storms when we know so much better than they do how best to handle the situation in which they find themselves. Why have “they” chosen to live in tornado alley in the first place? Why do “they” not have adequate shelter for livestock and expect them to survive in a storm or a flood? Why do “they” plant seeds in the ground expecting them to bear fruit when at any moment a hailstorm can blow up and destroy whatever fruit has developed? Why don’t “they” get real jobs with regular working hours, salaries and pensions, and guaranteed health insurance that is affordable – oops, maybe not so much the last one. It’s easy to decide for whomever “they” are what choices might be made better, but I remember a scripture about maybe “first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye” (Matt. 7:5, NRSV). Those Jesus teachings from the Sermon on the Mount seem to pop up at the most interesting moments.
There are all kinds of storms in life that are destructive – some are meteorological and some are religious interpretational – maybe the devastation of each isn’t all that different, as too are our range of responses sometimes not all that different. Let’s make a faithful choice together to know, love, and listen to the Jesus of the gospels. Let’s make a faithful choice together to lead with compassionate listening before deciding how to help. Let’s make a faithful choice together to love more and condemn less. And let’s make a faithful choice together to see what happens – to “them” and to “us”. Maybe we will testify, as Peter did in Judea to his colleagues, “If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” (emph. mine). When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, ‘Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.’” (Acts 11:17-18). So may it be for ALL of us.