Friday, September 16, 2005

National Day of Prayer for the Survivors of Katrina

As a community that seeks to be centered on the life of prayer we can whole heartedly embrace President Bush's call for a day of prayer for those whose lives have been upended by hurricane Katrina. Of course they have been in our prayers and our thoughts throughout these past weeks.
Our daily prayer liturgy is taken from the prayer book from Taize, Praise God: Common Prayer at Taize, Friday's liturgy in the prayer book tend to have a penitential tone in commemoration of the death of Christ on the Cross- a small good Friday. Even the psalms set for today had repentance as a theme. Psalm 69 is an interesting and conflicted psalm. In it we find the psalmist demanding God's help, yet clearly in distress and using language of flood and deep mud one can sink down into (images that are evocative in light of the hurricane). the psalmist moves through various states: calling out to God, asking God to remove him from this shameful position and admitting that the mess he is in is partly (not wholly) his fault- God's seeming absence is at least in part due to the failings of the psalmist. .Given the current debates over the government's responce and how to move forward and whether or not we saw continuing evidence of racism in the fabric of our system and culture, it was striking that these readings and this liturgy fall on the same day as Bush's call for a day of prayer. This disaster is great and the problems exposed are complex and multifaceted, and our responce as a nation has been two fold sentimental (which has given us the will to give large sums of money in a short time and sent volunteers rushing to help, so I do not discount the good of American sentimentality but it is what it is) and wishing to blame someone for what seems to have been unnecessary human suffering in days immediately following the hurricane.
neither seem to me to be true responces, not because we shouldn;t be moved by pity and compassion and not because we should deny that mistakes were made but because we have pushed aside the judgement that is in hurricane Katrina. Now this does not mean that God "caused" hurricane Katrina, but then God is other than the simplistic scientific conception of cause and effect, that is perhaps a bit obsolete if one takes into account Chaos Theory. But it also means that theologically there are no innocent human beings. Our American sense of the innocent victim is shallow, and is a refusal of the basic Christian teaching that all have sinned and fall short of God's glory. Our liturgy and Psalms today remind us that even as we may feel justified in calling on God for help we can never do so purely and innocently. To some degree what happens to us is also in part bound up in sin that pervades the world we live in.
Repentance can never be far from the Christian even those who seem to be very upright in their day to day lives.
We have been judged every one of us in the United States by this storm, and as a whole I think we chose not to repent, we see the racism and classism revealed before our eyes as those other people's problem or even deny that what was shown had anything to do with injustice. We rush into help the people devastated by Katrina and yet large portions of our cities still lay in desolation from poverty, and those who give large amounts of money to help people displaced by the storm, are unconcerned about people displaced as neighborhoods in are cities are developed and property taxes and values rise.
Yes, Bush is right we should be on our knees in prayer but as we lift the people displaced by the storm to God we should also seek to recognize our failure both individually and corporately as a nation and as the church. None of us are innocent, and we can both simultaneously ask God's help, admit our faults and seek to respond to the need created by this disaster. There is no need to pat our selves on our backs for our generosity in responce to this disaster as long as injustice poverty and homelessness continue to be everyday realities in our cities.
May God help us and have Mercy.

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