We drove up to the church on that bright morning; a deep blue horizon tapering to pure cerulean intermingled with wisps of fine, white cirrus above us. I remember that sky very well because I was climbing onto the roof of the church that day. The steeple was gone – an unholy gash remaining in its stead, a silent victim of Hurricane Katrina the morning before. Our goal was to place a well-used tarp over the opening to prevent further damage to the inside of the building. My teenage son accompanied me on the climb, and without incident we stapled the blue plastic in place and stepped back on broken shingles to admire our handiwork. Though far from a final solution, it would have to do in the interim.
From our alpine vantage point, we surveyed a surreal landscape of broken trees and downed power lines, a cluttered world of disarray and nowhere near the way it had appeared only a Sunday before. Our faces grim in the presence of an untold disaster, we climbed back down and walked to the truck. As I loaded the staple gun into the toolbox, a car sped into the parking lot behind us. A haggard woman in tears turned out to be the occupant, and a quick assessment proved her to be alone. I did not recognize her.
She asked if we were going to have church services in the near future, and explained her situation to both my son and me. It was a story all too typical, and one we would be able to recite chapter and verse in the days to come. She had lost everything, abandoning her home on the coast in her last-second flight from the storm’s uncaring path. She wanted to draw closer to the Lord, as anything else was beyond comprehension to her at that moment. I assured her that somehow, someway, we would indeed have services the following Sunday. And in my Christian best I all but promised her that things would be okay. I’ll admit it felt hollow and indifferent. I was lost during that time, and had not yet fathomed a way to make any sense out of it other than to find a way to keep myself busy.
I forgot about this chance encounter in the days that followed, for by then the Great Provider had stepped in to make all things right. Free water, food, and medical care were swiftly imposed upon us; the government having an ability to provide us with everything we needed except for gasoline. The electricity was turned back on and life returned to normal - albeit a few tepid Indian-summer-weeks later. We survived and moved on, most of us anyway, and learned a few new acronyms in the process. FEMA and MEMA became our saviors, by providing not only supplies but much needed jobs for our storm-stricken region. USPHS and the Red Cross followed closely on their heels. SNAP and USDA gave everyone an EBT debit card to purchase food when MREs became passé. Signs of the Great Provider were everywhere to be seen, and the only sacrifice he required was a constant standing in line along with many simplified forms to fill out and turn in.
I did make it to church the following Sunday, as did most of our regular attendees. The penitent victim from an otherwise bright summer day was nowhere to be seen however, as by then a miraculous deliverance was neither desired nor required. Sadly, dependence upon G_d is readily replaced by all things technological in our world today. Society demands as much. There is always some form of governmental assistance to be drawn upon, it seems, despite whatever disaster or circumstance befalls us. The original call for G_d following a disaster of epic proportions is merely an afterthought later, much as dreams in the night lose their significance during the daylight hours that follow.
Some of us grasped the concept of a G_d that provides. We were the ones who said ‘Where do we start?’, ‘Where can I help?’, and most importantly, ‘In Whom can I place my faith?’ Sure, we trusted in the government to do the right thing – they usually do in the end. But it was a trust tempered by a belief in our own talents, skills, and work ethic brought together by a faith in the one true G_d that cannot fail.
Years later I look back upon those days, the aftermath of a critical chapter in American history that has ramifications to our region even at the present. Rebuilding either continues or has been given up on in many areas by this point. Government, though viable and important, can only do so much despite the many and varied resources it can draw upon. Indeed, the Great Provider in most cases turns out to be a god that can neither see nor hear. The fire to rebuild, to work hard, and to strive for a better life can never be garnered from continuous hand-out programs delivered on demand from Washington.
The words of Elijah on Mount Carmel still ring true today, “If the LORD be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him.” If you think about it, a comparison between the feddle gub’munt and Baal is not so far-fetched. Baal was known in the Canaanite tongue as the Great Provider. He was depended upon for rain, crops, and fertility in his various shapes and identities. The Children of Israel began following him instead of G_d because it was easier to do so, and a lot more entertaining. (Can’t go into the so-called entertainment value in a G-rated blog!) Furthermore, due to Ahab’s marriage to Jezebel, Baal worship had become the State Religion. Yet by the conclusion of the showdown on Mount Carmel, Baal was proven as toothless, and instead it was the Holy G_d from Israel’s past who answered with fire.
The more things change, the more they remain the same.