theology in a time of tornadoes

Once again, it's springtime in Texas, when we are reminded of two things.

One, the earth is merely a frail barrier between us and the fire ants, which are living bits of the molten lava we've been told is in there.  (If you've ever encountered one, you know I'm right.)

Two, it's tornado season.

Saturday, it was about 90 degrees with 90 percent humidity. The sky was a nasty yellow all day, and the air looked like poisonous fog. 

Sunday, it was gorgeous: 70, sunny, breezy, and clear as a bell.  The perfect spring day.

As those two radically different weather patterns encountered one another, a series of tornadoes tore through Canton, Texas, about 2 hours east of us.  One of the tornadoes was on the ground for something like 35 miles.  Homes and businesses were leveled, dozens of people were injured, and four people died.

Sunday on Facebook, I came across a survivor reporting that right before the tornado had hit, they'd prayed and God had spared their home.  

"God is so good!  He answers prayer!" the survivor said.

Fort Worth Botanic Garden, photo: Andy Bruner

Fort Worth Botanic Garden, photo: Andy Bruner

Tornado season is a challenging time for theology in Texas.

(It's almost as bad as Wrath of God week, right before Easter.)

Because, what about the neighbors?  

Didn't they pray?  

Didn't God like them as much?  

Or wasn't God as good next door as he was right here?

We have friends who lost their house to a tornado last year, and through a series of debacles and plagues of Job-like proportions, including but not limited to insurance, builders, city codes, ill health, unexpected surgeries:  our friends are still without a home, and their finances are almost totally depleted.  

Someone suggested to my husband that God is "trying to get their attention" with all these misfortunes.  Andy doesn't get mad much, but he came home pretty cheesed off that day.

And let's face it: tornadoes are just the tip of the iceberg on this planet.

What about cancer?

What about infertility and miscarriages?

What about fatal car accidents?

Are we hoping that we'll be able to say just the right prayer in just the right way at just the right time, in order to avert whatever disaster comes our way?

And if we believe that's true, then what happens when the tornado DOES hit, regardless of our prayers?

Speaking from my own experience, I'll just say that it was a long, long drop to the bottom of the canyon when I prayed and what I desperately needed didn't happen.  I didn't even realize how deeply I believed in my own ability to control disaster by prayer and righteous living, until it didn't work.

Of course there are better, more reasonable ways to think about this topic, besides magical thinking about prayer and our own holiness.

I think Jessica Kelley's book, Lord Willing?: Wrestling with God's Role in My Child's Death is a great exploration of these questions.

We may be able to make reasonable theological arguments for ourselves.

When we aren't in the middle of trauma.

Once the trauma hits, though, the good arguments rarely matter.

When trauma hits, our brains go into survival mode, which essentially takes our thinking brain offline.  It takes time, safety from the trauma, more time, rest, lots of yoga, and maybe medication, to get back to a place where our brain chemistry can deal with "rational" thinking again.

In the chemical shitstorm of the moment, what we need is SAFETY, CARE, AND COMFORT. 

Later on, when we're ready, we can try to work out what we think about what just happened.

I was talking about this recently with a friend of mine who's had some pretty sad stuff happen.

Repeatedly. 

Repeatedly.

Repeatedly.

She's super-smart and knows The Right Answers.

But The Right Answers aren't helping at all.  Like they never do when you're traumatized.

She told me that she couldn't believe that God is love anymore.

And that makes sense to me.

How can a loving God stand by our pain and do nothing?

Is God really just playing video games in the sky?  

Joy-sticking tornadoes across East Texas, and steering around the people who remember to pray the right way while the freight train bears down?

Fort Worth Botanic Garden, photo: Andy Bruner

Fort Worth Botanic Garden, photo: Andy Bruner

The sermon series at church right now is about the miracles of Jesus.  

I had my doubts about this series, I'll be honest.  But so far, this miracles series hasn't sent me screaming into the parking lot, and that's a big improvement over where we were last year at this point.  This may be a minor miracle in and of itself.  It definitely helps to be listening to a progressive speaker, I know that much.

Here's what stuck with me from Sunday's sermon: "YOU are the miracle."

This what we're here for: to be the miracle that other people need.

WE are here together with each other.  WE see the needs of the world.  

WE have the cup of cold water, WE have the time to visit the sick and suffering, WE have the resources to feed the hungry, WE can reach out to embrace the widow and orphan.

WE CAN BE THE MIRACLE.

And isn't that how the Vine and the Branches should be?  

No separation between us, One Love flowing through us all?

Maybe we're not sure about God's love right now, but I think we can be 100% convinced about the Love we experience from one another.

Most of that consists of just showing up for each other, and trying not to say anything too stupid.  

LIFE HACK:  any theological explanation is likely to be too stupid at this point.  

Remember: SAFETY, CARE, COMFORT.

Fort Worth Botanic Garden, photo: Andy Bruner

Fort Worth Botanic Garden, photo: Andy Bruner

When my friend is in pain, and doesn't know if God is good or loving, that's okay.

BECAUSE I CAN BE GOOD AND LOVING.

And while I've never seen my love and care solve any problems like the wave of a magic wand (let's be real, I haven't seen God do that either), I have seen Love flowing out of me to grow hope and light and peace and joy in places where only sorrow and darkness and anxiety used to live.

I know for sure that Love is making miracles out in Canton this Monday morning, cutting through storm debris with a chain saw.  Passing out bottled water.  Loading up trash bags.  Listening to the stories, weeping with those who weep.  Because that's what Love does, every single time.

Love is the miracle.

I am the miracle.

YOU are the miracle.

Love in US,

the Vine, the Branches:

that is the miracle.

Fort Worth Botanic Garden, photo: Andy Bruner

Fort Worth Botanic Garden, photo: Andy Bruner

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