Ezekiel 33:1-11; Psalm 119; Romans 12:9-21; Matthew 18:15-20
This past days, we have been witnesses to almost unfathomable scenes of horror and destruction, of unimaginable conditions for countless thousands of persons, the overwhelming majority of whom have been poor and people of color. We have seen seeming powerlessness and inaction and delay in response to the suffering of our own people by the superpower which can move with decisive action almost anywhere in the world-when sufficiently motivated to do so.
We have seen both natural disaster with the seeming wrath of nature to be sure, but we have also seen human agency involved in making wrong choices and having disastrous priorities: for years all manner of domestic programs including dangerously decaying levees and infrastructure and help for poor people could be cut, while we can spend open-endedly on war, and continue to cut taxes for the wealthy. The perversity of it all is almost unbearable.
As is so often the case, the views and the reactions of both friend and adversary abroad are so very instructive in getting a sense in how we are perceived by others. The portrayal of our nation from abroad in this crisis is not pretty.
I would imagine that nearly everyone present this morning has individual experiences, memories, pictures of our own experiences in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast over the years. Of one of this nation's most uniquely multicultural cities, the birthplace of jazz, the place to celebrate Mardi Gras, Cajun cuisine, and so much more. An outpost of blue surrounded by a sea of red. This week we witnessed the violent uprooting of so very much that so many of us hold dear. This tragedy and its aftermath will be with us for a very long time to come.
Not long ago, a major federal study focused on what was considered the three most likely catastrophic events our nation might face in the coming months and years. They were another major terrorist in New York, an earthquake in San Francisco, and a hurricane and subsequent flooding in New Orleans and vicinity. Urgent repairs and upgrading of levees have been called upon for years. Instead, funds were cut. Contingency plans that can be implemented quickly for large scale disasters? No money. No will. No real plans, therefore. And so such plans are clearly not in place. National Guard troops to deal with disasters and unrest? Sorry, many of them are in Iraq and unavailable. Endless, inhuman delay in deploying those who still are here.
What of another terrorist attack in New York or an earthquake in San Francisco? I shudder, both for what they might represent to so many, but also on what would be their aftermath and how ready we would be to deal with such an emergency. One doesn't have to be entirely cynical to believe, as has been suggested by some, that at least money and power and race might make a more energetic response somewhat more likely, even though San Francisco and New York are decidedly blue areas. What kind of a world, what kind of a nation do we live in, when such calculations as race, and money, and power, not to mention political preferences, can be talked about in such a context? And yet look again at the pictures of suffering in New Orleans. The poor underclass with no means to evacuate the city. A sea of color. The epitome of powerlessness.
The unraveling of lives, of separated loved ones with no means of communication and no means of knowing if they are alive or okay, of jobs and homes and schools and churches, and businesses, of the tissues of relationship and connectedness that gives our lives at least a bit of coherence-all these things are so uprooted for so many. And they will take so long to put back together to the extent that is even possible.
Each of us likely has our own searing moment of the past days. Mine was of seeing the little boy, sick and exhausted after days in that stadium with very little food and water, finally ready to be put on a bus to somewhere, anywhere, but out of the immediate horror. But then he is told no dogs are allowed on the bus, and rules are rules, and so he must give up his dog, his companion who was with him through all of this and who meant so much to him. "Snowflake, Snowflake, Snowflake!" he cried as the little dog was snatched away from him. And he broke into convulsions and vomited-and was forcibly put on the bus without his beloved dog. Snowflake was consigned to fend for himself, and likely to face a gruesome death in the coming hours or days. And a little boy's life is completely shattered.