Friday, May 7, 2010

Praising God in the storm...

Five-Day Update

Five days ago, the focus of the heavy rains and storms in Tennessee was Memphis. Since then, Nashville and the surrounding Cumberland River valley have had flooding that caused loss of life and widespread property damage. While there's been a focus in the general press on the damage caused to some country music landmarks in Nashville and homes of some country music stars, some of the less affluent parts of Nashville were hit hard. The Diocese of Tennessee reports on damage to church property and deaths and injuries to people associated with the diocese. News about Episcopal Relief and Development's relief efforts in Tennessee is available here; there is a link on that page for people wishing to donate to the relief effort, or you can click on the red button above to donate.

Climate scientists expect more extreme weather events as the Earth's overall temperature warms. Relief organizations and governments will have heavy demands if these predictions are accurate; one thing the church might do around the climate change issue is to figure out how to increase our abilities to respond to human needs, both material and spiritual, in times of disaster.

Meanwhile, we have been learning to wrap our minds around the size of the disaster in the Gulf, even as today sees another attempt to manage the situation, this time with a giant container placed over the source of the leak -- or gush -- that would make it possible to remove some of the oil before it spread into the surrounding water. A quick check of this afternoon's headlines tells us that the top executive of BP says he doesn't count on this working. Evidently this is something worth trying, but we won't know for a few days whether it will work. Meanwhile, the oil keeps gushing, and another story says that people who live along the Gulf coast are buying and eating as much seafood as they can right now because they don't know when they will be able to buy it again. It's like spending as much time as possible right now with a terminally ill friend because you don't know if she will be around next week.

Where is God in this? Gov. Rick Perry of Texas said on Monday that the oil spill is "an act of God"; that's one sort of possible answer. We Episcopalians usually see God as a source of strength and comfort, a light in the darkness, in difficult times; the idea of God as the instigator of a major disaster involving an oil rig is foreign to most of us. God is a source of strength to the victims of disasters -- the people who live along the Gulf coast, the victims of the floods in Tennessee, all the people around the world whose lives are forever changed by pollution, flooding, melting glaciers that serve as water sources, and rising sea levels -- and a source of strength to those who are directly assisting the victims of disasters and those who are working for a healthier environment. God created the world and said it was good; our job is to help repair our broken world and join God in rejoicing in the wonder of creation.

A friend sent a link to this YouTube video featuring Casting Crowns singing Praise You in this Storm. He said my Sunday post reminded him of the song; the song had been in the back of my mind as I wrote the post. It's a good reminder of where God is in all sorts of storms.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Praising God in the storm

Instead of a Sunday morning at St. Stephen's or some other parish in Nebraska, I'm on an airplane from Memphis to Washington, D.C., having taken the very early flight to Memphis from Omaha this morning. I'm headed to the national Interfaith Power and Light conference; I serve on the board for Nebraska IPL and am representing us at this meeting.

It's a strange way for me to spend Sunday morning, and even stranger as I continue reading Bill McKibben's book Eaarth, check as I can for the latest news about the oil gushing into the Gulf, and fly in and out of the heavy rains and storms that Memphis has been experiencing. 

In my post The Day after Earth Day (April 23) I wrote: "The good news the day after Earth Day is that there doesn’t seem to be a major oil spill, though there is an oil slick that at the last report I heard measured ten miles by ten miles."   We have gone from that on April 23 to the headline Gulf Coast Towns Brace as Huge Oil Slick Nears Marshes as I checked today's New York Times. Describing the effects of the approaching huge oil slick, this story says: "But what is terrifying everyone from bird watchers to the state officials charged with rebuilding the natural protections of this coast is that it now seems possible that a massive influx of oil could overwhelm and kill off the grasses that knit the ecosystem together."

Meanwhile, the Revised Common Lectionary for today has us reading Psalm 148, which talks about all of creation being knit together in praise of God, the ruler of all creation:
7Praise the Lord from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps,

8fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command!
9Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars!
10Wild animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds!
11Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth!
12Young men and women alike, old and young together!
13Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted; his glory is above earth and heaven.

The book I'm reading talks about the increase of flooding storms as the temperature rises, since warmer air holds more moisture.  With the news from the Gulf getting more alarming by the day -- and the hour -- the attempt to solve some of our energy problems by increasing the number of offshore oil wells seems like a more problematic solution than some people, including some environmentalists, had led us to believe. Some of the things we have been seeing in recent months -- the increased snowfall in part of the United States and the heavy rains in Rio de Janeiro that caused loss of life and homes in landslides come to mind -- are most likely going to become more frequent.  

The solutions to our environmental woes aren't coming easily. They are difficult to figure out from an engineering and scientific point of view, and politically will be very difficult to implement, if we even find the political will to look past short-term concerns to the big picture. But people of faith are called to take on an extra challenge, to continue praising God in the midst of it all, to praise God in the storm.

When we join our voices with all of creation in praise, we become more aware of our connection not only to God, but to all of creation.  Praising God may bring us to the perspective we need: not an escape from the reality of what we have done to God's creation, not a denial of or escape from the realities of the world around us, but a place where our hearts and our sights are open wide enough to repent and do the hard work of reconciliation with God, one another, and all of creation.