Thursday, May 26, 2011

God Blog: Reflecting on the tragedy in Joplin, MO

God Blog: Reflecting on the tragedy in Joplin, MO

Reflecting on the tragedy in Joplin, MO

A friend complained that people on social media were saying that God was responsible for the deadly tornadoes in Joplin, MO, and elsewhere. They say God sent the storms as judgment.

Meanwhile, others are saying that the storms present proof that God doesn't exist; if God did, why would he permit the tornadoes?

These are two common responses to tragedy. I suppose it's human to try to make sense of something bad in order to live with it. Some efforts at making sense, however, make no sense: tornadoes as God's judgment?

Moreover, in my observation, when bad things happen, those who feel that they have been wronged by God, the church, religious people regard bad things as yet more evidence for holding onto their grievances against God, the church, believers--be they Christians, Jews, Muslims, or other.

No, I don't have a satisfactory explanation for why natural disasters take place in a world that I believe is governed by a God of love and mercy. No definitive answer exists to the Why, God? question, although some tentative answers are sounder than others.

And I wonder, if we found the answer, would it really mitigate the loss, grief, suffering? No.

In the face of such tragedy, then--both on the grand scale of Joplin, MO, and on the smaller scale of the person lamenting a diagnosis of cancer or the loss of a job or a divorce--all I can do is defer the Why question for now and ask the most important question at a time like this: the What question.

What can I do to ease the suffering of my neighbors in Joplin and in many more communities across the Midwest and the South?

Here are a few suggestions:

Send a check to Episcopal Relief and Development and write "tornado response" on the memo line. Mail your check to ERD, The Episcopal Church, 815 Second Ave., New York, N.Y.

If you live in Springfield, bring bottled water, diapers, personal hygiene items to Christ Episcopal Church, 601 East Walnut St., Monday through Friday, from 8 am to 5 pm. We're gathering items now and will transport them to Joplin.

And if you believe in God, pray for God to help.

As Archbishop Desmond Tutu says in the wonderful new film, "I Am," God has only you.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Grief in the light of the resurrection

A friend wrote me today about her profound sadness at the death of her parents in the last several months. My friend is grieving. What is particularly acute is the painful awareness that now the two people who had been with her at the very beginning of her life and through the decades that followed are no longer "on this planet," as she wrote. She is also the oldest of her parents' two surviving children, and she feels she is next in line for death.

I can relate to my friend's grief. My father has departed this life, but my mother, at 89 years of age, is still alert and active and a model for me of aging. As my sister told me today, my mother's doctor told her, "If you stop, you die." Like my mother, I intend to keep moving.

But I know that when my mother finally stops moving, because her body won't carry her any farther, and she joins my father in the life to come, I, too, will likely feel what my friend is feeling today: that keen loss of both my parents and the growing sense of the finality of my own earthly existence. Finality, but not futility.

Death is a staggering and sobering realization--and one few of us take note of, because we keep busy and distracted so much of the time. We don't like to think about final things, and yet final things, the certainty of them, may be just what we need to pay more attention to, for when we do note them in the right way--in faith--we live with a renewed urgency and deepened sense of appreciation for the fragility and fleetingness of this human existence.

As I ask ultimate questions--notably: What happens when my loved ones die? What happens when I die?--I face the heart of my Christian faith. I believe. I believe that when the end comes, I shall not fall into the dark empty nothingness, but shall rise from my grave in the light of God's love and in the power of the resurrection to that eternal bliss.

The end that I face, in faith, gives me the hope and joy I need to live with the tragedies, the suffering, and the losses of this earthly life.

Alleluia! Christ is risen.