The photos and videos from Oklahoma are astonishing in the pictures of the devastation. A lone tree, stripped of most branches and all of its leaves, standing in a field of the wreckage of houses and cars, the videos of the storm, a quarter mile wide bearing down on neighborhoods, the heartbreak of people mourning the loss of loved ones or the destruction of their homes, the relief of those pulled from the rubble.
The most violent outbreak of tornadoes in recent times was on April 3 and 4 in 1974 when about 30 F5 tornadoes descended on a broad swath of the Midwest. Over 300 hundred died, and 900 square miles were affected. One of those towns hit was Xenia, OH, and the storm destroyed the center of town, flattening businesses and taking the roof off the high school. Luckily, it was just before school started. My wife, Kathe, grew up in Xenia, and the town has never been the same since.
We used to get tornado warning every now and then in Minnesota, and I remember seeing a very large tornado twist from cloud to ground many miles away over the Nebraska plains while driving west on Interstate 80. It was surreal, and beautiful in its own way. Of course, there is nothing beautiful in the areas where one hits.
Some of the best in humankind comes out in disasters. More people rush to help than to exploit. Rebecca Solnit has a fine book titled “A Paradise Built in Hell” about how communities often come together in times of crisis. This is true; we often do rise to the occasion, reaching out a helping hand when help is needed. I am sure every one of you has done that; I know the church has done that; I know I have. There is something deeply good about human natures that leads us to help each other, even sometimes at our own danger.
The storm is, as well, a reminder of how we inhabit the earth but do not control it. We neither cause the sun to rise nor set, nor make the winds blow. Rains come or not and it is not our doing. Nature is both beautiful and terrible, and there is no moral quality to events of nature; they just are. Our response, however, does have a moral quality. When we care of others, of care for the earth itself, when we respect the natural rhythm of things, when we conserve more than use up – these are our choices.
And as we do that, we can remember that it is always right to help those in need, to feel for those who suffer and do what we can to alleviate sorrow and pain. Our prayers go to Oklahoma today; tomorrow they may go elsewhere and so on.
We are all in this together.
Rev. Dr. Jim Nelson