United We Stand

There’s nothing like shared misery to restore human compassion and a sense of oneness, that we truly are in this thing together. At least I hope so. Because the litany of misery just keeps coming.

  •  Tonight the Mississippi River is three miles wide in some places.
  • Last week, the President declared a state of emergency as flood waters rose in Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi.
  • The week before, April 27 to be precise, monster storms tore through five states. More than 300 people died and thousands were left without homes, neighborhoods or jobs and missing friends and family. About a million people were left with in the dark.
  • Ten days before that, Raleigh was ground zero for its own devastating twisters.

Alabama was hard hit by those monster tornadoes. I noticed because it’s a state where my roots run deep.

My maternal great-grandmother, a former slave, was living in Alabama “when the Yankees came through” in the Civil War and rests in an Alabama cemetery where Bellamys have been buried for more than a century. My Alabama kin survived the storms with only property damage, according to the family newsgroup.

You may not know anyone in the path of recent storms. Still, the traumatized people in news footage and YouTube videos could easily be any one of us. Fact is, they are all Americans so it is “us.”

What troubles me is that many storm victims live in red vs. blue states where elected officials have locked their legislatures and our nation’s Congress and Senate in combative budget debates over potentially lethal cuts to the very services these people will need to recover: education, unemployment benefits, health care, social services and affordable housing.

The aftermath of an historic storm series is a good place to take stock. Does my ideology sync with reality?

Some churches in the storm zones are rethinking business as usual and are working together across denominational and racial divides after years of ignoring each other. They are  newly aware that they’re on the same team.

May that revelation come home to the mind of every American.

You see, it’s all very well to support cutbacks in services you personally don’t need, while blaming the nameless needy for their troubles and insisting they help themselves. It’s quite another to need (through no fault of your own)  immediate shelter, food and medical attention, only to find that:

  • the nearest shelter or soup kitchen is 50 miles away
  • the home insurance is too little to rebuild from the ruins
  • the job has blown to Kingdom Come and there are no unemployment benefits

Becoming starkly aware of our own neediness, vulnerability and (dare I say it?) sin changes the conversation. A couple of quick biblical examples:

  •  Judah was quick to order the stoning of his widowed daughter-in-law when she was found to be pregnant with no husband… until he was revealed to be the child’s father. (He unknowingly had relations with her believing she was a prostitute. And, yes, this is in the Bible.)
  • When David was told that the rich owner of many flocks had callously taken a poor man’s only ewe lamb, as precious to him as his own child, and served it to a dinner guest, he ordered the man’s execution. That was before the prophet Nathan added, “Thou art the man.”

When we personally hurt, we begin to develop humility and compassion. It becomes easier to understand the pain and failings of those around us. Our hearts and hands open, voluntarily.  That’s a good coming out of something bad.

Of course, I hope it doesn’t take more storm-induced misery to bring us together as a nation. We are the “United States of America,” after all.

Maybe we will simply choose to open our eyes and declare with the Psalmist, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity….” Psalm 133:1

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