“An estimated 1 million kids orphaned by quake.”January 27th, 2010
“An estimated 1 million kids orphaned by quake.” That stunning headline is enough to break your heart, isn’t it? Barely two weeks into the Haitian catastrophe, and the unfolding saga keeps peeling back layer after layer of the immense heartache and suffering that our Caribbean neighbors are enduring.
“The children with no names lay mute in a corner of the General Hospital grounds Tuesday, three among thousands of boys and girls set adrift in the wake of Haiti’s earthquake. ‘Hi, Joe, how are you?’ the American doctor tried, using a pet name the staff had given a boy of about 11. There was no response. ‘Joe,’ ‘Baby Sebastian’ and the girl who didn’t even have a nickname hadn’t spoken or cried since they were brought over the previous 48 hours—by neighbors, passers-by, no one knows who. ‘Sebastian,’ only a week old, was said to have been taken from the arms of his dead mother” (SBTribune 1-27-10).
A CBS Evening News reporter trailed along with one boy, 10 or 11 years old, who was wandering the crowded streets of Port-au-Prince, his parents dead from the quake. “And where do you sleep at night?” The boy led the camera and reporter to a concrete ledge surrounding a broken city fountain. He climbed up onto the ledge, curled his legs under him to show the visitors how he passed the lonely, comfortless nights.
Researchers describe two very real human responses to televised catastrophes. First, there is “frozen emotions”—the mental numbness that eventually steels the heart from responding after viewing repeated portrayals of human suffering. Soon, it’s just more news—and we become unaffected. The second response is “donor fatigue”—a weariness from the barrage of appeals that eventually shuts off the flow of compassionate response. None of us is immune to either reaction.
So what can we do for the orphans, how shall we continue to respond to the sufferers? What did Jesus do? Because of his three and a half years of ministry in Palestine, the world was not suddenly relieved of its wider suffering. The truth is only a relatively small proportion of humanity was affected by Jesus’ compassionate response. Why? Simply because he couldn’t be everywhere. But he could be fully engaged with the suffering that surrounded him. Couldn’t that be our response, too? Yes, we must continue to support the compassionate interventions of disaster response teams like Adventist Development and Relief Agency (www.ADRA.org needs our contributions). But like Jesus we must also become engaged with suffering needs that surround us. The soup kitchen, the street ministries, the Harbor of Hope’s Kids’ Zone at our church plant—just twelve miles up the road are compelling needs waiting for compassionate volunteers. So won’t you pray for Haiti, give to Haiti, but “unfreeze” your emotions and make a difference right by volunteering here at home? After all doesn’t it say somewhere, “Many are called, but a few are frozen”? Then let’s unfreeze for Christ!
One of our Brazilian students, Tiago, sent me a video clip from Haiti.January 22nd, 2010
One of our Brazilian students, Tiago, sent me a video clip from Haiti. It was shot by a Brazilian U.N. peacekeeper soldier moments after the 7.0 magnitude quake struck Port-au-Prince a week ago. While I can’t understand the Portuguese voiceover or subtitles, the footage reality transcends all languages. Cement rubble lies strewn in the city street, a thick cloud of dust hovers above the surreal scene, while survivors stumble in a daze, in silence or with tears and screams. As the peacekeeper walks through the mayhem, filming as he proceeds, suddenly into view there is a cathedral, its façade crumbled across the street. But amazingly a giant porcelain crucifix towers toward the sky amidst the strewn debris. Some are gathered on their knees before the hanging Christ, with arms outstretched toward him, pleading in voices loud enough to be heard on the video. And you don’t have to speak Creole to know the content of their prayers. It is a scene you will not quickly forget.(http://fantastico.globo.com/Jornalismo/FANT/0,,MUL1451469-15605,00-VIDEO+MOSTRA+PRIMEIROS+MOMENTOS+DA+TRAGEDIA+NO+HAITI.html)
Where was Christ on that day and these now ten days hence of incomprehensible tragedy and mounting human loss? Is he a porcelain God, unmoved by suffering, even of this magnitude?
