I had a great Sunday, sounds odd to say that in the wake of Katrina and the continuing and unfolding aweful events on the Gulf Coast. Standing in front of the congregation today and talking about ways Trinity can help was a balm to some extent, but I still find myself hesitating, worrying and holding back in ways that remind me of my reactions during 9/11.
I was an associate at a parish in Central NJ, and had just celebrated "welcome Sunday" with the comissioning of a large group of Sunday School teachers. We had greeted a bunch of "newbies" that morning, including one guy named Christian, who had three kids in the parish programs. He was a nice guy; quiet but engaging. His job was entry-level. He was going to be a children's chapel parent. That was on Sunday. On Monday, he went to work and never came home.
Most people talk about 9/11 and remember in the after math where they went to help. Some from my area went down to "ground zero" to help with the people doing rescue and recovery. Others went to St. Paul's Chapel to assist with the pastoral load that was so unreal. Still more went down to the Seamen's Church Institute and did what they could to help people stay connected in a universe that seemed to be crumbling into dust with every passing moment.
I spent my time sitting with Christian's wife in her living room, looking for some sign of him among the living or the dead. After 2 weeks, with no word...it was time for the funeral. 600 people showed up. More than I had ever seen for an Easter or Christmas liturgy. So many cars that the line up the street was over a mile long.
I flash back to that grief shared when I see what is happening down in the Gulf region...and it is worse there.
How do we as a community do what we can? How do we choose and action that gets us into a place of being a help to those in need? What can we do to preserve our strength to assist in the cleanup down the line? What happens when the news cycle shifts? When the headline of the day is Britney Spears' birth announcement?
That roiled in my gut all morning. Tim, the organist preached a great sermon that allayed some of the pain. It was also a healing Sunday, with prayers and anointing at both services. That brought a LOT of people forward for prayer, and gave me a place to direct my anxiety that was positive and life-promoting.
By the end of the service, I felt like I could welcome Christian, his spirit and his memory, along with my concern for the people affected by Katrina, into my life.
To top the day off, I also got the chance to welcome some friends from NJ we hadn't seen in a while. Laura and I had lunch with a family that are definitely "life-bringers." The high point for me was sitting across from their seven year old, thumbwrestling with him and his sister. It brought to my mind the fact that humanity is pretty resilient.
Between Sean and myself, there was no Nintendo, not a single sophisticated entertainment device. We were sitting at a cafe table with our hands linked, playing thumb wars.
How many families worked to distract their children from their hunger, their frustration, their misery in the last week with protracted thumb war battles? Just that simple game made a difference for me and allowed me to be distracted from my own grief and worries. I pray to God that it, or something similar made the same difference to others in greater need.