Thursday, May 23, 2013

Living in Oklahoma

Picture by DVDSHUB on Flickr
Earlier this week, Oklahomans were once again forced into shelters as another F5 tornado brought
destruction upon our people.     I was with some of our church's middle schoolers when I first heard the news that Moore was being hit yet again.  The news got worse: an elementary school was leveled and they were trying to dig out the children from the rubble.

We paused what we were doing and circled up to pray for those families who lost lives, who lost homes and for the rescue workers trying to help in this time of crisis.  We eventually found out that 24 people died in the storm.  Ten of those were children and infants.

Two years ago, our community of Piedmont faced an F5 tornado and we also lost lives but were more fortunate that it took a less populated path.  "Fortunate" being a word for statistics really.  If you personally lost a loved one or a pet or a home, the use of this word becomes ridiculous.   

When we are hit with this kind of magnitude, it is hard not to take it personally.  Is someone out to get us?  Have we done something wrong?  Many people in the media begin to turn to these kinds of questions and you often hear a wide variety of answers.  As a professional theologian, more than a few of the answers leave me cringing.

Some of the cringe-worthy responses come from my fellow clergy.

Comments that Pat Robertson made in 2012 with regards to a tornado resurfaced and hopefully, no one gave his ideas too much credit.  He claimed that people shouldn't live in a place where tornadoes were likely to crop up.  This is a more scientific statement in that we do know that we live in a state where severe weather is more likely to happen.  I still remember my seminary friends asking me about the movie, Twister that came out when I was living in Georgia.

"Why would you want to live there?"

At the time I mentioned that there weren't any earthquakes and that is mostly still true. We don't have any hurricanes and we don't have a lot of landslides.  Being an Oklahoman gives one an attitude.  When you live through something like this, you become a survivor and we are stronger for it.  Paul mentioned this in Romans about suffering producing endurance which leads to character which gives us hope.  I believe this is true.

However, it is still a pretty insensitive thing to throw in someone's face when they have just lived through a nightmare.  Not very pastoral of Mr. Robertson to ask tornado victims why they live in a place that is known for the inclement weather.

The other thing he said was that those in the path of the tornado should have prayed harder.  This becomes a double-dose of blaming the victims.  It could lead people to say:

"Why should we help them?  They shouldn't have been living there in the first place - they knew the risks!  And even if they did choose to live there, they should have had more faith!"

This is the moral equivalent of a pastor telling a family that they should have prayed harder for healing for the loss of their loved one to cancer.

Nothing like piling on with the guilt when you are grieving, right?
Picture by U.S. Dept. of Defense on Flickr

And still we grieve and wonder.  The questions I hear the most for Moore are, "Why the school?"

Why did the tornado have to destroy an elementary school?  And if we were praying for safety, why wouldn't God alter the path - change the laws of physics - suspend reality as we know it for just a moment?

Why are some spared while others die?

In all my reading, thinking and praying, I've not ever developed a sufficient answer for this question.

In spite of our lack of understanding, the Christian response should be clear: God grieves with us.  

God is the one motivating us to move to help in times of need.  And in Oklahoma, lots of people listen to God. We have an amazing community of people that do the right thing when they see people in trouble.

Why would you live in Oklahoma?

Because the people there very often do have eyes to see and ears to hear.  They have arms and hands that will hold onto you when you are in need.

That doesn't make me cringe at all.