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Archive for February 2013


February 13, 2013

12:00 noon


You are invited to join us for a simple service of prayer and the imposition of the ashes as we begin the season of Lent.  Psalm 51 reads:  “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”   As we receive the ashes, we open our hearts to be fashioned anew.  It is a privilege and a joy to walk the path toward Easter together, as we listen together for the still-speaking God in our midst.  


Listen to the long stillness:
New life is stirring
New dreams are on the wing
New hopes are being readied:
Humankind is fashioning a new heart
Humankind is forging a new mind
God is at work.
This is the season of Promise.
(Howard Thurman)


How do people act in times of disaster?  Do they fall apart or pull together?  Do they rise above the circumstances or sink to the lowest common denominator of human behavior? Think back about what you know about disasters. Perhaps you were here during the Loma Prieta  Earthquake.  Or maybe you were in New York on 9/11.  My home town has been completely evacuated twice in the last ten years due to forest fires, and I have heard stories of long caravans of cars, winding down the one mountain road, leaving burning homes behind them.   What do you know about how people treat each other in the worst of times?

I ask because I am reading a book called “A Paradise Built in Hell,” by Rebecca Solnit.  The entire book is an examination of disaster sociology:  that is, the study of how people interact in a crisis.  It could be a dry topic, I suppose, with more academic than real world import, except that Solnit makes a very timely point:  what we believe about human nature in times of disaster will determine how we treat the people who encounter them.  In other words, beliefs matter. If you believe that most people are basically bad, waiting for an opportunity to loot and kill, you will spend your resources trying to set up defenses and protections; if you believe that most people are basically good and will try their best to help others in times of need, you will spend your resources sending in aid and trying to assist.  For example, after the hurricane in New Orleans, disaster victims were held at gunpoint as they tried to cross the bridges out of the inner city into the safer suburbs.  Because the officials in charge assumed that the (mostly black) refugees would become an unruly mob, they were forced to stay in the heart of the devastation, without basic services or help for days.  Many died as a result.  Likewise, just after the 1906 earthquake and fire in San Francisco, the officials in charge reacted to the citizens as if they were criminals, and instead of aiding them, tried to “keep them under control,” often spending more time arresting people than helping them.  The irony is, in these two cases and in virtually every other case studied, ordinary people were doing the right thing.  More than that, they went above and beyond in their outreach to one another.  Solnit writes:

In the wake of an earthquake, a bombing, or a major storm, most people are altruistic, urgently engaged in caring for themselves and those around them, strangers and neighbors as well as friends and loved ones.  The image of the selfish, panicky, or regressively savage human being in times of disaster has little truth to it.  Decades of meticulous sociological research…have demonstrated this.  But belief lags behind, and often the worst behavior in the wake of a calamity is on the part of those who believe that others will behave savagely and that they themselves are taking defensive measures against barbarism.

 Jesus said, “Love thy neighbor as thyself.”  And then he went on to tell a story about a Samaritan who risked his life for a stranger.  How very different is this belief than the ones we’ve been hearing lately, as representatives of the gun industry seek to stoke our fear of strangers with images of “bad guys” who need to be stopped — with guns, of course.  How very different is Jesus’ belief from those who would have us build an ever higher wall, with ever bigger militias, to keep the “dangerous” immigrant away, or call for massive prisons, in the midst of cutbacks to schools.

We have a body of evidence that shows that as imperfect as we are, human nature is much better than that.  We follow a teacher who told us that the most important thing we can do is to care for and value the lives of those around us.  Both of these stand in stark contrast to the messages of fear and hatred that exist in our culture.  Beliefs matter.  They shape laws.  They shape lives.  As we encounter some very tough issues in our country, may we stand up against the bunker mentality that has infected our culture for too long.  We believe that, even in the toughest times, we can count on our faith and on one another.

May it be so.  Kim

February 6th Newsletter