The ancient prophet quietly confessed, “In all their affliction, he was afflicted” (Isaiah 63:9). In all our affliction, God is afflicted? It is true—the Eternal One, who emerges from amidst the narratives and nuances of Holy Scripture, is often times perceived by our distressed hearts as deus absconditus, what Martin Luther called “the hidden God.” And those sobbing prayers at the foot of that porcelain crucifix no doubt were directed in their anguish at the “hidden God”—the incomprehensible One who in our suffering can seem so very far away.
But the irony of that dust-choking scene from Haiti is that it portrays a more compelling truth: it is in the midst of our desperate human pain that the cross still towers with hope. For in the face of its Victim, we gaze upon the face of God—the only God in the universe who has entered into our human tragedy and in our affliction continues to be afflicted. How can we know? Because the cross is his own multiple-magnitude sacrifice to purchase the right to one day obliterate evil’s dark and tyrannical rule in Haiti and here. “Then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory” (I Corinthians 15:54).
But until then, in all our affliction, he is afflicted. Or in the words of William Blake, “Till our grief is fled and gone, He doth sit by us and moan.”
Haiti’s devastating earthquake on Tuesday afternoon is our crisis, too.January 13th, 2010
Haiti’s devastating earthquake on Tuesday afternoon is our crisis, too. As I sit here and write the next morning, initial reports from Port-au-Prince indicate that much of the capital city of nearly 1.5 million residents lies buried beneath collapsed rubble, as the result of the 7.0 magnitude record-breaking temblor. The Parliament building, the presidential palace, the United Nations mission headquarters, hospitals, schools, churches and untold numbers of apartments, houses and tenement buildings have been flattened. How many lives have been lost in this epic disaster no one, of course, yet knows. Some already fear untold thousands of casualties.
The scale of this human tragedy would be large enough had it occurred in a more developed nation on earth. But the crisis reality is that Haiti ranks as the most impoverished nation in the western hemisphere. Already dirt poor, the vast majority of this island country now face a withering and nearly hopeless immediate future. As it would happen, over the holidays I read Mountains Beyond Mountains, the moving story of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Harvard Medical School graduate, who as a young adult plunged his life into the Creole countryside of Haiti, tackling and treating rampant tuberculosis and AIDS in the central plains. I can only imagine his thoughts today in the wake of this disaster.
But the crisis is not utterly hopeless. And that’s where you and I come in. We slept last night in homes heated and comfortable. We eat today at tables laden with bountiful food. But how would our King have us to respond? “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me” (Matthew 25:40, 35, 36 TNIV).
What can we do? Beyond joining a recovery team right now or an emergency aid team over spring break here at the university, we can give. May I suggest an emergency donation to ADRA (Adventist Development and Relief Agency)? ADRA is our faith community’s rapid-deployment emergency response organization, and with the monumental need for food, clothing and water in Haiti, our contributions are essential. Giving is as simple as going to www.ADRA.org and clicking on to the “Donate Now” icon. “Whatever you did for the least of these, you did for Me.” Jesus is spending overtime in Haiti right now. Wouldn’t you like to join him in an earthquake of compassion?
Do you really think new “pat down” measures at the airport will make air travel more secure?January 7th, 2010
Do you really think new “pat down” measures at the airport will make air travel more secure? I read a piece by syndicated British columnist Gwynne Dyer, and I’m afraid he’s right. In response to the Christmas Day attempt to bring down that Detroit-bound airliner through concealed explosives on one of the passengers, government officials have had to devise some sort of official “upgrade” to our present travel security to assure the traveling public that the skies once again are “friendly.” Dyer comments, “It is the duty of all public officials to ‘do something’ whenever a new threat appears, even if there is nothing sensible to be done.” The truth is that profiling international travelers by nationality or country of birth or origin (as the new security regulations do) not only lumps vast numbers of innocent people into the category of “suspicious” (or, guilty until proven innocent), it assumes that terror and terrorists are limited to these watch-listed nations (which is hardly true). And as for hand searches, most agree that the only effective method of full-body screening would need to include “body cavity searches.” And the public will not stand for that, will we?
