[Religion News Service] As I boarded a flight in New York, television monitors in the terminal told horrific stories of tornadoes devastating towns and cities across the Ohio River Valley, where I was heading.
I recognized some places being hit, including my birthplace in southwestern Indiana. Others, like Henryville, Ind., just north of Louisville, were unfamiliar to me.
Still, I recognized the stories they told, of school buses filled with children racing to stay ahead of the storm; of houses flattened and lifetime treasures destroyed; of businesses closing early and hoping to find walls standing the next day. More than 30 people died, including a baby who was carried 10 miles by the wind and dropped into a cornfield.
You don’t grow up in the Midwest without knowing about tornadoes and the sudden damage they can do. My childhood was punctuated by a tornado siren drill each Friday.
I remembered a wedding in central Indiana. As the bridal party and guests exited into the parking lot, we saw a black funnel tearing straight toward our church. People ran back inside. Bridesmaids placed the bride in the center of the floor and lay on her, protecting her and the new life she had just started.
Weather wins. Weather always wins. Not even our smug and arrogant politicians can cause rain to start or to stop. Not even the powerful have enough power to tame a tornado. Not even the wealthy can prevent a blizzard.
Ideologues can deny climate change all they want when it doesn’t fit their theology or their politics, but climate change happens anyway. Opportunistic partisans can blame a president for not responding adequately to a hurricane, but that is just dancing on another’s grave. The storm itself is the problem.
When I lived in North Carolina, I learned early that hurricanes happen. You respect them, you take action when one comes, but you don’t live in fear of them. You build wisely, and then, if necessary, you build again.
When evacuation of coastal areas becomes necessary, you don’t check political credentials, religious affiliations or ethnic identities. You help each other nail plywood to windows, and then you take your turn heading inland.
To understand American politics, follow the money. But to understand American goodness and resolve, follow the storms.
Watch towns rally to save children and to provide emergency shelter. Watch people share water and food with strangers. Watch people share chain saws and rowboats. Watch religious communities collect offerings of money and supplies.
Watch people stop work in order to pile sandbags along cresting rivers. Watch hard-hit towns discover their core oneness. All those fears of the dreaded “other” that politicians try to whip up seem to evaporate when storms hit.
When our host led prayers for the victims of the tornadoes, no one asked if they were “our kind of people.” They were victims, and that’s all we needed to know. While politicians raged across the landscape shouting invectives, rekindling old grudges, stirring pots of fear and distrust, and seeking votes in hardship, actual victims of hardship were joining hands to serve the least of these.
While the political class channels more wealth to the mega-wealthy, people of limited means were showing grace and generosity.
Weather, you see, not only carries the day, but it shows what we are made of.
— Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the author of Just Wondering, Jesus and founder of the Church Wellness Project. His website is www.morningwalkmedia.com. Follow Tom on Twitter @tomehrich.