Sunday, July 31, 2011

The River Just Kept Running

The river just kept running all night through our back yard last Wednesday. It had begun simply enough. As I left the seminary about 5 o'clock, the seminary president and I exchanged common thoughts, "Do you think it will rain?" "I don't know. Perhaps."

And then it started about 7:00 p.m. There were the on-and-off-again tornado warnings...which we do heed! Down to our lower level inside hallway Burton and I would go. The warnings finally stopped but the thunder and lightning continued until past dawn. And the rain. Too soon the river of water started across Fremont Avenue to the East when the catch basin there overflowed, forcing all that neighborhood of water into ours. The stream became a river perhaps 40 feet wide. The force was too great for the city storm drain out back and soon the rush of water could have drowned small children. It rushed on over the drain, through the neighborhood and finally to the ravine and railroad tracks beyond. When it was over the 6 inch record for Dubuque had been shattered by l0 to 14 inches throughout the Dubuque area, with East Dubuque particularly hard hit.

Well, when a river runs through your yard all night one can expect that the waters will also come inside. Burton had been awakened and he stayed awake all night. Now, on this fourth day since, the carpets are finally drying out. I need not go into the details of books and papers drying out and all the rest of the clean-up work. All of this is nothing compared to Joplin...or to the droughts for that matter in Texas and Oklahoma we saw just two weeks ago. Yes, this spring meant our needing a new roof because of hail and now a flood. But still, even when the river just kept running, we were ok.

Not so with the more vulnerable. The national news focuses on the debt ceiling crisis. The "clock" just keeps running. How we view the coming deluge is important. How we hear the warning alarms. It is not simply the thunderous noise of politician voices. There is real danger here, for the most vulnerable. A debate is not just neutral when those with the power (money) can keep the vulnerable oppressed. The river that ran through our property simply followed a course to the sea. There are those with any power they can hold on to whose agenda it is to make sure wealth stays with the few, to have government that protects the weak fail and to see that a president that stands for justice is soon out of office.

Now if that sound harsh, consider the figures that came out this week: Whereas Blacks and Hispanics had been gaining in income and "wealth" in relation to Whites, the river of injustice just keeps running, seeking a new course that is devastating, right through people's homes and lives. Now "whites" have 20 times more wealth than Blacks. An article in the Jamaica Observer this Sunday, July 31 written by a woman in the Caribbean diaspora shows how the world sees the disparity. And the world is watching, not just the debate over the debt ceiling, but how the rivers of injustice just keep rolling through our land. Yes, it was a good thing that finally Blacks could share in the American Dream of home ownership, but when the housing crisis came it is now clear, at least to the minorities who suffer, that they were the ones most oversold with sub prime mortgages; they were the ones most likely forced to abandon their homes; and those who were renters lost the roofs over their head not because of hail but because their landlords could not pay the mortgages. Add to that the higher rate of job loss and long-term unemployment and we see the river of injustice just keep running.

Our waters have gone down. We will be fine. How can we carry on the conversation and work so that all will be?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Chairs at the Feet of God

We walked the lawn of the "Field of Empty Chairs" at the Oklahoma City National Memorial Museum this morning where on April 19, 1995, 168 people, including 19 children, were killed in the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building. The empty chairs, the reflecting pool, the "Survivor Tree" are beautiful. (I had been here once before, when there was just the wire fence with memorials surrounding the vacant space.) The scene that day was grusome. And terror, violence, rages on.

Therefore the statement of the memorial is profoundly important:
"We come here to remember those who were killed, those who survived and those changed forever. May all who leave here know the impact of violence. May this memorial offer comfort, strength, peace, hope and serenity."

Yesterday we heard stories of survivors and of the education and outreach offered so that people might find alternatives to violence, from bullying to bombing. More needs to be done, of course. I remember so well, the first reaction of this nation: the assumption that the terrorists were from outside the United States, not from within. How far have we yet to go in learning to understand one another? In respect? And yet, I could not but respect this community of Oklahoma City for coming together to have conversation in the public world through empty chairs. May we the living sit down together on chairs for conversations of compassion and compromise in our mutual search for peace and justice.

I use the plural "we" because I am attending DOTAC, Diakonia of the Americas and the Caribbean, which meets every four years, this year, here in Oklahoma City with the theme, "Chairs at the Feet of God." Each of the days we focus on: worshipping chairs, listening chairs, working chairs, resting chairs, and sending chairs.

There are fifteen members groups of deacons, deaconesses and diaconal ministers, including Lutheran, Episcopalian, Methodist, and United Churches from Canada, the United States, Brazil and the Caribbean. This is the fifth such conference I have attended, seeing old friends and new. (Also every four years...therefore two years in between...Global Diakonia meets.) My husband Burton is as eager to attend as am I. Each time I am deepened in my commitment to servanthood ministry, strengthened by the stories of the services of my brother and sister diaconal ministers, and inspired for service to Christ. Diaconal ministry bridges church and world. Once again the conversations across the hemisphere draw us to the feet of God and sends us forth into the public world.