So shall we then despair of air travel this New Year? Hardly! Dyer responds that we are still fifty times more likely to succumb in an automobile than in an aircraft. His point? “Accept that nothing is perfect” (SBTribune 1-6-10).
My point? There is no ultimate travel security through technology or by regulation. Just ask the Apostle Paul, who himself was shipwrecked three times, spending “a night and a day in the open sea” (II Corinthians 11:25). The compelling reality is that as children of the Heavenly Father our deepest dependence must always be on him. Which is why that great Psalm of the Reformation, the one that inspired Martin Luther’s “Ein’ feste burg ist unser Gott” (“A mighty fortress is our God”), opens with the strong assurance of ultimate divine security: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will not we fear” (Psalm 46:1, 2). No fear with him!
What more reassuring promise could there be for you and me to daily claim this uncharted New Year? Yes, on land and sea or in the air, we’ll depend upon the vigilance of our governments to do all in their power to protect the traveling public. And as friends of Christ and obedient citizens of our countries, we will (to the best of our ability) cheerfully submit to the measures that will impinge upon us. (I tried to remember that as I was pulled out of line for a full body “pat down” at the Johannesburg South Africa airport just before Christmas—and here I thought I looked rather honest!) But in the end whether abroad or at home “God is our refuge and strength.” And he will be our help 24/7 in the voyage before us. And besides, when God “pats down” your day before you even get to it, what could make your journey more secure?
Poor Jesse Sheidlower, editor at large of the Oxford English DictionaryJanuary 1st, 2010
Poor Jesse Sheidlower, editor at large of the Oxford English Dictionary—he can’t even show up at a holiday party without being cornered by another distraught denizen of the English-speaking world with the query, “What are we supposed to call the decade that’s now ended?” Pretend you’re the editor of the dictionary—how would you answer all those emails? After all, we call the 80’s the 80’s and the 90’s the 90’s. But what shall we call the 00’s? The Zeroes? Hardly. How about the Aughts (English for the number 0)? Or the Ohs? Or the Oh-Ohs (I like that one!)?
Fact of the matter is the English language isn’t going to melt down simply because we can’t come up with a word for the decade that’s now behind us. And it won’t be a philological crisis if we never do. “‘It’s really amusing to me,’ said Dennis Baron, a University of Illinois linguist and curator of a Web site that decodes language in the news. ‘People think if we don’t have anything to call the decade that maybe we will forget it, that it will be some kind of orphan decade, that it won’t exist. But it’s simply not true’” (SBTribune 12-28-09). As it turns out there are other words we’ve been missing for a long time. What do you call former in-laws? (Perhaps it’s best not to call them at all.) What about a romantic friend of an older adult who isn’t married? “Girl friend” sounds too teenager-ish, doesn’t it?
And what does God call the decade that is now behind us? Interestingly enough, he uses a non-chronological term. A word that isn’t bound by the passage of time. A single word that is both descriptive and proscriptive. One word that transcends the idiosyncrasies of the English language . . . or any other language, ancient or modern, for that matter.
Just one word. But in it is contained the divine DNA of the gospel we still call everlasting. The word? Forgiven. That’s it. Forgiven. Because two hundred decades ago “on a hill far away” God from his cross forgave this rebel race of all our sins (there being no shortage of adjectival modifiers and synonyms in the English language for that very human reality that is all ours—sin). “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst” (I Timothy 1:15). Forgiven. God’s one word to describe the decade of your life and mine that is now past. And the one–word reason for you and me to bow down this New Year and worship him. Forgiven indeed. Thank God!